At some point, many of us will probably hear the dreaded words, “Your cholesterol is elevated and we are concerned about (fill in the blank)” from our doctors. My husband and I had our wake-up call this past Fall after our annual check-ups and had to face the music about a few too many pizza nights and In-N-Out burgers. Ironically, I love to cook well-balanced meals with lots of veggies and make a good portion of my living writing about healthy food. (How embarrassing!) But, with a demanding schedule and long hours, it was getting easier and easier to resort to something quick and simple — and unhealthy.
It was officially time to clean up our act and stop eating like teenagers. We began following what we thought was a “low carb” diet, eating more vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and nuts, and eliminated starches and sugar from our diet. We both lost weight and felt better, but it was very challenging to find reliable, accurate information online about the best approach for a low carb diet, and I decided to meet face-to-face with a registered dietitian.
Less is Not Always Better
After I described our diet and showed the dietitian a printout of two months worth of menus I’d logged into MyFitnessPal app, she looked up at me and said, “A low carb diet doesn’t mean NO carbs.” It took me a moment to process what she’d said, and she began to patiently enlighten me about whole grains, net carbs, “good” carbs, and how many ounces of various grains comprises a serving. With my new list of “acceptable” whole grain food choices, I happily returned to eating a slice of bread a few days a week, a few whole grain crackers here and there, and a bowl of oatmeal each morning. Not only did I no longer feel deprived of my favorite carb (bread in all its glorious forms), I felt better knowing it was okay to enjoy it (or at least a whole grain version) without guilt.
New Food Discoveries
This past week, we decided to eat at a Thai restaurant, knowing that there would be a selection of dishes available that fit the low carb paradigm. We were glad to find that brown rice was offered in addition to the usual white rice. When our food arrived, the brown rice that was served was Thai red cargo rice — it was very fragrant, with a purple-ish-red hull and a slightly sweet, nutty flavor and chewy texture. I was smitten — this rice had character! I’d just discovered my new favorite whole grain. After our meal, my husband and I realized we had fully embraced our new approach to eating and we were enjoying the journey immensely.
Don’t Believe Everything You Hear (or Read)
All too often, I hear others describing diets based on the same conflicting misinformation that tripped me up about low carb diets. Grains (carbs) were to be avoided (or so it seemed) according to some websites. I grew up loving whole grains in every form — we rarely had white rice (or white anything) in our household, thanks to the holistic diet advocated by Adelle Davis, the nutrition guru my parents subscribed to in the late 1960s. So, eating unrefined brown rice, whole wheat, millet, steel cut oats, quinoa, barley, corn and rye was nothing new to me. But, as I discovered, without completely understanding the role of whole grains in the low carb world and how to incorporate them properly into our new diet plan, it was possible to do more harm than good by avoiding these important nutrient and fiber sources. Whole grains contain valuable antioxidants not found in fruits and vegetables, as well as B vitamins, vitamin E, magnesium, iron and fiber.
Forget the Hype
If you are confused by pop-science blogs or diets labeled Atkins, South Beach, paleo, caveman, zone, gluten free, low carb, vegan, vegetarian, raw — you’re not alone. The media is obsessed with fad diet hype and “facts” become distorted interpretations and, at worst, gross misinformation. Recent medical research now supports the importance of “good fats” in our diets and eschews earlier versions of low fat diets that were recommended for years. The days of avoiding eggs and avocados are over. But, if you’re talking to a doctor trained before 2000, it’s likely you’ll hear some “old school” diet advice. While it’s an exciting time for nutritional and dietary research and discoveries, it takes a long time for new (and accurate) information to be assimilated into the general medical community.
Moral of the Story
If your doctor recommends that you pay closer attention to your diet, or if you have a specific health issue to deal with, schedule a consultation with a qualified registered dietitian before starting a new diet. Maintaining a healthy weight, losing weight, lowering cholesterol, or managing blood pressure or insulin resistance are health issues that many of us may face at one point or another, and a registered dietitian is an invaluable resource with the right training to help you achieve your specific goals. Learning how to use “food as medicine” and monitoring nutrition rather than taking prescriptions to “fix” the problem was vital to me — and success is the best medicine of all.
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