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Deanna Minich

5 "Bites" to Meaningful Meals

FIVE bites to help you eat healthier for your body and the planet

We are living in a sound-bite society. The way that we approach eating is no different - we gobble up our breakfasts on the way to work, scarf down our lunch while we return phonecalls, and catch random bites of our dinner while juggling everything else when we get home.

I remember hearing somewhere that "six" of anything was the most information the human mind could absorb in this age of fast living: six choices, six factoids, six ideas, six thoughts. With that in mind, I thought I'd put together something you won't forget - FIVE bites (albeit big ones!) to help you eat healthier for your body and the planet. I chose to go with five instead of six tips to make it easier to digest! In fact, I bet that if you could even choose one and make the change suggested, your relationship with food could take on a whole new look.

(1) Eat more raw plant foods than animal foods - it's better for the planet and for you: In a perfect world, a raw foods diet that is devoid of animal products and doesn't use resources related to heat would most likely be the best diet for staying slim, reducing chronic disease, and saving the planet. If that is impossible, reducing meat consumption would be a strong second since numerous resources are involved in raising animals. A recently published study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (May 2009) reported that a vegetarian diet used less resources, including water, fertilizer, and pesticides, than a non-vegetarian diet, primarily due to the lack of consumption of beef. Additionally, eating more plant foods just seem to result in better health outcomes including lower body mass index (reduced weight for height), and reduced prevalence of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

(2) Make your plate an artist's palette: The problem with modern-day eating is that either we are eating a bland, "brown, yellow, and white diet" or we may be eating color, but they tend to be artificial colors. It is essential that we get the full rainbow variety of natural colors on our plate so that we can be assured that we are getting the right compounds for our bodies. Red foods like tomatoes and watermelon contain the antioxidant, lycopene, shown to play a role in reducing the development of certain cancers and may play be important for warding off heart problems. Orange foods like carrots are great sources of beta-carotene, a vitamin A precursor. Eating orange fruits and vegetables can help our immune system and eyes to function better. Yellow-green foods are packed with phytonutrients like lutein for eye health, chlorophyll to protect cells from damage, and folic acid, an essential nutrient for growth and development. And, finally, blue-purple foods are excellent sources of brain-protective antioxidants. Eating berries can keep the mind sharp and focused. Therefore, if, for example, we avoid green-colored foods, we will be missing out on some important nutrients for the body. Eating red foods in place of green foods may not necessarily be good substitutes because the plant constituents in green foods have different effects in the body. The ultimate goal is to get the artist's palette of colors on the plate!

(3) Eat mindfully: Most people eat while they are multi-tasking, whether watching television, reading the newspaper, surfing the internet, or even while driving. Studies show that people watching TV while eating may not eat as healthy as those who don't watch TV while eating. In fact, they tend to consume less fruits and vegetables and more soft drinks. People that pay attention to eating when they eat tend to experience less psychological stress, and, in turn, better metabolic shifts, like improved blood sugar control, particularly in type 2 diabetics (Rosenzweig et al., Alternative Therapies, Sept/Oct 2007). If it sounds highly unlikely that you'll ever be able to give up your juggling act, try spending just one meal a week (at least) just being consumed by the act of eating. See if you notice any difference in how you perceived the meal, how you felt afterwards, and what your meal choices were.

(4) Don't eat foods you can't pronounce (for the most part!): Many foods are laden with additives that are synthesized, artificial, and downright unhealthy. The more processed food we eat, the greater chance there is that it contains a plethora of additives that have potentially unknown effects on human physiology, especially when they are coupled with a host of other additives. Therefore, my recommendation is to keep your foods simple--whole, unprocessed foods in their "naked" state --sold without the dressing of plastic, metal, cardboard, or Styrofoam. Next best are products with uncomplicated ingredient lists that contain actual food constituents that you recognize rather a load of synthetic additives. If there are some "unpronounceables" in the list, ensure that they are minimal and not artificial anything!

(5) Relax when you eat: A commonly held belief is that stress is the root of many diseases. The collection of the many types of stressors in our lives, whether physical stress, psychological stress, or even eating stress (eating too many of the wrong foods or eating too much) can significantly change our body's hormones like cortisol and insulin, and ultimately result in conditions like belly fat, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. One small way to quench the negative effects of stress in your life is to relax when you eat, especially if you want to absorb the nutrients in your food. A published study by Morse et al. (Am J Clin Nutr 1989 Jan;49(1):97-105.) showed that being relaxed was even more important than chewing your food thoroughly when it came to digesting carbohydrates. Before your next bite, make sure you take a deep breath!

It's difficult to make eating meaningful when we have to juggle more than six things at any one time! See if you can transform your eating with one or more of these helpful tips. Your surroundings may be smitten in sound-bites but your meals can be full of meaningful bites...

Deanna Minich, PhD, CN, (www.foodandspirit.com) is a nutritionist who sees more to food than calories and macronutrients. She helps guide others in using foods and eating as tools for personal growth and nourishment for the soul. She has written three books on nutrition, on topics ranging from food additives to dietary supplements and even to the connection of food to spirituality. Her latest book, Chakra Foods for Optimum Health: A Guide to the Foods that can Improve Your Energy, Inspire Creative Changes, Open Your Heart, and Heal Body, Mind, and Spirit, invites you to open your heart, unravel your intuition, and take a journey to inner and outer bliss with every bite you take!

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About the Author

Deanna Minich, Ph.D., is a nutritionist with an interest in alternative medicine.