Sure, chocolate and strawberries make a delicious combo, but there’s more to pairing foods than combining items that taste great together. Get the most out of your diet by learning to pair foods that complement each other nutritionally, too.
How to Get Better Nutrition With Food Pairing
1)Colorful veggies with a little fat.
Many fruits and vegetables contain compounds called carotenoids. These are natural pigments that give foods like tomatoes, carrots and spinach their beautiful hues––from the pigments lycopene, beta-carotene and lutein, respectively. Carotenoids function as antioxidants in the body, which is one reason why fruits and vegetables are such an important part of a healthy diet. These important compounds are fat-soluble, which means that when you eat your veggies with a little bit of fat, your body is able to take up more carotenoids. So, adding some healthy fat from avocado or olive oil to your salad, for example, will help you absorb the carotenoids found in the romaine lettuce, carrots and tomatoes.
2)Vitamin C with iron-containing veggies and grains.
Iron comes in two different forms in foods. One form called ‘heme’ iron is found in fish, meat and poultry, and it’s more easily absorbed by the body than the so-called ‘non-heme’ iron found in certain veggies and grains. When you take in some vitamin C along with a source of non-heme iron, your body will absorb the iron better. And it doesn’t take much: the amount of vitamin C in one orange or one tomato can nearly triple iron absorption. So, tomatoes in your chili will help you absorb the iron in the beans. Strawberries will help you take up the iron in your cereal. And the iron in spinach will be better absorbed if you toss some orange or grapefruit wedges into your spinach salad.
3) Lemon and Green tea phytonutrients, which are naturally occurring and contain some unique and beneficial antioxidants called catechins, act to help protect the body’s cells and tissues from oxidative damage. When you add lemon to your green tea, the vitamin C can help your body absorb these beneficial compounds. If you don’t like lemon in your tea, have a fruit that’s rich in vitamin C along with your brew, like a bowl of berries or a sliced orange.
4) Fish and leafy greens.
When you drink milk that’s fortified with vitamin D (as is nearly all the milk sold in the US), the vitamin D helps your body absorb the calcium in the milk. But there’s another great way to pair these two nutrients––fish and veggies. Fatty fish like salmon and mackerel provide vitamin D, and leafy greens like turnip greens, mustard greens and kale provide calcium. Pairing the two will help your body take up the calcium in the veggies.
A balanced diet involves more than just meeting your nutrition needs––it’s a personal plan that balances with your likes, your dislikes and your lifestyle.
People often ask me, “Is dieting good, or bad?” It’s such a general question that I often don’t quite know how to answer––partly because we toss around the words “diet” and “dieting” so much that they’ve almost lost their meaning.
In truth, we’re all on a diet every day. We each have our own dietary habits and patterns that make up our usual “diet.” Sometimes we make changes to that diet––often to cut down on our calories––in which case you might say you’re “dieting” or “on my diet” (that is, until a few weeks later…when you’re “off my diet”).
What Makes a Diet Good or Bad?
There are certainly “good” diets and “bad” diets. We all know people who choose foods carefully and eat well, just as we know others who seem to eat nothing but fast food and soda. And if you need to lose weight, then “dieting,” in the most general sense, is probably a good thing. But it really depends on how you approach your weight loss.
If your weight loss diet is one you can stick with, is well-balanced and leads to a healthy rate of weight loss, then yes, in that case dieting is definitely “good.” But if the weight loss diet you’re attempting to follow is unbalanced, if it’s so strict that you can’t stick with it, or if it’s so low in calories that you have no energy or you lose weight too quickly, I’d say that’s “bad.”
The Best Diet is the One that Works for You
The most successful “diet” is a nutrition plan that works for you day in and day out, provides your body with the nutrients it needs and includes foods that you enjoy eating. It’s a diet that works with your lifestyle, that you can follow for the rest of your life and is uniquely yours.
With so many different “diets” out there, how do you put together the plan that works for you? The best way to start is to follow some basic principles, and then refine your eating pattern until you find a way of eating every day that works for you.
Building a Healthy Diet from the Ground Up
I like to think of building your diet in much the same way you would if you were constructing a house. You start with the basic foundation, you build up your supporting structures, and then you add the finishing touches to personalize it, and make it uniquely yours.
If you were building a house from the ground up, you’d have a budget. Similarly, if you’re building your diet, the first thing you need to know is how many calories you have to work with. Just as houses come in all different sizes, so do people and their calorie requirements. Calorie needs are individual to you, and are determined, in large part, by your body composition and the
amount of activity you get. You can’t plan out what you’re going to eat until you have an idea of your daily calorie needs to help you achieve your dietary goals (whether it’s to lose weight, gain
or stay the same).
Now, just like your house, your diet needs a strong foundation. Ideally, the core of your diet will be made up of lean proteins, health carbohydrate sources (in the form of vegetables, fruits and whole grains), and modest amounts of beneficial fats. Your goal is to divide up your calories from protein, carbohydrates and fats in a way that suits your needs.
In most cases, about half your calories are going to come from carbohydrates. The other half will be, more or less, roughly divided between protein and fat. The proteins, carbohydrates and fats you eat, along with the vitamins and minerals that your body needs, provide the supporting structure to your diet.
Personalize Your Diet for Long Term Success
Once the basic structure is finished, you get to decorate and personalize your house. The same holds true for your diet. You get to personalize your nutrition plan by picking and choosing the
foods you’ll eat that work with your likes and dislikes, your lifestyle, your budget––while still meeting your nutrition goals.
Personalization is really the key to your success. Focus on choosing the healthy foods that you enjoy the most. What really matters is the overall quality of your diet. And with so many healthy
foods out there, there’s no shortage of items to pick and choose from. It wouldn’t be “good” if you felt uncomfortable every time you walked into your own home––if it didn’t feel like “you.” Similarly, a diet is only “good” when it’s good for you––because it nourishes you, and because it just feels right. And once you feel natural and comfortable with the diet that you can “call your
own,” your weight should take care of itself.
My collegue Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training posted a great article to help us cope with stree and eating…
Stress eating doesn’t usually take away stress, and if it’s done too often, it can also add pounds. Here are some tips to beat this habit.”
Emotional Eating: It Happens.
Emotional eating happens to many of us from time to time. Maybe you’ve cheered yourself up with a bowl of ice cream after an unusually tough day, or sneaked a few French fries from your best friend’s plate while recapping a disastrous date. But when emotional eating gets out of hand—when eating is the first and most common response to negative thoughts and feelings—it’s time to get a grip.
What is stress eating?
Stress eating, or emotional eating, is when you eat in order to escape whatever bad feelings you’re experiencing, in the hope that food will make you feel better. Sometimes it’s a conscious decision, but more often it’s just a mindless response to a vague, negative emotion. You may not know what’s bothering you, but you’re pretty sure that food is the one thing that will cure whatever ails you.
Is it emotional or physical hunger?
There are few tell-tale signs that can help you distinguish emotional hunger/stress eating from true, physical hunger.
Emotional stress eating usually comes on suddenly. You start feeling stressed or tense, and wham! You’re craving nachos. On the other hand, physical hunger tends to come on gradually. You’re starting to feel hungry but you can wait to eat, which gives you some time to choose wisely and satisfy that hunger with something that’s good for you.
Stress eating usually causes a craving for a food that’s sugary, fatty and high calorie—and often very specific (not simply “chocolate,” but “a slice of triple layer fudge cake from Fred’s Diner on 6th Street”). But when you’re physically hungry, food in general sounds good to you. You’re willing to consider several options that will satisfy your physical hunger, which means you’re more likely to make a better choice.
Once your physical hunger is satisfied and your stomach is comfortably full, it’s a signal that you’ve had enough and you tend to stop eating. But when emotions are the driver, it’s easy to ignore what your stomach is telling you—and you wind up eating way too much while attempting to make yourself feel better.
Stress eating might lift your mood momentarily – then, just as quickly, shame and guilt often move in. On the other hand, when you finish a meal that’s satisfied your physical hunger, you don’t usually feel guilty afterwards for having eaten.
Tips for dealing with stress eating behaviors
Keep a food journal – A food journal can really help you see what triggers your stress eating. Whenever you feel the need to eat, make a note of how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 = I’m faint with hunger; 10 = I’m so stuffed I have to loosen my clothing). Then write down how you’re feeling at the moment.
Own up to your feelings – You know that emotions are the trigger for your stress eating, so why not acknowledge them? It’s okay to be mad or lonely or bored sometimes. The feelings may be unpleasant but they’re not dangerous, and you don’t always need to ‘fix’ them.
Work on your coping skills – Every time you eat in response to stress, it’s just a reminder that you can’t cope with your emotions. When stress strikes, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst thing that will happen if I don’t eat?” Yes, your stress level might rise a bit, but the feeling will pass. Practice tolerating your emotions, or finding other ways to deal with your stress.
Find alternatives to eating – Take a few moments to reflect on your feelings and think of ways you can solve your problem. Make a list of things you can do instead of eating, like walking, listening to music or meditating.
Unlearn your bad habits – Emotional eaters continually reinforce the idea that the best way to treat negative emotions is with food. And like other bad habits, stress eating happens before you’ve even had a chance to think about it. So, you need to “un-learn” your bad habits and practice doing something other than eating when a bad day strikes.
Wait it out – Stress eaters often are afraid that if they don’t satisfy the urge to eat, the craving will just get worse. But when they practice delaying tactics, they’re often surprised that the urge simply passes. Rather than immediately giving in to your urges, promise yourself you’ll wait a few minutes and let the craving pass.
Be kind to yourself, and give yourself time to work on your stress eating. If you find that these tactics aren’t working for you, ask your health care provider if counseling or group support might be helpful for you.
By Susan Bowerman, M.S., RD, CSSD, CSOWM, FAND – Senior Director, Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training