Saturday, September 27, 2008

Eating Healthy

Food is an important part of my life. It's an important part of yours too, whether you realize it or not. If you don't believe me, try going without food for a few days; I bet you'll change your mind.

Most people will agree that we should eat healthy food. But what does that mean? Different people will tell you different things: organic food is healthy, carbs are unhealthy, grapefruit is healthy, red meat is unhealthy, alcohol is unhealthy, tea is healthy...

My personal opinion is that there is no such thing as a healthy food or an unhealthy food, only a healthy diet or an unhealthy diet. In other words, you shouldn't take any one food and look at it in isolation; you have to look at what you eat over the course of a week or a month. For example, every Thursday evening after work I go to a local tavern, meet a few friends, and enjoy a couple of beers and a dozen chicken wings, deep fried and smothered in a sweet barbeque sauce. Now technically, one could argue that this meal is high in fat and calories and deficient in just about every important nutrient and is therefore very unhealthy. I don't look at it that way. First of all, if you average my caloric intake over any seven day period,it is within the normal range for a man of my size. My fat intake over that same period would probably be lower than most people's. More importantly, this meal meets some of my personal needs that have nothing to do with nutrition but are definitely health related: it is very relaxing and enjoyable. Also, if I didn't indulge once in a while, I could see boredom and cravings creeping into my diet.

It's all well and good to say nothing is unhealthy, but from a practical standpoint, every day we are all confronted with choices between specific food items and you need a way to assess which is the better choice from a health point of view. For me; it's simple: lower fat and/or higher fiber is healthier. This may not be the most rigorous approach; in fact, if you want a list of it's failings:

- it ignores sodium content
- it ignores the different types of fat
- it ignores caloric content
- it ignores vitamin and mineral content

But it works for me. Most foods that pass that test actually usually end up being quite healthy in the areas I ignore. For example, following my simple guideline, I eat a lot of fresh fruit and fresh vegetables that end up taking care of my vitamin needs and also are generally low calorie. When I eat red meat, I eat small portions, lowering my saturated fat intake. And so on.

That's not to say there aren't other systems that can and do work. Vegetarianism is another system that, if used properly, can lead to a healthy diet. Eating local can force you to visit farmers' markets where there are a lot of healthy choices. The idea is to pick a system that you are comfortable with, that engages you, and that leads you to a healthier and happier lifestyle.

Let's end off today with a recipe. Being a bachelor, I like to make things that are easy to make in single servings, or even better, that freezes well. The following recipe makes 4 generous servings, I usually eat one right away, leave another in the fridge for a couple of days later, and freeze the other two for longer term storage.

Southwestern Ham with Black Beans & Rice
fat free italian dressing 4 tbsp
low fat ham, diced 14 oz
onion, chopped 2 medium
canned diced tomatoes 28 oz
canned black beans, rinsed 19 oz
tabasco sauce 0.5 tsp (or to taste)
black pepper 0.5 tsp (or to taste)
minute rice 3 cups

Heat dressing in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add ham and onion; cook 5 minutes or so. Add tomatoes, beans, tabasco and pepper. Reduce heat to low. Simmer 10 minutes or longer.
Serve over hot cooked rice, prepared as per package directions. For storage, I put the rice over the tomato/bean mixture; otherwise the rice absorbs the liquid and the dish becomes less saucy. Alternatively, you could store the rice seperately from the tomato mixture.

Bon appetit!

No comments: