If you grew up drinking skim milk, you have an advantage over athletes who were trained to like the "real thing." Unfortunately for our health, a glass of whole milk contains the equivalent of two pats of butter. That's 10 grams of fat, 50 calories of cloggage.
Your best bet is to gradually wean yourself from whole milk (3.5% fat) to 2% fat milk, then 1%, and then skim. You can stop at 1% or 2% milk, as long as you keep other fatty foods at a minimum throughout the rest of your day's intake.
For example, cut back on cheese, butter and obviously greasy foods. Your overall diet will end up being low in fat.
Now that you are drinking lower-fat milk, the trick is to enjoy milk (or yogurt or other calcium-rich foods) three times a day to get the calcium needed to protect your bones, help keep blood pressure under control, and manage weight.
Choose cereal (with milk) for breakfast, a (decaf) latte in the morning and another in the afternoon, hot cocoa (with milk powder added to hot cocoa mix), and cups of yogurt for snacking.
You've undoubtedly heard you'll be strong to the finish if you eat your spinach. But what if you don't like the stuff, even though it offers iron, folate, potassium, beta-carotene and abundant other health-protective nutrients?
Before saying "yuck," try a salad made with baby spinach leaves (available in the "bagged salad" section of most grocery stores). Baby spinach offers a sweeter, gentler taste than regular frozen or fresh spinach.
Here's a lip-smacking good sweet 'n' spicy salad dressing (courtesy of marathon king Bill Rodgers) that will find you coming back for more spinach:
Combine 2 to 4 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, 1/2 to 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 tablespoon ketchup, and salt as desired. (This makes enough for a whole bag of spinach.) Add your choice of slivered almonds, mandarine oranges, mushrooms, broken walnuts ... Mmmm.
Fruit for dessert, snacks
Without a doubt, athletes who eat fruit several times a day protect health far better than any vitamin supplement might do. But if a pear just doesn't "do it" for a snack, nor does an apple satisfy your hankering for apple pie, try these tips to fatten your fruit intake.
1. Do your "fruit duty" at breakfast, the meal when fruit appeals to most people. By enjoying a tall glass of orange juice along with a banana (on cereal), you'll have a firm foundation to your day's fruit intake.
2. Eat a heartier lunch, so fruit will become an appealing dessert. For example, convert your light lunch into a peanut butter sandwich. You'll then be content to enjoy grapes for dessert (instead of a big cookie).
3. Snack on an apple plus (low-fat) cheese, banana plus peanut butter, berries plus yogurt. One piece of fruit for about 100 calories is generally too little for an athlete who may need 300 calories per snack.
Costs vs. benefits
Making dietary improvements offers benefits: better health, more energy, fewer dental cares, longer life, etc. But eating healthier comes along with costs.
That is, eating breakfast means you have to wake up earlier, have breakfast-food available, and take the time to eat. But the benefits are: you'll be more alert, less hungry midmorning, have a better workout that afternoon, and be better able to control your weight.
When the benefits of breakfast outweigh the costs, you'll integrate that dietary improvement into your life.
The same goes for ice cream. When you eat heartier, wholesome meals at breakfast and lunch, you'll be content to eat a lighter dinner and less ice cream (or other evening snacks) afterward.
You may not even miss the goodies, or will easily eat smaller portions.
By acknowledging the costs and benefits of your food choices, you can better understand why you eat the way you do, and then move forward.
Keep focused on this overriding benefit: When you eat well, you feel better and you feel better about yourself. Everyone always win with good nutrition!
Copyright: Nancy Clark 12/04
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD offers nutrition consultations to casual and competitive athletes at her private practice in Healthworks (617-383-6100), the premier fitness center in Chestnut Hill MA. Her "Sports Nutrition Guidebook" ($23) and "Food Guide for Marathoners" ($20) can help you improve your sports diet. Both books are available at www.nancyclarkrd.com or by sending a check to PO Box 650124, West Newton MA 02465.