Fuel Up!

Healthy foods good for mind, body and spirit

By Rachel Evans


Food, food, food! If you are like me, my life revolves around it. I am constantly thinking about what I am going to make for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

For those of us who are always on the go, convenience is often the key to our dining choices. Quick food does not have to be unhealthy food, though. Your body is on the go 24/7 so it needs the proper “fuel” to run well.

Unhealthy foods and too much of them are one of the culprits for weight gain and obesity. Obesity directly contributes to many chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. There is a large percentage of adults who are overweight or obese locally.

According to recent New York State Department of Health expanded behavior surveillance system data, about 70 percent of adults in Oneida County are overweight or obese, compared to approximately 75 percent in Herkimer County, and 64 percent in Madison County. The New York state average is 62 percent.

Healthy food coupled with exercise can help maintain a healthy weight. Adults should generally exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Those who have difficulty fitting in time to exercise can break it up into 15-minute sessions, 10 times a week. It is important to incorporate exercise habits that are life long and fit with your lifestyle. Make realistic changes that you can maintain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, people who lose weight gradually and steadily, such as 1-2 pounds per week, have a better likelihood of maintaining a healthy weight. A weight loss of even 5 to 10 percent of a person’s total body weight can improve blood pressure, blood cholesterol and blood sugars.

For those who are overweight or obese, weight loss can also lessen the chances for developing chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and many forms of cancer. For those who have chronic illnesses, weight loss can also improve conditions.

Another key to maintaining a healthy weight is mindful eating or intuitive eating.

People need to eat in a way “that nourishes our mind, body, and soul while honoring and respecting our own individual dietary needs and never with shame, guilt, or ethical confusion,” said Cynthia Donovan, project manager for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oneida County’s Eat Smart New York program.

Pay attention to how certain foods make you feel, and take the time to enjoy food. Simply eating slower can also help with digestion.

Negative effects

You may not feel stressed, but sometimes eating fast or multitasking triggers the stress response in the body. This “fight or flight” response causes a whole slew of bad reactions, including:

— Stimulation of the nervous system

— Increase in blood pressure

— Suppression of digestion

— Suppression of immunity

— Decreased energy

— Greater inflammation

Take the time to really experience all of the senses when you eat. How does the food look? How does the food smell? What does the food sound like when you are chewing?

And lastly, how does the food taste?

Along with mindful eating, think carefully about the actual food you are consuming and how it makes you feel. Immediately after consuming foods with high fat or sugar, our bodies often release endorphins. These are the “feel-good” chemicals in the body.

Within an hour or so of eating these high-fat or sugary foods, blood sugar will drop and cause you to feel sluggish. Fast food and junk food contain a lot of empty calories and have little nutritional value. They also cause you to feel hungry a lot sooner, compared to if you had eaten a meal full of nutrient-rich foods.

Fast foods are often high in saturated fat, sugar, and salt, which increase the risk for heart disease, diabetes and cancer.

As a little test, try to cut out processed foods from your diet for a couple of weeks. See how this makes you feel. Replace processed foods with healthier versions. For instance, instead of white bread, use whole grain bread.

Replace potato chips with nuts, seeds or whole-grain crackers. Instead of dip at a party, make homemade hummus with chickpeas. After several weeks of going without processed foods, you will likely notice an increase in your energy and feel better overall. You will likely also not be as hungry as often.

Donovan suggests the importance of using MyPlate as a starting point to know what should be included on your plate each day.

MyPlate is the nutrition guide published by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

MyPlate focuses on incorporating five food groups into your diet that include proteins, dairy, vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

Physical activity is also important and adults should get at least two hours and 30 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity that requires moderate effort, or one hour and 15 minutes each week of aerobic physical activity that requires vigorous effort.

Many foods labeled “bad” or “unhealthy” have actually been found to promote inflammation in the body.