Expert Advice: The skinny on all that FOOD


By Tara Kelsey, Bfit studio

High five to all the moms who are reading this! There is no job more important, more demanding, and with so little credit given where it is due. Moms are selfless. They care more about the health of their children than they do their own. Moms also have a lot of buying power. They alone make most of the decisions about what food to buy for their household.

In our society, the dollar speaks loudly. With a little knowledge, moms have the power to seriously influence what is sold at supermarkets, to teach their children to be healthy, and, in the long run, to impact the health of society.

Food is everywhere. Like any commodity these days, it’s invented, boxed, advertised, and sold to make a profit. We eat it because it tastes good, smells good, is pre-prepared, easily accessible, comforting, because we’re bored, because of social pressure, because we think it’s healthy, and, hopefully, because we’re hungry.

When it comes to food, there are a lot of choices to be made and there are a lot of reasons we make the choices we do. Right now in the United States, adult and childhood obesity and (type II) diabetes are all too prevalent. I guess we aren’t making the best choices. Maybe we aren’t thinking about it. Sometimes it’s just really confusing.

Everyone has to eat. Ironically, with all the food choices we are given, the one choice we can no longer make is to not think about food. Eating is no longer about health and sustenance, but entertainment. In a way, we can only blame ourselves. After all, we support food companies in their efforts to create “fun” foods empty of nutrients. At the same time, the best sellers are the double-pleasers: those made to appear healthy without actually being so. As we stumble over how unhealthy we are as a nation, it is in vogue to buy healthy and food companies know it. If their product isn’t healthy, they’ll find a way to make it appear so.

Since moms are the gatekeepers, let’s get to the skinny on food. First, we need to know why we eat. Then we’ll know what to eat.

Food has three purposes. First, it gives us energy to move. Second, it provides material to repair and rebuild us. Third, it protects us from illness and disease. Each of these functions is performed by a different kind of food (though some foods can overlap categories a little). We need to eat all three kinds of food in relative balance.  If we were to neglect any one category, we would leave our bodies unable to perform the associated function of that food.

  • Energy foods are starchy plant foods like grains, starchy veggies (corn, carrots, green beans, potatoes), and starchy fruit (bananas, dates). The healthiest energy foods are high in fiber, meaning they are whole foods.  In other words, the closer the food is to its original plant form, the better. For example, basmati rice is healthier than bread.
  • Repair/rebuilding foods are protein and healthy fats. Protein includes the familiar meat, eggs, poultry, and fish (salmon) but also the less thought of nuts, nut butters (almond butter), cheese, beans, lentils, and peas. Healthy fats include olives and olive oil, salmon, nuts (especially walnuts), avocado, and seeds like flax and pumpkin.
  • Protection foods are brightly colored vegetables, fruits, and spices. Think red strawberries, bell pepper, tomatoes, cayenne, cherries, radishes, and chili flakes. Try orange and yellow apricots, carrots, oranges, corn, squash, turmeric, cumin, and ginger.  Also, green asparagus, spinach, kale, kiwi, zucchini, and lime.  Include blue and purple blackberries, potatoes, pomegranate, figs, eggplant, cabbage, and current. Last of the color spectrum, white onion, garlic, cauliflower, parsnip, and Jerusalem artichoke. These are just a few examples. There are many, many more worth exploring.

While this is a simple organization of food, you can further your understanding by trying to “categorize” foods you see in the market. For example, juice is made from a protection food, but it is so refined, it is actually an energy food, but not a very good one (no fiber, all sugar).  Include it in your diet in moderation or not at all. Most pre-packaged foods fall under the category of not-so-good energy foods (aka..weight gain foods).  For example, cookies, chips, soda (food?), crackers, granola bars, cereals, even yogurt (which is often very sweetened).

An easy meal plan is to include one energy food, both a protein and a healthy fat from the repair/rebuilding category, and unlimited (but at least one) protection foods.  Snacks can be from one, two, or three of the categories.

These days, a lot of eating healthy is identifying real food amidst all the colorful boxes, bottles, and bags designed to grab our attention on supermarket shelves. If we aren’t at the grocery store, there are fast food chains and low-quality restaurants happy to provide what looks like food, but isn’t really. Sure, these foods taste good, but they don’t make us feel good. Instead of feeling satiated after eating, we often get a stomachache followed by a quick return of hunger. Real food tastes good, is filling, and makes you feel great. And isn’t that what we all want, to feel great?

Tara holds a degree in biochemistry and nutrition.  Along with Claudia Smith, she co-owns bfit, where she teaches nutrition and fitness.  Tara is author of bfit, be full, a nutrition column on www.bfitfayetteville.comClick here to read Tara’s column.