Eat Your Way to Better Health

Eat Your Way to Better Health

eatyourwayby Monique N. Gilbert

Making the right dietary choices can have a profound impact on our health and longevity. As a society, we have the largest assortments of foods in the world, both good and bad. However, this availability can tempt us to eat unhealthy foods. Fortunately, overcoming these temptations is easier than you think. A few simple changes in your diet can make the difference between being healthy and unhealthy. So, you may ask, what kind of diet do researchers recommend for promoting and maintaining good health? 

According to the American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR), the smartest strategy to promoting good overall health is to eat a balanced, predominantly plant-based and nutritionally dense diet. Most of your daily calories should come from vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans. 

Take advantage of our highly developed food distribution system, which allows a vast array of fruits, vegetables and other plant foods to be available throughout the year. Eat less fat and more fiber. Make plant-based foods the largest part of every meal. Limit the amount of animal-based foods, such as meat and dairy products, which are loaded with saturated fat and cholesterol. Use olive oil or canola oil instead of butter or margarine to reduce your intake of saturated fat and hydrogenated fat (trans fat). Moderate your consumption of fried, salted and smoked foods. Eat portions to satisfy hunger, not to clean the plate. The AICR recommends these steps to help protect against several cancers, lower the risk of heart disease and promote good health. 

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) links one-third of all cancer deaths to diet. They state that we can reduce the risk of cancer and other chronic diseases through dietary means. Both the AICR and the NCI believe in the benefits of eating a plant-based diet. They feel it is reasonable for most of us to include products like tofu, soymilk, tempeh and textured soy protein as part of a healthy diet. If nothing else, these foods can be excellent and complete alternative protein sources when decreasing your consumption of meat and dairy products. 

However, researchers do not want people to consider plant-based foods as a magic bullet to counteract bad eating habits. They don’t want people to rely on adding just one or two plant-based products to their diets while continuing to eat foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol. Nor do they advise people to consume large quantities of supplements to try to achieve health benefits. Balance, moderation, and variety are the keys to a healthy diet. Nothing should be excessively consumed. Loading up on any one food or nutrient is never wise. Each food item provides a different chemical composition. The best way to take advantage of the various beneficial nutrients and compounds, is to adopt good eating habits which include a wide assortment of nutritionally dense foods. 

Many researchers advise looking at the typical Asian diet and method of cooking for inspiration, which is high in fruits, vegetables, rice, green tea and soy. They mainly derive protein from plant-based sources such as beans, tofu, miso, soymilk, tempeh and other plant-based products. This type of diet is low in meat, fat and dairy products, with a moderate amount of fish. Meat is mainly used as a condiment than the main course. The quick method of cooking, characteristic of Asian cuisine, also plays an important role in the Asian diet. Steaming and stir-frying reduces the amount of fat needed to prepare foods, and allows foods to retain much of their nutrients. 

In contrast, the average American or Western diet is high in meat, dairy, starches, sugars, sodas, fast foods and junk foods. Beef, pork, fish and poultry are the main sources of protein. This type of diet is generally low in fiber and high in saturated fats and cholesterol. Deep-fried foods, such as french fries, potato chips and onion rings, are popular but very unhealthy. It causes foods to absorb a high amount of fat, and the oils used to deep-fry are not always the best. Often vegetables are overcooked, causing them to lose many of their nutrients. Fast foods and quick eating, characteristic of American dinning, also play a detrimental role to our health. The convenience of ready made and processed foods often provides a diet high in calories but low in nutritional value. 

Altering our way of cooking and eating is one of the easiest ways to improve our health and increase our vitality. Making choices based upon nutritional content is the best guide. Choose to eat foods that have bright colors and are high in fiber, vitamins, minerals, and complex carbohydrates; moderate in protein, and low in saturated fat, hydrogenated (trans) fat and cholesterol. Adopting this way of eating will promote good health and offer you protection against heart disease, stroke, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and kidney disease. 

Looking for a great cholesterol-free recipe to start your day off on the right foot? Then try this hearty nutritious and delicious breakfast item. It’s high in fiber, iron, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin C, thiamin and niacin, low in saturated fat with a moderate amount of protein.

Potato Tofu Hash

  • 5.3 ounces tofu – diced (1/3 of a 16-ounce block firm tofu) 3
  • cups potatoes – diced (3 medium or 4 small potatoes)
  • 1 cup onion – diced (1 large onion)
  • 1-1/2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon black ground pepper
  1. Dice tofu into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes. Peel and dice potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes.
  2. Heat 1 teaspoon canola oil, add diced tofu, turmeric, 1/8 teaspoon salt and a dash of pepper. Stir until all cubes are thoroughly coated and get a nice yellow color. Saute tofu until golden brown and firm. Set aside.
  3. Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil, add diced potatoes, black ground pepper and 1/ teaspoon salt. Stir to coat all the potato cubes with oil, salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and allow to steam for 3-5 minutes. Uncover for a minute before flipping potatoes over, this will prevent any sticking. Then flip potatoes, cover and steam another 3-5 minutes. Uncover and flip potatoes again. Keep flipping until all potatoes are golden brown.
  4. When potatoes are golden brown, mix in tofu cubes and push to one side of the pan. Add 1/2 teaspoon canola oil and diced onions to empty side of pan. Stir and cook onions until translucent, then mix thoroughly with potatoes and tofu. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve with juice and toast.

Makes 2-4 servings


This recipe is from Monique N. Gilbert’s book “Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook” (Universal Publishers, 2001, pp. 51-52). 

References:
National Cancer Institute; www.cancer.org
American Institute of Cancer Research; www.aicr.org 

Monique Gilbert

Author: Monique Gilbert

Health Coping With Menopause Naturally - Alternatives to HRT by Monique N. Gilbert Many women are searching for an effective natural approach to relieving their menopausal symptoms because of the recent negative findings of hormone replacement therapy (HRT). On May 31, 2002, the National Institutes of Health in the US stopped a major long-term clinical trial of the risks and benefits of combined estrogen and progestin before the trial was completed. Due to the increased risk of breast cancer, coronary heart disease, stroke, and blood clots, it was determined that HRT's risks outweigh its benefits. Article continues below The first thing to remember is that menopause is not a disease. It is a natural part of a woman's reproductive life cycle which can be managed with exercise and diet. Hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings and bone loss are the chief complaints among women going through menopause. Learning to deal with these unpleasant symptoms will help you cope with life's changes. Menopause not only causes a decline in hormone levels, but can also leave you feeling moody, irritated, tired and unfocused. This is partly due to the lack of a good night's sleep caused by night sweats. Regular exercise (at least 3 to 4 times a week) is probable the most important thing you can do to improve your nighttime rest and overall health. (Taking a cool shower before bedtime can also help promote a good night's sleep.) Exercising strengthens your muscles and bones, helps circulate your blood (which nourishes the skin and internal organs); improves your mental outlook (about yourself and life in general), and promotes a tranquil night's sleep. It also increases your levels of serotonin, endorphins and dopamine. Serotonin, a chemical your brain manufactures, produces a calming effect and creates a sense of satisfaction and well-being. Endorphins decrease pain, reduce stress, cause mood stability and a sense of happiness and joy. Dopamine increases your vitality, concentration and alertness. Weight bearing exercises and strength training is also one of the most effective methods of fighting bone loss and osteoporosis. Resistance placed upon the skeleton during physical activity makes bones stronger and denser while improving posture, balance and muscle tone. The positive effects of exercising keeps you fit, trim, feeling younger and energetic. Taking a daily dose of calcium (1,200 mg to 1,500 mg), magnesium (500 mg to 750 mg) and vitamin D (400 IU) also helps preserve bone density and strength. The next step to help you through the symptoms of menopause is to increase your intake of phytoestrogen rich foods. Many women experience positive results by eating soy. Soy foods contain isoflavones (natural plant estrogen) that have similar properties to human estrogen, but are much weaker. Isoflavones can bind to the body's estrogen receptors and help offset the drop in estrogen that occurs at menopause. Scientists have shown isoflavones function similarly to HRT without producing the risks associated with this controversial treatment. Soy foods offer women a more natural way to treat their menopausal symptoms. Research on soy's protein and isoflavones indicate that soy can help to relieve hot flashes, night sweats, fatigue, and vaginal dryness. Besides helping regulate estrogen when it is declining, soy can also help with other conditions such as osteoporosis, heart attack, stroke and breast cancer. Women have an increased risk for these disorders during and after menopause. Many studies show that soy can prevent these diseases by helping the body absorb and retain calcium, inhibit bone loss, lower LDL (the bad) cholesterol and decrease blood clotting. The best forms of soy are those with the highest amount of isoflavones and protein; like whole soybeans (edamame), tempeh, textured soy protein (TVP), soynuts, and some soy protein powders. Next would be tofu, soymilk and miso. However, the actual isoflavone content has to be high enough to produce positive effects. Some foods made from soy protein concentrate, like soy hotdogs, have very little isoflavones due to their processing method. Other products, such as soybean oil and soy sauce, contain no isoflavones in them at all. Researchers recommend consuming at least 25 grams of soy protein and 30-50 milligrams of isoflavones daily (equal to 1-2 servings). This is only a starting point. You can safely consume 2-3 times this amount. The North American Menopause Society suggests 60 to 90 milligrams of isoflavones a day. Many health experts encourage people to incorporate soy foods into a balanced diet and discourage solely taking soy supplements. Soy foods have various nutrients and compounds that contribute to its health benefits, while soy supplements usually only contain isoflavones. They advise taking soy supplements along with soy foods. This way the benefits of both forms can complement and enhance each other. Some women have found that taking Black Cohosh and Vitamin E (400 IU to 800 IU daily) can also provide relief from hot flashes, night sweats and other menopausal symptoms. Black Cohosh is a phytoestrogen herb that women have used for centuries to help manage their hormones. Other beneficial herbs include Dong Quai, Evening Primrose Oil and Red Clover. Since each woman is unique and reacts differently to natural treatments, try them out for yourself. Women who exercise regularly and consume soy daily generally have fewer menopausal symptoms than those who do not. Test these approaches for at least 6 to 8 weeks to see if you get positive results. To get you started, try this easy and delicious soy recipe from my book "Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook." Golden Tofu Strips 5.3 ounces of firm tofu (1/3 of a 16-ounce block) 1/4 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon turmeric 1/2 tablespoon canola oil Cut tofu into strips 1/4 inch wide and 2 inches long. Heat 1/2 tablespoon canola oil. Add tofu strips, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon turmeric. Stir to thoroughly coat all sides of tofu. Cook tofu strips about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Serve on top of a salad, stir-fry, or stuffed in a pita with shredded lettuce. (Makes 1-2 servings) Monique N. Gilbert is a Health Advocate, Recipe Developer, Soy Food Connoisseur and the author of "Virtues of Soy: A Practical Health Guide and Cookbook" (Universal Publishers, $19.95, available at most online booksellers).

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