Simple Strategies for Better Eating Habits

If you are confused by the plethora of nutrition information that filters into the media, please look to the American Dietetic Association as a trusted resource for answers to your questions. Members of the ADA recently convened in Chicago to learn the latest information about food and nutrition. Here's what they found:

Protein

In all tissues and organs in your body, protein is "turned over" continually, meaning that old protein is broken down and replaced by new protein. Hence, we need to eat adequate protein on a daily basis to maintain health, particularly the health of the skin, liver, brain and heart. If you don't eat enough protein (as can happen with a sub-optimal vegetarian diet, a very low calorie reducing diet, or too many meatless pasta meals), you'll break down your muscles (a reservoir of protein) to protect those organs.

The maximal effective single dose of protein to build new muscle is ~35 grams of high quality protein (milk, egg, fish, meats) at one time. While most athletes easily eat this amount--plus more--three times a day to fulfill their daily protein requirement, elderly folks may not. Hence, they become weak and frail.

The bottom line: Be sure you (and your parents and grandparents) maintain your health and vitality by enjoying protein with each meal.

Eggs and Eyes

Carrots have long been touted as being "good for your eyes" because carrots are a rich source of carotenoids (precursors of vitamin A, needed for optimal eye function). Less well known is egg yolks are also powerful eye-health protectors. The yolk is a rich source of two potent carotenoids, lutein and zeaxanthin. These antioxidants reduce by up to 40 percent the risk of macular degeneration, the leading cause in Americans of irreversible blindness that occurs with age.

While yellow/orange fruits and vegetables (carrots, corn, squash, orange peppers) and dark leafy greens (spinach, kale, collards) are also good sources of lutein and zeaxanthin, studies suggest egg yolks are an even better source. That's in part because the yolk contains fat, and fat helps carotenoids to be absorbed. (This also means you should enjoy olive oil with salads, rather than fat-free dressing, to help absorb the carotenoids in colorful vegetables.)

Unfortunately, in their cholesterol-consciousness, many athletes are tossing egg yolks and eating only the whites. Stop! You can healthfully enjoy the whole egg--without elevating your blood cholesterol. Numerous studies indicate consumed eggs yolks is unlikely to alter blood cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart diease. (1)

The bottom line: Make that omelet with whole eggs, orange peppers and spinach.

Organic Foods--Are They Better?

Many athletes debate whether or not they should buy organic foods. In terms of nutritional value, studies in the U.S. suggest no significant differences, but studies in Europe report higher amounts of nutrients, including antioxidants. Eating a larger portion of conventionally grown produce can resolve any potential differences.

The bigger issue relates to protecting the soil and limiting water pollution from pesticides and fertilizers that seep into the ground. For those reasons, buying organic produce is a smart choice, particularly if it is locally grown, uses less fuel to be transported, and supports local farmers.

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