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This is a book for people who want to improve their health and well-being by eating well. For many years, official nutrition recommendations have been less than direct and very conservative, in large part bowing to pressure from industry groups that stand to lose if people cut back on the use of their products. These watered-down dietary recommendations have failed to produce significant health benefits for most people.
That old saying, "everything in moderation," isn't very helpful when we're talking about the typical American diet. As Robert Pritikin, director of the Pritikin Longevity Centers, has stated, "in this country, we're dying of moderation."
In other words, the typical American diet is so extreme in fat and cholesterol content, that so-called moderate changes barely make a dent. The end result is still too much fat, too much cholesterol, and not enough fiber to offer significant health benefits.
This book will direct you to progressive dietary recommendations that call for radical changes in the way most Americans eat. These ideas are supported by an impressive body of scientific research and are being espoused by many of this country's leading health and nutrition experts.
For many years now, conservative dietary recommendations have called for taking in no more than 30 percent of the diet's total calories from fat. Scientists chose this level partly because they felt that it was a reasonable and attainable goal for Americans whose usual fat intake was far higher. Researchers were afraid that if the number was set lower, people would give up before they even started. Sorather than setting the goal at a figure that was optimal for human health, the number was set at a level that scientists felt people would accept.
There is growing sentiment among the scientific community, however, that dietary recommendations for the public should reflect what is scientifically accurate, rather than what scientists think the public will accept. In other words, give people the unadulterated facts and let them make informed choices.
Today, there is abundant scientific evidence that an optimal diet for most people is much lower in fat and contains far greater amounts of plant material—fruits, grains, and vegetables—as compared to the more traditional diet that includes 30 percent of calories from fat. The healthiest diet is based largely on plant foods and has a fat content of 10 to 20 percent of calories.
This book will guide you to foods that fit easily into a plant-based diet that derives 10 to 20 percent of its calories from fat.
Those of you who are familiar with Dr. Dean Ornish's books, Dr. Dean Ornish's Program for Reversing Heart Disease and Eat More, Weigh Less, with Dr. Neal Barnard's Food for Life, or with the Pritikin or McDougall programs can use this book to help put into practice many of the principles that these authors set forth. Their programs advocate plant-based diets that derive 10 to 15 percent of calories from fat.*
Others can use this book simply to learn some of the pitfalls of supermarket shopping or to take the first steps in reducing fat intake and increasing the fruits, vegetables, and grains in one's diet.
This book takes you on a step-by-step tour of your neighborhood supermarket, with some side trips along the way. The core of the book provides an aisle-by-aisle nutritional comparison of products, along with discussion and recommendations. The focus is on what you can have, rather than on what you should avoid. Each segment includes a list of "great choices." Interspersed throughout the book are lots of hints and shopping strategies, along with examples of how some healthwise shoppers cope at the supermarket.
The book is divided into three parts. Part One includes this chapter's description of how the book is organized, which should help you determine how to use the book to your best advantage. The next chapter answers some basic nutrition questions that you may have and lays the foundation for the nutritional comparisons to come. In the final chapter in this section, I offer pointers on using the new food labels.
Part Two is the tour of the supermarket. I'll show you nutritional comparisons of foods and discuss the best choices. You should come away with a very clear picture of what to put into your basket. This is a realistic look at the supermarket, so foods are grouped just as they are really found in most stores.
For the most part, brand names are not used in this book. Occasionally, I mention a few products by name, especially if they are good choices. However, I decided not to fill the pages of this book with specific brand-name products for two reasons. First, new products are constantly being introduced into the stores. Most of them will fail and be discontinued; by the time this book is in print, many of the products I might have mentioned will be unavailable or will have been altered in some way. Second, products that are available in one part of the country are frequently not sold in other regions. Rather than give a list of products to which you may not have access—or list only those products that are available everywhere in the country—it made more sense to give guidelines and advice that would enable you to evaluate the foods that are offered in your area without relying on brand names.
Part Three is the glue that helps to hold everything together. It begins with a set of sample grocery lists. This section answers the second most frequently asked question (after What's left to eat?): Where do I begin? Just having a list in hand helps.
Next, we'll steal a peek into the baskets of some of the shoppers in the checkout line—a valuable form of people watching! I'll illustrate some sample grocery cart "makeovers," incorporating great choices that will improve the nutritional profile of the purchases.
The book wraps up with a list of books, cookbooks, periodicals, and organizations that are good resources for anyone who would like additional information.
*These programs are very similar to each other. They share an advocacy of a very low-fat vegetarian diet. While this book is not designed as a companion to any one of these books, it is meant to help you make the transition to this type of diet. Nutrition in
What should I eat, and will I get enough protein, calcium, iron, and so on?
Can I shop this way for my whole family?
How can I ensure that I'm eating well without getting bogged down with food diaries and calculators?
The goal is to move your diet toward one that is largely plant-based, greatly increasing the ratio of plant products to animal products in your diet. For most people, this means radically decreasing the amount of meat, poultry, fish, cheese, milk, and other dairy products that they eat. It also means cutting back on added fats, such as oils, salad dressings, and margarine, and replacing those fat calories with calories that come from low-fat, fiber-rich foods—vegetables, whole grains, legumes such as dried beans and peas, and fruits.
The dietary goal is fairly straightforward, but some of you may like more structure. A meal-planning guide is included in Appendix A toward the end of this book to help you see how the foods you eat fit into a healthful diet.
Another way of incorporating structure is to count fat grams. Many of you are familiar with this approach. More information about counting fat grams is provided in Appendix B.
However, most people should find that they do not need to rely on calculators, food scales, and measuring cups. By getting enough food to meet your energy needs—eating until full but not stuffed—and aiming for a reasonable amount of variety in your diet, the rest should fall into place.
Most of us have been conditioned to think of certain foods as being the primary, best, or only sources of certain nutrients. Meat, for instance, is associated with protein, and most people think of red meat when they are asked to identify a food that is rich in iron. How many people can name a food other than cheese or milk that is a good source of calcium?
We associate many animal products with being good sources of several essential nutrients. But the fact is, there are many foods that are good sources of these nutrients, and the greatest variety of these can be found in the plant world. The best foods are those that are high in health-supporting nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and low in substances like saturated fat and cholesterol that contribute to disease when they are eaten in excess. And I'll explain in a moment that excess means a lot less than most of us are conditioned to believe.
A diet that is low in animal products protects against disease and promotes health. In its 1993 position paper on vegetarian diets, the American Dietetic Association states: "Studies of vegetarians indicate that they often have lower mortality rates from several chronic, degenerative diseases than do nonvegetarians."