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Ester Marsh: Can I eat healthy yet still have my forbidden foods?

The other day, someone told me that they could never be a health nut because they weren’t able to eat healthy all the time. So what do we see as a “health nut”? Most health nuts prefer to only eat foods that are either organic or foods that are produced without pesticides, chemical preservatives and GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Fruits and vegetables such as zucchini, sugar beets and corn have a high risk of being genetically modified, just to name a few.

That’s why I love to eat food that grow in my own garden. I know exactly what vegetables I plant, what I put on them and how I fertilize them. (Another reason why it’s great to have horses!) A health nut focuses on high consumption of fruits and vegetables and a low consumption of red meat and fatty foods. Raw foods and grains are preferred to processed or refined foods. They like to get their protein from fish, dairy (for some) and nuts. Salt, pepper, sugar, coffee, caffeinated beverages and alcohol are discouraged. Then, throw regular exercise on top of that and you can call yourself a health nut.

I believe there are different levels of being a health nut. Some will absolutely stick to their plan and never veer off and be perfectly happy with it. Some, like myself, like to challenge their taste buds and eat processed foods. My personal philosophy is that if you never eat junk food or abstain from wine, beer or coffee, life sure seems longer! Of course, there are people that, due to health conditions, have to be on an extremely strict diet. It’s very important to stick to a diet that has been recommended by a doctor and is set up by a registered dietitian.

For people who want to better their eating habits but also want to be able to live and enjoy “forbidden” foods once in a while, the following works for me:

First of all, I really try to stick with the serving sizes recommended by the USDA. Your intake level depends on your age, sex and activity level. The website I often recommend is www.choosemyplate.gov. This free site will give you helpful information and can also calculate your calorie needs.

Typically:

For the grains (yes, your body needs carbohydrates), eat about six servings of grains a day. Make at least half of your grains whole. (And one big bowl of cereal is not just one serving.) A six-inch sub can actually be four to six servings of grains.

For the vegetables (and I have never met anyone who gained weight on just vegetables), try to eat five serving sizes per day. Eat more dark green veggies like broccoli, spinach and dark green lettuce and orange vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes. And watch what you put on your salad such as bacon, cheese, croutons and dressing — these things can be high in fat and calories.

For fruits, eat two to four servings per day, choosing a variety of fruits and pick the fresh ones that are in season. Go easy on fruit juices.

For our milk group, shoot for three to four servings. Go low fat or fat free when you choose milk, yogurt and other milk products. If you can’t tolerate milk products, choose lactose free and/or calcium fortified foods and beverages. Many people have switched and love almond milk and coconut milk.

This country loves its meats. Huge serving sizes of meat on just one sub or sandwich is very normal here and puts us way over our daily recommended serving size of two to three servings (one serving of meat should be the size of your palm of your hand). Bake, broil or grill, and choose low-fat meats and poultry and vary your protein intake with fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.

I really try to get in all my food groups with the correct serving sizes. It is all about awareness of what you are putting into your body. I will have ice cream (just not very often). I will eat ribs, loaded baked potato and steamed veggies (once in a while). I use less butter and oil and make food tasty with herbs and spices. I do own a fryer but have only used it when my family is here. The Dutch love their fries! A healthy variety of foods, low fat yet very tasty, adequate serving sizes and a calorie intake your body will burn again (if you want to stay the same weight) is not a horrible life sentence you just have been given. It is the recipe for feeling and looking great! And, of course, an occasional piece of cheesecake is definite part of this “not a health nut” lifestyle. I just love to be healthy.

Ester H. Marsh is associate executive director of the JF Hurley family YMCA.

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