Choosing a Healthful Diet
ALTHOUGH doctors today are trained to treat disease, one physician said: “Health, strangely enough, is not our field. Health is the responsibility of each person.”
Joe, mentioned in the previous article, accepted this responsibility after undergoing surgery for a severely blocked coronary artery. He made needed changes in his eating and reaped wonderful benefits. “You’ve experienced coronary regression, Joe,” his doctor happily reported. “The diet you’ve practiced has worked.”
What kind of adjustments can we make in our diet? How can we take responsibility for our health and eat in a way that is likely to improve it?
Essence of a Healthful Diet
The essence of a healthful diet is simply making good choices from the foods that are available. For help in making healthy choices, the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends the use of a four-tiered food guide pyramid.—See the chart on page 12.
At the base of the pyramid are complex carbohydrates, which include grain foods, such as bread, cereal, rice, and pasta. These foods are the foundation of a healthful diet. On the second tier are two equal sections; one is vegetables, and the other is fruits. These foods are also complex carbohydrates. Most of your daily diet should be selected from these three food groups.
The third tier has two smaller sections. One section has such foods as milk, yogurt, and cheese; and the other includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts.a Only moderate amounts of foods should be eaten from these groups. Why? Because most of these foods are rich in cholesterol and saturated fat, which can increase the risk of coronary disease and cancer.
Finally, at the very top of the pyramid is a small area that includes fats, oils, and sweets. These foods provide very few nutrients and should be eaten sparingly. More foods should be chosen from the bottom part of the pyramid, and fewer from the top.
Rather than sticking to the same food items from each section toward the bottom of the pyramid, it is wise to experiment with a variety of foods within those sections. This is because each food has a different combination of nutrients and fiber. Some vegetables and fruits, for example, are good sources of vitamins A and C, while others are high in folic acid, calcium, and iron.
Not surprisingly, vegetarian diets are becoming increasingly popular. “Data are strong that vegetarians are at lesser risk for obesity, . . . constipation, lung cancer, and alcoholism,” says dietitian Johanna Dwyer in FDA Consumer. And, contrary to what some may believe, with careful, proper planning, even meatless diets “can meet Recommended Dietary Allowances for nutrients,” according to the 1995 dietary guidelines.
An important factor for everyone is keeping dietary-fat intake below 30 percent of total calories and saturated fat below 10 percent. You can do this without becoming a vegetarian and without unduly sacrificing your enjoyment of eating. How?
An Important Key
“Substitution is the key,” says Dr. Peter O. Kwiterovich, of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “Substitute foods low in total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol for foods high in these fats.” Use vegetable oil and soft margarine in place of animal fat, solid shortening, or ghee—a clarified butter commonly used in India. Avoid the use of such vegetable oils as palm oil and coconut oil, which are high in saturated fats. And drastically limit your consumption of commercially made bakery products—doughnuts, cakes, cookies, and pies—since they commonly contain saturated fats.
In addition, substitute skim or low-fat (1 percent) milk for whole milk, margarine for butter, and low-fat cheeses for regular cheeses. Also, replace ice cream with ice milk, sherbet, or low-fat frozen yogurt. Another way to decrease cholesterol in your diet is to reduce your consumption of egg yolks to one or two per week; use egg whites or egg substitutes in cooking and baking.
Meat is listed in the same section of the Food Guide Pyramid as poultry and fish. However, fish, chicken, and turkey often contain less fat per serving than such meats as beef, lamb, and pork, depending on the cuts used and the method of preparation. Regular hamburger, hot dogs, bacon, and sausage are usually especially high in saturated fat. Many dietitians recommend limiting the amount of lean meat, fish, and poultry consumed per day to no more than six ounces [170 g]. Although organ meats, such as liver, may have dietary benefits, it should be remembered that they are frequently high in cholesterol.
Between regular meals many people enjoy snacks, which often consist of potato chips, peanuts, cashews, cookies, candy bars, and so forth. Those who recognize the value of a healthful diet will replace these with low-fat snacks that include homemade popcorn without added butter or salt, fresh fruit, and raw vegetables like carrots, celery, and broccoli.
Keeping Count of Calories
When you center your diet on complex carbohydrates instead of high-fat foods, there are positive benefits. You may also lose weight if you are overweight. The more grains, vegetables, and beans you can substitute for meat, the less fat you’ll be accumulating on your body.
Rosa, mentioned in the second article, wanted to lose 50 pounds [about 25 kg] in a year. To lose one pound, she must consume about 3,500 fewer calories than her body needs. She can do this either by eating less or by being more physically active. Rosa decided to do both. She reduced her daily intake of dietary calories by 300. And she started walking about 20 miles a week, thereby expending some 1,500 calories. By sticking to this plan, she has been able to lose about one pound [half a kg] a week.
When Eating Out
Fast-food restaurants have become popular. But caution is needed because the foods they offer are usually high in saturated fat and calories. A large or double hamburger, for example, contains between 525 and 980 calories—many of them from fat. Often, fast foods are fried or served with fattening cheeses, toppings, or dressings. Eating such meals will likely take its toll on your health.
If you live in a country where restaurants serve large portions, you need to watch the amount of food you consume. If you do not eat the full meal, you can ask to take what you do not eat home. Some diet-conscious people order only an appetizer, which is smaller than a regular entrée. Some couples order one entrée and share it, but they also order an extra salad. Wisely, you will beware of restaurants that offer unlimited food for one moderate price. These places can be a temptation to overeat!
A Healthful Diet for All
While those in Western countries battle obesity and undergo bypass surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and expensive medical treatments, vast numbers of mankind do without sufficient nourishment or even starve to death. In God’s promised new world, however, the problems of food and nutrition will be things of the past. The Bible promises: “There will come to be plenty of grain on the earth; on the top of the mountains there will be an overflow.” (Psalm 72:16) Mankind will then know how to enjoy abundant food in a beneficial way, since the Bible also assures us: “No resident will say: ‘I am sick.’”—Isaiah 33:24.
That time of perfect health is near at hand. Meanwhile, we can try to maintain a measure of good health by making healthy choices from the foods that are available to us.
a Some foods can belong to more than one group. Dry beans and lentils, for example, can be counted as servings in either the vegetable group or the meat and beans group.
[Box/Pictures on page 12]
Food Guide Pyramid
Wisely select more foods from the lower levels of the Food Guide Pyramid
Fats, oils, and sweets
Milk, yogurt, and cheese group Meat, poultry, fish, dry
2-3 servings per day beans, eggs, and nuts group
2-3 servings per day
Vegetable group Fruit group
3-5 servings per day 2-4 servings per day
Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group
6-11 servings per day
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture,
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services