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Power Foods versus Wimpy Fillers

When we build and maintain a house, we hope to use the finest materials we can afford.   If our contractor used trashy, weak, inferior components, we would expect to have big trouble down the line, and would rightly believe we had been cheated.

We don't think this way too often when maintaining our bodies.   Too many diets are frequently heavy in trashy or wimpy stuff and sadly deficient in power food.    We may look good and feel fine for now, but don't think the damage isn't being done; it definitely is!  The all-important substructure is being injured.

My sneaky opinion is that if three-quarters of our diet consisted of "power foods", three-quarters of future doctor visits and medications would be avoided.  We would also slip much more gracefully and happily into old age.

What foods make up the larger part of the American diet, and are wimpy fillers?    Here's a list of our nominations which are mostly lacking in vitamins, fiber, minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients, or are so overburdened with salt, fats, artificial flavors and colors, sugars and carbohydrates that they cancel out much of the value of those nutrients:

  • French fries, reconstituted mashed potatoes
  • White rice, canned or fresh corn
  • White pasta:  macaroni, spaghetti, noodles, etc.
  • Chips, pretzels and crackers
  • Prepared toaster things: waffles, pizzas, wraps, tarts
  • White bread
  • Most refined prepared cereals
  • Many dried or canned soup mixes
  • Plain gelatin desserts or puddings in cartons or mixes
  • Sodas, coffee and fruit flavor ades
  • Iceberg and other light green lettuces
  • Most "fast foods" like commercial burgers, tacos, plain pizza, hot dogs
  • Most deep-fat fried food
  • Most lunch meat and cheese "food"
  • Ice cream
  • Most cookies, cakes and pastries
  • Frozen fish sticks and commercially breaded shrimp
  • Butter, cream, sour cream, margarine and most oils

What makes a food a "power food"?  Super doses of vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, fiber and other healthy compounds, along with a reduced amount of refined sugar and fat.    Here's our list:

  • Whole grains:  wheat, rye, buckwheat, yellow corn, brown rice, oats
  • The cabbage family:  red and green cabbage, collard greens, kale, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower
  • Spinach, beet greens, chard, mustard and other dark greens
  • Watercress, escarole, endive, romaine and other dark salad greens
  • Soy based foods:  soy milk, soy powder, tofu
  • Legumes:  all kinds of beans, lentils, peas
  • Berries:  raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, cranberries, etc.
  • Apricots, peaches, apples, plums, prunes, grapes and raisins
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Dark yellow fruit:  papaya, cantaloupe
  • Dark yellow squash or pumpkin and sweet potatoes
  • Peppers:  green, yellow and red bell peppers, hot peppers
  • Beets and carrots
  • Bananas and plantains
  • Garlic
  • Most herbs and seasonings
  • Seeds:  sesame, flax, pumpkin, sunflower, nuts
  • Onions
  • Fat-free or low-fat milk products:  yogurt, cheese, milk
  • Olives and olive oil
  • Tea
  • Tuna, mackerel, cod, sardines, herring and other oily fishes, especially from cold waters

Does this mean we should never eat things in the first list?  Of course not!!!   Just seriously weight the scale on the power food side.

For instance, lettuce is ok, but if your salads are mostly iceberg lettuce, it's a wimpy salad.  Lettuce is a good "carrier" or base for a salad which can be loaded with nutrients:  watercress, peppers, dark greens, olives, tofu, garlic, onions, tomatoes, asparagus, beans . . . there's almost no limit to what you can add.

Whole grains can be mixed with refined ones if that's what it takes to get people to eat a food, or other nutritious ingredients can be added to tip the scale.

Plain pizza has tomato with valuable lycopene, cheese containing calcium, and also usually contains a lot of fat, salt and refined carbohydrates.  Add mushrooms, green pepper and onion  and the nutrient level is boosted considerably.  Better yet, buy a pizza shell and make your own with your favorite tomato-based sauce, olive oil, low-fat cheese, accents of lean meat and lots of garlic and veggies.  Or make Pizza Pie.

Pre-cooked vegetables can be added to most canned soups.  Cream soups are good made with low-fat or skim milk instead of water.  

A fast food hamburger on the fly can be jacked up on the nutritional scale by adding tomato, lettuce, cheese, pickle and even onion.

Gelatin desserts have a little protein and sometimes added vitamin C.  Use fruit juice instead of water to make it and stuff with power fruits, and it packs a punch nutritionally.  Ice cream, especially lower fat brands such as frozen yogurt or ice milk,  if you add a generous real fruit topping, isn't all that terrible if you don't have a problem with sugar.

If family members eat whole grain muffins, bread or vegetables only if they can add "butter", go for it.  Try one of the non-hydrogenated margarines, or a low fat variety if you are concerned.   Or substitute low-fat cream cheese.

Many other foods are excellent additions to the diet.  Some, such as meat, eggs and poultry, are probably best left as an accent rather than a main course in the healthy diet.  They don't really fall into the power food category.  Let's consider them "neutral" for figuring our diet. 

Many health and government agencies have published guidelines in the last several years recommending a huge amount of servings of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and milk products daily, so many that the average person may feel they are unrealistic.  One would have double one's food intake to take it all in, right?  Wrong!   The average American diet has so much wimpy filler in it that there is simply no room for the recommended servings of power food.  If we added those foods to our current diet, we would soon have hips the size of Brazil.  In order to fulfill these requirements, something has to go, and wimpy filler foods should be elected.

Calculate what percent of your own diet or that of a family member consists of wimpy items and what percent is power foods.  But be careful.  One hamburger, even run through the garden, does not equal a helping of baked beans!   A fast food burger has so much calories, salt, fat and refined carbohydrates it will take several   servings of whole grains and power vegetables to balance it.   One serving of french fries would need five or six helpings of fruit and veggies or whole grain foods on the other side of the scale.    

I firmly believe that if the percentage figured this way is highest in the "wimpy" category, you or family members you cook for will seriously pay for it down the line; in other words, be cheated out of a healthy future.   

Stock up on "power foods" and recipes that use them, and sneak them into the family diet-- you'll be glad you did.

The Sneaky Kitchen
Web Site by Bess W. Metcalf   Copyrightę April 1999 - 201

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