Healthier & Happier Eating in 2016

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Dear Reader,

We all know the wellness advice to eat more healthy fare and less processed foods. But exactly how do we make this happen? This month, I discuss some excellent cooking and food-choosing techniques to nudge us to healthier, happier eating in 2016.

Simpler, common sense eating

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The usual scenario for post-holidays resolution failure goes like this: The clothes are fitting a bit more snug. A new sure-fire diet beckons. The gym’s door is open. And yet: change doesn’t happen. Here’s a different approach: A solid set of ideas for healthier, tastier eating from Aaron Carroll, pediatrics professor at Indiana University:

1. Get as much nutrition as possible from a variety of completely unprocessed foods.
1b. Eat lightly processed foods less often.
1c. Eat heavily processed foods even less often.
2. Eat as much home-cooked food as possible (prepared according to Rule 1).
3. Use salt and fats, including butter and oil, as needed in food preparation.
4. When eating out, dine at restaurants that follow the same rules.
5. Drink mostly water, but some alcohol, coffee and other beverages are fine.
6. Treat all beverages with calories in them as you would alcohol.
7. Eat with other people, especially people you care about, as often as possible.

Dr. Carroll claims no originality in these ideas, just a practical bent in borrowing what food science has established. Carroll, who writes regularly for the New York Times and who delves deep into research-based evidence on U.S. health care, says most Americans could stop their endless fretting about diets if they would adopt  straight-forward best practices like these.

Moderation matters. You’re not advised, as you might be in some crazy diets, say, to drink five gallons of coconut water while standing on your head before dining every third day on just seven celery sticks.

Carroll’s rules aren’t hard and fast. He bases them on the best available evidence, and they don’t apply to those with diagnosed ailments like metabolic disorders. He shares links to studies and his published reports on pertinent issues, such as red and heavily processed meats; salt; milk; and the value of social eating to curb obesity.  He also gives a nod to noted writer-researcher Michael Pollan, who offers his pithy evidence-based advice on diet and health: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

Of course, if you want to explore more about eating healthy, Uncle Sam offers resources. These include the plate-based program that urges us to eat a nutritionally balanced diet (see the diagram above). If you haven’t gotten the message already, avoid excess sugar and processed sugars, especially in sodas and in foods of all kinds. Alcohol consumption also affects not only Americans’ overall health but their efforts to keep their waist-lines in check. And please don’t fall for the faulty conventional folly that you can exercise sufficiently to overcome your over-eating.

Although it’s great to be well-versed in nutrition science, for many of us, the deluge of information about food, diet, and eating becomes overwhelming. We resolve to be better, but the research shows these plans don’t stick, maybe because we shoot too high and make goals too tough to achieve. That’s why being conscious of a few simple eating guidelines and keeping to them can be so beneficial, especially if there’s no shaming.

Cooking at home takes time (but less money than eating out regularly or dining in with microwavable factory food). Some people are cowed by the site of a raw carrot or uncooked egg. No need! If you turn off the cable TV food shows, ignore foodie friends’  ramblings about state-of-the-art techniques and pricey equipment, and change your thinking about cooking (see the sidebars), making meals can be fun, rewarding, and not rocket science.

If your budgets allow, businesses nationwide are providing food innovations Some deliver boxed ingredients and manageable recipes for a work week’s worth of meals; others allow customers to assemble on a weekend a week’s repasts — and leave the shopping, equipment, and mess behind. Urban residents across the country are discovering the joys of farm-fresh produce delivered every week in a pre-ordered box.

If you keep it simple and manage portion sizes, the meals you prepare will be freer of preservatives, added sugars and salt, and likely less caloric (see the numbers sidebar on how a fast-food lunch can pile up the calories). If you’re not doing it now, you probably won’t instantly get loved ones to join in a convivial, device-free family dinner every night. But families gain a lot by eating together, and often. We need to savor our food, not be afraid of it, and take time to enjoy meals.

Did we mention that the financial types say that just by bringing breakfast, lunch, and snacks to work and school — and skipping pricey lattes and sugar-laden sodas — you can save significant bucks, from $2,000 to $4,000 annually?

If you do eat outside the house, there’s lots of good resources to check so you dine in the healthiest way possible.

Here’s to a delicious, healthy, happy, and prosperous new year to us all!



Simpler, common sense eating

Clean and easy

A sprinkling of science for tastier home cooking








Estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active U.S. adult men.







Estimated daily calorie needs for moderately active U.S. adult women.







Estimated calories in a single lunch of a Big Mac, medium fries, and large Coke.


Keep it clean, easy, avoid waste — and help the hungry

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A few simple mandates for home chefs:

  1. If you’re cooking at home, use some common sense and keep things clean, to keep those you’re feeding healthy. One in six Americans suffers food poisoning, with 100,000 of us needing hospitalization due to food-borne illness. A little hygiene consciousness goes a long way in the kitchen.
  2. If you have the time, money, and space, a big kitchen full of gadgets can be a boon to high-end cooking. But, really, theexperts say a minimal amount of gear will let you prep pretty great eats  — and you can do so without busting your budget.
  3. If you’re shopping, plan more and buy less. Americans waste a sickening amount of food, an estimated 36 pounds per person each month at the retail and commercial levels. Home cooks get discouraged when they reach into the fridge and find old, moldy food; they reflexively toss questionable edibles. This occurs even as millions in this nation go hungry and tens of millions around the world starve. Take advantage of online resources and apps to become a smarter shopper.
  4. Resolve in 2016 to share the bounty with food banks and programs that help the needy create a new recipe for success. A national leader close to my home is D.C. Central Kitchen, which trains unemployed adults for new careers in restaurants and serves healthy food to school kids, among its many innovative and successful efforts.

A sprinkling of science dissolves intimidation

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Good cooking and great eating don’t have to be out of reach for the novice chef. J. Kenji Lopez-Alt shows how with his science-based, myth-busting approach to  the home kitchen. A science nerd who went to MIT, this author in his best-selling book does what the rest of us don’t have time for: Figuring out from painstaking research the best way to get a great-tasting omelet, or bowl of chili, or dish of brussels sprouts.

This son of scientists preps a dish over and over, examining how ingredients interact chemically and how cooking temperatures and techniques can affect flavor. As the data-driven expertsbehind the best-selling economics book Freakonomics discovered in a podcast interview with him, Alt-Lopez dishes out exactly how and why any home chef can make their meals taste better.

 “I try and find areas where I think there might be problems for home cooks or areas where I think it can be improved in efficiency,” he says.

He and colleagues share their work on the seriouseats web site, chock full of recipes and with detailed break-downs on cooking techniques and why they should be followed.

De gustibus non est disputandum. With the abundance of experts and fine chefs out there, whether you adopt Alt-Lopez and his way is a matter of choice. But not only does he make cooking simpler and more rational, he and his colleagues also go high and low with many different kinds of cuisine — you can learn about everything from improved chocolate chip cookies and better ham sandwiches to the ultimate beef stroganoff or pan-roasted chicken breasts with white wine and fine herbes pan sauce.

I can offer a personal testimonial: Yum!



Patrick Malone
Patrick Malone & Associates