When I was a young mother of two preschool children, living in Marin county California in the 1970’s, I met a woman, another mother at the local preschool, named Marilyn. She was a few years older, and a California native, while I was from back East. She was a vocal advocate of natural food nutrition. I was interested in what she had to say. I had already started boning up on nutrition, and counter-cultural approaches, including vegetarianism. I was determined to feed my children only healthy food, and I needed the scientific advice to verify that a vegetarian diet would provide the essentials of a good nutrition.
Marilyn encouraged label reading. She told me that partially-hydrogenated vegetable oil in the ingredient list was to be avoided. This was such a harmful ingredient that she was vociferously opposed to its inclusion in her family’s diet.
Marilyn was also noted for advocating whole-grained bread. It was so important that she stood at a PTA meeting demanding that parents send only sandwiches with whole-wheat bread in their children’s lunch bags.
Refined white sugar was a primary culprit in the predominant diet. It was added to many packaged foods. Sugar without a nutritional component, provided empty calories added to snack foods, breakfast cereals and baked goods, and of course soft drinks. Clearly, this was something we had to remove from the family diet.
Additives such as artificial flavors and colors were also unacceptable. I followed in her footsteps, and began shopping at the closest natural health food store. Over time it became my exclusive food market. Although the costs were a bit higher, items in bulk helped to keep the final cost down. Bringing jars to be filled with natural unrefined cooking oils and honey, buying non-packaged herbal teas, granola, and organically grown and unprocessed grains, fruits and vegetables, became a way of life.
Recycling was also on the agenda. Our local recycling project accepted flattened tins, glass jars with the labels removed, as well as cardboard and newspapers.
Today, some forty years later, these trends have become health and environmental concerns nationwide and internationally. A new shopping mall in my neighborhood of Jerusalem recently opened with a major supermarket outlet and a health food store adjacent. Here I can purchase organically grown fruits and vegetables, meats, eggs, herbal teas and grains in bulk as well as nutritional supplements. It is highly commercialized, but seems patterned after the California health-food model.
Help from experts:
There are certain key components that every nutrition plan should include.
- Eating the right portions based on your specific needs, in relation to the amount of energy you expend on a daily basis.
- Educating yourself on the basic concepts of healthy eating, especially learning about the nutritional value and makeup of the food you eat.
- If you understand the roles that protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals, and fiber play in your body, then you will be better equipped to choose the foods that are right for you, depending on your tastes, activity level, and way of life.
- Eat at least one good source of Omega 3 per day, or supplement with Omega 3 capsules.
- Selecting specific foods that meet your individual nutritional needs.
- Creating a plan that works for you in the long-term, something that you are comfortable in adapting as a way of life.
- An emphasis on fresh, whole foods over processed foods.
About Omega 3:
What makes omega-3 fats special? They are an integral part of cell membranes throughout the body and affect the function of the cell receptors in these membranes. They provide the starting point for making hormones that regulate blood clotting, contraction and relaxation of artery walls, and inflammation. They also bind to receptors in cells that regulate genetic function. Likely due to these effects, omega-3 fats have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke, may help control lupus, eczema, and rheumatoid arthritis, and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.
Points to remember in planning your diet:
1. Don’t fill up your calorie count with empty calories. Make sure you have the basic vitamin and mineral requirements in your diet. Check the labels of packaged foods. If they contain additives, trans fats (partially-hardened vegetable oils), artificial flavoring and coloring, be wary of eating that product.
2. If you lead an active life, you will need more calories than a couch potato. Keep a supply of healthy energy boosters. Sugar sweetened snacks provide quick energy, but also a quick let-down. Natural sweeteners, like fruit and honey will, therefore, sustain your energy level better. Also remember that sugar blocks the absorption of necessary nutrients, such as vitamins and calcium. Stick to fiber rich, natural health bars, fruit filled snacks and the like. Chocolate is lauded for beneficial heart and regenerative properties. Remember that only the dark unsweetened or semi-sweet chocolate is beneficial.
3. Whole wheat flour is richer in vitamins and minerals. Choose whole wheat breads and homemade snacks using whole wheat flour.
4. While a multivitamin supplement can help ensure that you get the right nutrients, if you are eating properly, a diet loaded with junk-foods, excessive coffee or alcohol consumption inhibits the absorption of the supplemental vitamins and minerals.
5. Add Omega 3 to your diet. Eat fresh salmon, sardines or mackerel in addition to walnuts, kiwis or other foods rich in Omega 3, fish or vegetable oils such as Omega 3 supplements.
6. Add variety to your meals with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Naturally sweet fruit juice, without added sugar or preservatives is the best beverage for all ages.