Monday, June 16, 2008

Fruits & Vegetables are Carbohydrates!!!

That title will get you, won't it? In this carb-o-phobic society, we don't stop to think that when we say "I'm cutting carbs", I really mean that I'm cutting back on the nutrient-deficient, white, starchy, refined stuff that once resembled a vegetable or grain (a.k.a. potatoes and white flour)."

Vegetables are the second "stripe" in the Pyramid - and that stripe is green, for anyone who cares. And fruits are their own category within the Pyramid - with their stripe being red. Though collectively referred to by most as "fruits and vegetables", they are separate in the Pyramid. And interestingly enough, collectively, their recommended consumption per day is the largest "group" in the pyramid, followed by grains.

The recommended number of servings of vegetables for the "average American" on a whopping 2000 calorie diet (with which I totally cannot concur!) is 2-3 cups per day, and 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit per day.

A serving of vegetables is estimated to be 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, or 2 cups of leafy greens - pretty easy to figure out, huh? Dried beans and peas fall into the vegetable category, as well as the Meat & Beans category, and they follow the same rule for quantity- about one cup equals a serving. Starchy vegetables like corn and diced or mashed potatoes also follow the "one cup" rule, although a serving of baked-like potato is estimated at 2-1/4 inch in diameter - that's tiny compared to what most probably constitute as a serving of potato. So get that ruler out!

Fruit on the other hand is another story. We need to differentiate between fresh fruit and dried fruit. One serving of fresh fruit tends to be estimated based on that of the following: a medium pear, a large peach or small apple equals about 1 cup or one serving. But have you noticed the average size of apples these days? Lou Ferrigno - they're huge! (And he's still huge! Just saw The Incredible Hulk yesterday and he has a cameo - kudos to looking so buff at 53 years young - and still, obviously - living a very healthy lifestyle (natural or not, he looks great!)) Anyway, a small apple is estimated to be 2-1/2 inches in diameter. I swear, I bought 4 to 5 inch apples the other day, and the whole bin was that size! And, I can usually find smaller apples in the Fuji bin, which are my favorites, but not this time! What a gross misconception for those who may be counting calories and think by grabbing an apple they're being healthy! Well, it is healthy, in the right proportion! Rather, grab an apple, a knife, a ruler and zip lock bag, because 1/2 to 1/4 of that monster may be one serving! Dried fruit, being dehydrated (shrunk) and having a higher concentration of natural sugars due to the dehydration, can be estimated by using a 1/2 cup as a 1 cup serving. Fruit juice can be estimated at a 1:1 ratio: 1 cup of juice (100% fruit juice) equals 1 cup of fruit.

From what I read, the average American is well under these recommendations for fruits and vegetables, and is most likely getting most of their vegetables from the high starch group such as potatoes and corn. I had a friend who once told me, fairly arrogantly and without the a hint of humility, that she puts veggies on the table in the evening the same way her mom did: a "vegetable" and a starch. The problem is that her version a a "vegetable", was often another starchy vegetable like corn or peas, and even worse, at times I think she would put rice and a potato on the table as sides (considering the rice a vegetable?) with a fatty meat. This is what she considered a healthy dinner...because that's how she was raised. And the arrogant ignorance in the way it was articulated, especially to someone like me who is constantly asking why and sourcing out scientific, evidence-based information, Ugh! She just went down two (more) points on my respect scale. Within this scenario, I must mention that often people use the model of one meat, one grain and one starchy vegetable for dinner, which ends up looking like the typical obese Americans diet: Non-lean red meat (and I have nothing against quality red meat as I'm a carnivore, myself), white rice and white potato with butter and cream, mashed. That's it. And to seriously digress, let's take that scenario a little further. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. The estimated caloric and macronutrient content of that dinner for an adult is approximately:
  • 6-8 OUNCE STEAK: Calories: 420, Protein: 54gr, Carbs: 0gr, Fat: 28gr
  • LARGE BAKED POTATO: Calories: 278, Protein: 7gr, Carbs: 63gr, Fat: 0gr
  • 2 TBSP BUTTER Calories: 101, Protein: 0gr, Carbs: 0gr, Fat: 11gr
  • 1.5 CUPS WHITE RICE Calories: 276, Protein: 7.5gr,Carbs: 62gr, Fat: 1.5gr
  • TOTAL Calories: 1075, Protein: 69gr Carbs: 125gr, Fat: 40gr
Two (OK, more than two, but let's talk about two) problems with this:
  1. The number of calories here is over half of what many Americans truly need to maintain their current weight or lose weight, with the weight I quote for a woman to be under 130 pounds. The amount of protein is double, triple, and maybe even quadruple what should be taken in in one sitting. The amount of carbohydrates is almost a total days worth, if that goal was around 150 grams. And all in one sitting? It's pre-diabetes on a plate at 6:30 - you just sent your pancreas into overdrive!! And 40 grams of fat (quite of bit if not all of this is satured fat, the bad kind) is over 3/4 of what should be consumed in a day. Can you feel the arteries hardening?
  2. Dinner is at 6:30 p.m. I wonder what the average person does after finishing this dinner? It's now about 7:15 p.m. and they are stuffed, so they sit down on the couch to catch the last 15 minutes of World News, and now it's 7:30 p.m. Only a half hour until the prime time brain drain hits the tube, so what the heck, let's watch some repeats of Friends or King of Queens, or better yet, let's catch up on Britney Spears and Brangelina. Then it's 8:00 p.m. - time for reality TV until bed. 1000 calories is sitting on the couch for a few hours and then going to bed.

To my arrogant friend: that may be the way "Mom" used to do it, but "Mom" and "Dad" may have been slopping the pigs or mowing the yard after dinner "back in the day". Our lives are much different - sedentary and over-portioned. Think about it.

Back to veggies and fruits. Children tend to be less likely to get the RDA of vegetables. There is such a huge world of fruits and vegetables out there - probably the area within the pyramid with the greatest opportunity for variety. Fruits and vegetables can be incorporated into every meal. There are some really interesting strategies within the book world out there right now to help incorporate healthy veggies into family favorites - take a trip to Borders or Barnes & Noble tomorrow night after dinner (hint hint!) and check it out. One of my faves is to puree broccoli, peas, fresh spinach or a combination and mix them into marinara sauce. While I don't advocate "sneaking" food in on your kids and then bragging about it - just don't tell them (translation: memories of a mushroom hating kid & a mom who liked to brag about hiding them in our meatloaf- not good motivation to want to like them!!!). Your intent is to add nutrients to their meals. If they do ask what the green stuff is in the sauce, tell them you pureed a few veggies into the mix to make the family healthier - worth a try!

Collectively, we need about 4 cups of fruits and vegetables per day. If, for breakfast we have a serving of fruit, as well as for one of our two snacks per day (as we all strive to eat 5-6 times per day, correct? - keep our blood sugar stable and our metabolism stoked, right?) - our fruit requirements are met. Then, if we have 1-1/2 cups of veggies for lunch and another 1-1/2 cups for dinner (preferably the non-starchy type for dinner, unless you're really active afterwards) - walla! You've achieved your goals. Breaking things down this way makes that big mess of details a lot simpler. The toughest thing to do is to decide what types of fruits and veggies you and your family want so that you keep some variety in your diet, with convenience also being a consideration. And once again, the variety is actually fun to play with - finding things you dislike but that you've never tried is also fun! I love to fail! Failure usually means pizza from across the street as the alternative! :)

I love the infinite variations for fruits and vegetables, and they're so pretty! So many just feel healthier when you eat such a rainbow of colors! And if you don't know what to a bargain cookbook on veggies or sides, Google the veggie you want to cook and a ton of recipe options will come up - just try. No excuses - bust the excuses! Take control and figure this out, it's not hard. And by figuring it out yourself versus waiting for someone to hand you the "secret" (here we go again!), you'll "get it", and be a smarter, healthier person for it.

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