Dietary guidelines are designed to suggest foods and food patterns that provide all the nutrients and bioactive compounds our bodies need, while avoiding those we don’t need (like too much sodium, starch, added sugars, and unwanted additives). MyPlate, based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, recommends filling half our plates with fruits and vegetables, about a quarter with grains, and about a quarter with lean protein. “When following MyPlate, the Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter recommends meeting the grain component with minimally processed whole grains, and eating plenty of nuts, seeds, fish, and poultry to maximize healthy fats, proteins, and other nutrients,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH, dean of the Friedman School and editor-in-chief of Tufts Health & Nutrition Letter.
While we sometimes eat meals where each food category is separate, we often eat mixed dishes like sandwiches, casseroles, stir fries, and stews, where everything is tossed together. While at first glance it may seem difficult to think of mixed dishes in terms of MyPlate guidance, applying the recommended proportions can actually be a guide to confidently building healthier mixed-dish meals.
Choose Flavor: A recent study in the Journal of Food Science found that people enjoyed recipes prepared as low-meat/high-vegetable dishes at least as much or even more than when they were prepared as high-meat/low-vegetable dishes. These results may be in part due to the bright, colorful fruits and vegetables adding visual appeal, as well as texture and flavor. Legumes (beans and lentils), nuts, seeds, and minimally processed whole grains can do the same.
Vegetables are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber, and health-conscious consumers naturally want to know how to get the most nutritional impact from these powerful foods. “Nutritionally, there are pluses and minuses to cooking vegetables,” says Helen Rasmussen, PhD, RD, a senior research dietitian at Tufts’ Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. For example, cooking carrots reduces levels of vitamin C (which plays an important role in maintaining collagen, the glue that holds cells together) but increases availability of beta-carotene, a precursor of vitamin A (which plays an important role in vision, reproduction, bone growth, and regulating the immune system).
Reduced Concentration. Some nutrients will be lost in any cooking method. “Some vitamins are not very stable,” says Rasmussen. “The longer a food is exposed to heat, the more vitamin C levels are reduced, for example.” The concentration of some nutrients is particularly affected by cooking in water. “Vitamin C and B vitamins are water soluble, as are certain phytochemicals, like flavonoids,” says Jeffrey B. Blumberg, PhD, a research professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “They leach out into water when the vegetables are boiled.” Blumberg recommends eating produce high in these nutrients (like broccoli, kale, and bell peppers) raw. “When you do cook them, try methods like steaming, blanching, sauting, roasting, or microwaving, which use little water,” says Blumberg. If you do boil your vegetables in excess water, Rasmussen recommends using that water to make broths or sauces, rather than pouring nutrients down the drain.
Most people want to eat healthier, but efforts to encourage healthy eating by providing nutrition information have not changed habits much. A new study suggests that labels emphasizing taste and positive experience could help. In other words, changing the focus to form over substance.
Eating well isn’t always easy, and the reality is simply telling people which foods to avoid doesn’t do much to get them to eat better. What does work, Stanford psychologists now argue, is highlighting how tasty nutritious food can be. Evocative labels such as “twisted citrus glazed carrots” and “ultimate chargrilled asparagus” can get people to choose and consume more vegetables than they otherwise would – as long as the food is prepared flavorfully.
“This is radically different from our current cultural approach to healthy eating which, by focusing on health to the neglect of taste, inadvertently instills the mindset that healthy eating is tasteless and depriving,” said Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology and the senior author on the new paper. “And yet in retrospect it’s like, of course, why haven’t we been focusing on making healthy foods more delicious and indulgent all along?” Continue reading →