Essentials for Eaters and Dieters

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What about salt (sodium)?
Table salt (sodium chloride) is a flavor enhancer. It is an essential nutrient that is naturally low in whole fruits and vegetables, but not hard to find in the modern American diet. Some studies have linked increased sodium intake with increased blood pressure. Even people with normal blood pressure can enjoy lower blood pressure when they restrict the sodium in their diet. Since elevated blood pressure (hypertension) is an independent risk factor for heart disease and there are no demonstrated risks for reducing sodium intake in hypertensive or normotensive populations, the American Heart Association now recommends all adults aim for 2400 mg of sodium or less every day. In general terms, that amounts to getting rid of the salt shaker and using reduced-sodium canned and frozen goods in your cooking. If you are accustomed to a lot of salt, it will take time to adjust. Be patient and persist—your taste buds will adapt.

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What About Snacking?

Snacking as part of a meal plan
snackingLets be honest here, we all are guilty of the occasional mid-day or late night snack. However, there is no need for that guilty feeling if snacking is done right. There are two different methods of healthy snacking that are both beneficial but can be used in different situations. First, snacking can be used to replace larger meals by eating smaller snacks more frequently throughout the day or by incorporating snacking into your daily meal plan. This is especially useful for adults on the go who do not have time to eat three large meals a day and also for small children who cannot eat a large meal in one sitting. Small, balanced snacks or mini-meals spaced throughout the day are a common practice among the people who have successfully lost weight and kept it off. This type of snacking should be planned ahead of time to avoid overeating. Mindless, random snacking should rarely, if ever, occur.

Snacking as a meal substitute
Snacking can minimize hunger and exhaustion when you need to work late or don’t have time to sit and eat a full meal. You can select balanced and tasty snacks to keep with you in cases like these.

The ideal snack to replace a meal would contain all the components of a real meal: grains, high-fiber fruits and vegetables, dairy, and a lean protein source. It is difficult to create fully balanced snacks from non-perishable items. You should try to include some protein in your snack so it satisfies your hunger. See below for some great snack ideas.

Choosing the right snacks
The type of snack you choose determines if it will be beneficial or detrimental to your diet. Many Americans choose to indulge in high fat and high sugar foods such as cookies, ice cream, and potato chips when they are snacking. However, it is important to note that one of these popular snacks should never replace a meal. Here are a couple tips for creating balanced snacks:

  1. Snacks should provide some calories (150-300kcals). You’re hungry for a reason and you’ll stay hungry until your body gets some energy. Vegetables by themselves make a poor snack because they are very low in calories and leave you feeling hungry. Combine smaller portions of energy-dense foods like breads, meats, or low fat cheeses with fruits and vegetables to provide calories and help you feel full.
  2. Snacks should provide adequate amounts of protein. Protein is the most important nutrient you should be looking for in your snack foods. Snacks that are 100% carbohydrate can lead to a greater intake of fat and protein during later meals. Energy bars, especially high protein bars, are great for on-the-go snacking. Energy bars will keep you full and satisfied between meals, or in some cases, can provide enough calories and nutrients to replace a small meal. Some other examples of on-the-go snacks include:
  • Whole wheat crackers with peanut butter
  • Trail Mix
  • Nuts
  • Low fat beef or turkey jerky with crackers and applesauce
  • Raisins and peanut butter on celery sticks
  • Fresh/dry fruit, such as apples, bananas, and oranges with cheese

When snacking, remember that a higher fat content is okay if the food item is low in saturated fat and contains adequate amounts of protein. When the right foods are chosen, snacking can be beneficial to creating a healthy, happier you.

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Is Vegetarianism Healthy?

What does "vegetarian" mean?
Generally, vegetarians are people who choose to eliminate meat, poultry, and fish from their diets. However, the eating patterns of vegetarians vary depending on the person. A semi-vegetarian is a person who eats meat occasionally, but generally follows a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians who never consume meat, fish, or poultry are known as lacto-ovo-vegetarians. The lacto signifies that milk and dairy products are consumed, while the ovo signifies that eggs are present in the diet. Vegetarians that cut eggs out of their diet on top of meat, poultry, and fish are known as lacto-vegetarians. The strictest vegetarian diet, which excludes all animal products from the diet, is known as vegan.

Is it possible to consume a vegetarian diet without causing nutrient deficiencies?
Yes, it’s definitely possible. A healthy diet can be achieved in a variety of ways; however, vegetarians must be more aware of their food choices. It is possible for most vegetarians to consume a balanced diet from natural foods, although vitamin B12 poses a problem for some vegans. Vitamin B12, which is necessary to maintain certain nerve functions, is not naturally found in any plant products. Dairy products and eggs are good sources of B12 for lacto-ovo-vegetarians. Some brands of soymilk and veggie burgers are fortified with vitamin B12. Vegans may want to consider supplementation in order to avoid a deficiency. Adding a multivitamin that contains B12 into your diet is all that is necessary. When planned correctly, vegetarian diets can be nutritionally balanced and extremely healthy. In fact, the American Dietetic Association states that a vegetarian diet can aid in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases, such as heart disease and cancer.

veg optionsWhat types of nutrients should vegetarians focus on when planning their diets?
Protein is the first nutrient that comes to mind since animal products are a major source of protein in a traditional diet. Plants can also be an excellent source of protein. It is possible to meet your protein needs when a variety of plant products is consumed throughout the day. Sources of protein for vegetarians include soy products, nuts, and beans. Eggs, milk, cheese and other dairy products can be good sources of protein for lacto-ovo vegetarians. It is important to note that plant protein is less efficient than animal protein, so you must eat more plant protein to meet your needs. Make sure to eat a variety of plant products everyday.

Vegetarian women of childbearing age should be most concerned about adequate iron in their diet. Sources of iron in a vegetarian diet can be whole wheat bread, spinach, soy foods, peas and other kinds of beans. Many vegetarian and omnivorous women benefit from iron supplementation. For vegan diets, consuming adequate calcium also requires a little more planning. Green leafy vegetables, some kinds of beans, and numerous fortified soy products, cereals and juices can be good sources of calcium.

What are some tips when planning a healthy vegetarian diet?
A vegetarian diet is like any other diet; it requires a lifestyle change for it to be successful. It is important to eat balanced meals containing an adequate amount of protein. Whenever possible, try to choose low fat options, especially in the dairy category. You want to focus on consuming foods at the base of the pyramid, not in the top section. For example, consume skim milk or whole wheat bread, instead of ice cream or french fries.

The vegetarian food industry has been growing and is estimated to be a 2.8 billion dollar industry in 2006. There are more ready-to-eat vegetarian foods than ever before. So take advantage of that and try out some veggie burgers or soy chicken patties, and see what you like. Also, many Asian and Indian restaurants offer a variety of vegetarian dishes to suit your tastes. Don’t be afraid to try something new. You can learn more about preparing balanced meals at your local library or from the following web resources.

You can learn more about preparing balanced meals in our Links section.

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What about sugar-free foods?
Sugar-free does not always mean low-calorie or calorie-free. Many sugar-free foods contain more fat and salt than regular foods in order to enhance flavor. If you choose to use sugar-free products, read the labels.

Essentials for Eaters and Dieters | Version 2.0
Copyright ©2005, 2006 University of Illinois Board of Trustees