The message that we should be eating better is nothing new. We hear it everywhere. But making sense of the advice on what to eat or not eat seems to be constantly changing – one minute eggs are good for us, the next minute eggs are bad. We’re told our health problems result from all that saturated fat we consumed, no wait it’s carbs that are making us fat, or maybe it’s all the added sugar, or gluten. Mixed messages, fad diets, and marketing ploys can make it hard to feel confident about the food choices we make.
At the OHSU Moore Institute we believe that reducing the prevalence of chronic diseases throughout life starts by promoting healthy, nutrient-rich diets based on wholesome foods – before conception, during pregnancy and lactation, and in infancy and early childhood. We don’t have an easy, sexy solution. We don’t have an amazing new diet or a magic pill. It just goes back to the fundamentals of a balanced diet including whole grains, fruit, vegetables and low-fat proteins.
We developed a tool to try to make healthy eating decisions a little easier. Called “My Pregnancy Plate,” the tool offers a guide for healthy eating during pregnancy, when a woman is setting the foundation for her child’s and grandchildren’s lifelong health. The guide is designed for pregnant women, but serves as a basis for healthy eating for anyone. We even made a Spanish version for to the Latino community, with culturally-specific foods. One thing that jumps out immediately is the absence of highly-processed foods (hint: if it comes pre-packaged, has a barcode, or you get it from a drive-through window, chances are it’s pretty processed). Highly-processed foods tend to have added salt and sugar, and little in the way of nutrients. These products may fill a hungry tummy, but offer no nutritional benefits.
So all those years your mom told you to eat your veggies – turns out she was right. Eating a diet based on real foods, including lots of whole grains, fruits and vegetables is the first step toward eradicating heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases in this and future generations.
So let’s remember what real food looks like:
- Real food is grown, not made
- Real food is a product of nature, not industry
- Real food looks like it did when it was grown
- Real food doesn’t have a barcode or three inch list of ingredients you’ve never heard of
- Would your great-grandparents recognize it? If not, then it probably isn’t real food.
We can have a real impact on our own health, the health of our family and our community if we return to an emphasis on a healthy whole food diet. Poor health doesn’t have to be part of our future.
Use 'My Pregnancy Plate'
Print out the plate guide to have on hand next time you shop for food, and try to incorporate as much of it as you are able. Keep it hanging on your fridge as a reminder of what your plate should look like.
Replace processed foods with whole foods
Try shopping only the perimeter of the grocery store – the produce section, bulk foods section, fresh meat and seafood counter and dairy sections – since the middle of the store is where all of the packaged, processed stuff lives. Try to replace one processed food item that you usually shop for with a whole food version. Like boxed rice with seasoning packets? Try making your own. Same goes for soup. Grab the same ingredients from your favorite canned soup and try to make it yourself.
Share what you know
Share the pregnancy plate with a friend. Host a dinner party and serve only whole foods and, during dinner, share your inspiration for the menu – that nutrition during development provides the basis for eliminating vulnerabilities for chronic disease in later life.