A few years ago we visited Ireland, choosing to stay at many bed and breakfast farms in the countryside. Toward the end of the trip, we were having dinner with our hosts. At one point during dinner, the gentleman commented, “You’re not fat. All Americans are fat. Why is that?” He calmly returned his attention to his plate of food.
We were a little stunned by his honesty, yet during the trip we had noticed something telling. Most Irish were not fat. We decided this was because most meals consisted of fresh foods and everyone walked everywhere. If they weren’t herding sheep, they were walking or bicycling to town. In some ways it was like stepping back in time, which leads me to my next point.
The sheep get more exercise than most Americans.
Have you ever watched some of those old television shows or movies from the ‘40s or ‘50s? Even up to the ‘70s, people were remarkably thin compared to today. What were we doing differently? Well, I have a theory, and it’s not a stunning insight. We should all know this by now and I am living proof to that truth.
1940s. Look at the size of their waists and calves.
My lab reports had never been stellar. After a frightening update with skyrocketing triglycerides, saturated fats, and cholesterol, I was a ticking time bomb for cardiac issues. Doc said cut the fat, alcohol, and sugar. Or else. I’m not afraid of death, I’m afraid of hanging around with multiple, serious debilities requiring others to take care of me. Please God, just take me in a heartbeat—but not for a while.
I decided on a new tactic. Statins hadn’t worked for me. I was cursed with a familial connection to fatty particles floating in my blood, so something besides genetics had to give. It was time to get serious about label reading and what was hiding in my kitchen, slowly making its way into my blood.
I started in my pantry and pulled out all the sweet and salty snacks. Reading each label I was pleasantly surprised that many did not have cholesterol. However, fat and sugars were abundant. Manufacturers can be stealthy and sneak those ingredients in with covert names. If I didn’t recognize it, I looked it up. It took some time, but my health was at stake.
So many choices...these are not from my pantry!
Next I hit the refrigerator. Same thing. I looked at salad dressings and anything that was bottled or packaged. Cheese would be my downfall. I could get reduced fat milk, yogurt, even mozzarella, and ricotta without much sacrifice. But what about cheddar and my Mexican food? I longed for my Kung Pao chicken and fried egg rolls. I decide there would be trade-offs. Eating out, I would cut meals in half and choose low carb veggies, meatless entrees, fish, or chicken-based meals.
Training continued at the grocery store. Mind you, I’m no babe in the woods with this stuff. I am a dietitian and a retired nurse. Was I crazy or were manufacturers enhancing processed foods with more—ahh, let’s just say additives. I read six bags of Goldfish crackers. Each one had different amounts of fats and cholesterol. I considered all the skinny people on television from the 1940s to ‘70s, well before processed foods became popular. I had heard it all before, recognized the significance, but often unnecessary additives are swept under the rug by large companies promoting their products.
My field trip continued. I was avoiding pork and beef, leaning toward fresh fish and white chicken meat. But ground meats blew me away. I discovered ground chicken and turkey had more fat and cholesterol than a small pork chop or lean beef! In my heart (no pun intended) I knew that, but I had no idea the ends of the spectrum were so extreme. Most disturbing were cookies. My advice, stay away from manufactured cookies and make your own. Unsweetened applesauce can be a good substitute for fat in a recipe.
Portions were another issue. Without paying attention to portion size, I could be easily duped.
Monosaturated fats were the way to go. I bought another bottle of olive oil to alternate with avocado oil and shunned coconut oil. I found a butter substitute that tasted good, worked well with cooking, and spread easily. I bought a bag of mixed nuts (no peanuts) and this became my salty snack. I also snack on hummus and fresh veggies. Watermelon is my new best friend. And let’s not forget the ice cream substitute, frozen yogurt.
My go-to evening treat.
I don’t believe in cutting out entire food groups. I should say my body doesn’t like it. No Keto for me, but I did change my carbs. Instead of white or fried rice, I switched to quinoa, barley, bulgar and brown rice. I take any leftover meats, tofu, or vegetables and top a portion of any grain and have a meal. HINT: Tofu is so much better browned in olive oil. I make it in batches.
Did I mention oatmeal? Real oats, as opposed to Cherrios, are beneficial. I make a batch with cinnamon, a little low-fat milk and sweeten it with applesauce. I prefer porridge oats, my favorite being Flahavan’s—warm, filling, and comforting. For now, eggs, bacon, and sausage are on the back burner.
Warm, filling, and comforting.
Of course we consume a lot of vegetables from our garden, however those can be problematic too. With my high triglycerides I avoided carbohydrate rich vegetables like corn, peas, and beans. But wait, beans are a great protein source. So my thinking changed. Beans, lentils, and peas became a meat substitute. Corn on the cob, famously sweet and abundant in July, became dessert! I do the same with any kind of bread or biscuit.
This is my outcome to date. No exaggeration: within 24 hours I started feeling better. No bloating or sluggishness. Heartburn nearly disappeared. And then, a wonderful side effect. I started losing weight, quickly I might add. This is no small feat for me. Calories cling to me like white on rice, biscuit dough on hands, Gorilla Glue on fingers. Even by cutting portions, I don’t lose weight. All I can figure is once I took out the saturated fats and blatant sugars, my body responded in kind. Now we are on the same team.
Here are my recommendations. Above all, these big changes were not as painful as I anticipated. Take one step at a time. It’s all in the right direction.
1. Start in your kitchen and read the labels of all you favorite foods looking at fats and sugars. Hint: Carbohydrates are sugar. Check the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer.
2. Set your limits and determine what foods are acceptable and not acceptable. Food nutrients are analyzed by grams and percentage of daily intake. Choose whatever method is easier for you to understand and evaluate. Fresh vegetables and fish are always a safe choice.
3. Lose the foods that do not meet your standards, remove them, and find a substitute that does not leave you feeling deprived.
4. Move as much as you can. That can be difficult if you live with chronic pain, but keep that goal to exercise in the forefront.
5. It’s okay to cheat once in a while. This is a lifestyle change, not a diet.
BONUS: Here is my favorite recipe for cucumber water, and I bet it would work with watermelon too:
8 cups of water, 6-inch piece of unpeeled cucumber or watermelon chunk, juice from half a lemon, fresh mint leaves, Stevia to taste.
Pour water into blender and add chunks of cucumber, juice, and mint. Blend until everything is ground into tiny pieces. Strain into pitcher. Sweeten to taste or not at all. Pour over ice. I sip this all day long.