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Does "Diet" Food Have to Be Bad?

Happy May! Did you know that May 1 is considered to be halfway between the spring equinox and summer solstice? I always associate the day with the tradition of giving and receiving baskets of flowers. This is going out to you a couple of days later, but just like birthdays should be celebrated for more than one day, let's keep May Day going. Go get some flowers and give them to someone!

This week I've been thinking about how much we push back against "diet food". It's often referred to as rabbit food and it's as if we're about to be put in prison with the mere suggestion of altering our intake. I know certain "Plans" claim that we can eat anything -- no more forbidden foods, however I think most of us know that's not entirely true. As I've said before, we have been fooled by corporate America into believing what is promoted on TV and in our grocery stores is actual nourishment. Oh, sure -- we know deep down that Oreos and Cheetos (among many others) aren't really good for us, but what we haven't been told is how bad they are for us. Here's the difficulty -- once we learn what's not nourishing us the question is ... what can support our bodies and minds?

A recent study reported in the magazine Neurology was fascinating. Over 72,000 men and women from the United Kingdom, ages 55 and older were tracked for ten years. They were divided into four groups based on the quantity of ultra-processed food they ate. This included soft drinks, potato chips, deep fried or packaged meats, prepackaged sweets and breads, and flavored breakfast cereals. None of the participants had any signs of dementia at the beginning of the study, however almost 43% more people in the group with the highest intake of ultra-processed food developed some form of cognitive decline than in the group with the lowest intake. The people in the lowest group took in approximately 225 grams (9% of their total) of super processed food while those in the highest group consumed about 814 grams (28% of their daily diet). What's really interesting and encouraging is that replacing 50 grams of highly processed food with healthier alternatives like an apple or whole grain cereal, resulted in a 3% lower risk of dementia.

Here are the facts:

  • ultra-processed food is higher in sugar, saturated fat, and salt and lower in protein and fiber.

  • About 57% of the calories in an average American diet come from processed foods.

  • Soft drinks and bottled juices aren't good for us whether naturally or artificially sweetened. Research has shown that soft drinks with artificial sweeteners can cause an increased risk of diabetes, stroke, and dementia.

What can we do to remedy this and get healthier? Dr. Maura Walker, researcher and assistant professor of health sciences at Boston University says, "The vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and healthy fats in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and other foods work together in a healthy diet.". Just as we may have developed a taste for harmful "food" items, we can start creating a love affair with foods that sustain and nurture us.

  • Explore the world of raw vegetables. Try new ones and make a dip from plain yogurt and herbs and seasonings.

  • Grill, bake, or pan-sear seasoned chicken or fish instead of going for chicken nuggets or breaded fish sticks.

  • Explore the world of salads and steamed veggies. Again, look to spices, vinegars, and healthy oils for added flavor. For example, slice a sweet potato into spears or slices -- toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake at 425 degrees for 20-30 min.

  • Add fruit to plain or sparkling water and make sure you increase your intake.

These are just a few of many ideas for going toward a wholesome, health-giving diet. After all, that's just another word for "food plan" -- just make sure there's actual, nourishing food included in it. As always, be care-full. I know it's not easy to switch out one way of eating for another. Contact me for a conversation about caring for yourself nutritionally. I guarantee you'll have three new ideas by the end of our chat.

Happy Healthy Habit Hump Day,


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About the Author




Barbara L Cummings, MS, RN

is a sassy Queen-ager whose mission is to co-create a happier, healthier life with and for others.

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