Americans tend to have a narrow view of what a diet is or what it means. It frequently is used simply in the context of losing weight. “Can’t have that, I’m on a diet.” “Which diet are you following?” “How much weight have you lost on diet X, Y or Z?” Well, the word diet has Latin (diaeta) or Greek (diaita) roots that mean “way of living.” So unless your life involves constantly making a concerted effort to lose weight, you should be concerned with the appropriate diet, meaning, that the daily diet you consume that doesn’t hasten your appointment with the maker or constantly make you seek out that other … diet.
When it comes to food, nutrition and weight, there is no magic. This is one of the few instances where simple math is correct. One plus one equals two. Five minus one equals four. You can consume pure lard and still lose weight as long as the energy you burn exceeds the energy you consume.
And while deprivation diets can make you shed excess pounds faster than Frosty in the desert, once you go back to your standard diet that made you put on those excess pounds in the first place, those excess pounds return with a vengeance. I say vengeance because if all we do is deprive ourselves of calories, we’ll lose some fat tissue (good) along with some lean tissue (not so good) and water (can be replaced within hours).
Then once we’re off the deprivation diet — if we do nothing else other than go back to our usual eating habits — we put that weight right back on, but with a slight difference. Some of the initial weight loss was lean tissue, so when the weight returns, it will simply be fat tissue, so even if our weight doesn’t exceed previous levels, we’re now “fatter” than before. And fat tissue doesn’t burn calories; it simply stores calories. Lean tissue is the furnace that burns calories, and we lost some of it due to the deprivation diet. Add several cycles of this deprivation diet (on top of simply getting older, which usually lowers our basal metabolic rate) and you have a middle-aged person who may weigh what they did 10 years ago, but is now much “fatter.”
So What’s a Person to Eat?
As I’ve mentioned many times before, there are only three types of macronutrients that account for our caloric intake: protein, fat and carbohydrate. When it comes to protein, we want to look for leaner sources of protein like poultry breasts instead of thighs; pork tenderloin or loin in place of the butt or shoulder; or tenderloin steaks in place of ribeye or strip. Most supermarkets also sell various mixtures of ground beef, from 75 percent lean all the way up to 93 percent lean, which would be the preferable mixture. Adding seafood protein also keeps the fat at bay, as most seafood items are low in fat and the fat found in cold-water fish tends to carry their fair share of possibly beneficial fats in the form of omega-3 fatty acids.
Fat also comes in all forms, from the artery clogging saturated fats to the healthier Mediterranean monounsaturated fats found in nuts and olive oil to the wide range of polyunsaturated fats found in walnuts, canola oil and cold-water fish. The general rule of thumb for fats is that if it’s solid at room temperature, it’s not good for you, but if it’s liquid, it’s a better choice.
Finally for carbohydrates, look for whole grain, not just color. Often bread is labeled as containing “whole wheat” and since it’s colored brown, it’s understandable that it could be mistaken for 100 percent whole wheat when all it actually contains is 10 percent whole wheat and colored with molasses. Along with bread and rice, whole grains are also found in pasta. And they cook much better than the whole wheat pasta of old. For starters, many companies are now using hard white wheat, which gives the finished whole grain pasta an appearance like regular pasta and it cooks just as nicely. Of course, another carbohydrate is that form that we can’t digest and simply passes right through our system. That carbohydrate is fiber.
Not Always Roughage
I know what you’re thinking; isn’t fiber simply that bran cereal at the supermarket? Or is it Metamucil? Well, fiber comes in all shapes and sizes.
First of all, they are classified as insoluble and soluble fiber with the insoluble variety being your wheat bran cereal, most fibrous veggies (celery, green beans, tomato skin, corn) and are what previously was termed “roughage.” The stuff that keeps you “regular.” Then there’s soluble fiber, which usually are starches that we can’t digest, like the raffinose, stachyose and verbacose in beans or the pectin found in many fruits and vegetables or the mucilaginous gums found in guar gum and gum arabic. Some of these indigestible starches are partially digested by bacteria in our lower tract, like inulin, which produces short chain organic acids that may facilitate the absorption of calcium, iron and magnesium. Fermentable fibers such as inulin are commonly found in chicory root. That’s why you see chicory listed as an ingredient in many “high fiber” bars, crackers and cereals. These soluble fibers also potentially bind to bile acids, thus reducing our levels of serum cholesterol.
From a dietary standpoint, dietary fiber have negligible calories, so they don’t contribute to the “battle of the bulge,” and since they take up space in the stomach during mealtime, you’re more likely to consume less of those other foodstuffs that make you go on that other diet.
The American Dietetic Association recommends that adults get 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber every day (daily recommendations for children are 5 grams plus age) though most Americans only get about one-half of the daily recommendations. Why so little fiber? Well, most processed and fast foods are devoid of fiber because they are produced to sell.
And food products are sold with taste, which usually means extra fat or salt; when was the last time you heard someone comment on the exquisite flavor the wheat bran added to those muffins? And since food manufacturers concentrate on sales and not health, you have to make that extra effort to get your daily fiber.
But what about the side effects? You know, those “musical” side effects of fiber. As I recommend to all of my patients, “start low and go slow.” Though we can’t digest those starches or gums, that doesn’t mean our intestinal flora can’t and boy do they do a good job! And perchance one of those musical tunes does escape, simply turn to face your offended audience and state, “On behalf of my E Coli, I’d like to apologize for their impudence, this always happen when they consume inulin.”
I previously posted a version of this recipe about five years ago in my article “The Many Faces of Surimi.” However back then the focus was on surimi, this round it’s on fiber and foods we can consume as part of our everyday diet:
The Gochiso’s Surimi and Broccoli Pasta Salad
• 4 broccoli crowns
• 8 plum tomatoes, ripe but firm
• 8 ounces imitation crab flavored surimi
• 6 ounces real crab
• 1 1/2 cups whole grain pasta (available from Barilla and Safeway)
• 1 to 1 1/2 cups canola oil mayonnaise
• 2 tbsp brown mustard
• 1 tbsp honey
• 1 tsp toasted sesame oil
• Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and cool pasta.
Trim broccoli to bite sized pieces and steam for 3 to 4 minutes. Cool broccoli, then mix with pasta. Chop tomatoes to large bite-sized pieces and mix with broccoli mixture.
Cut surimi to bite sized pieces — don’t flake the surimi — cut it or leave it in chunks and mix with broccoli mixture.
In a separate bowl, mix mayonnaise, mustard, honey, sesame oil, crab and salt/pepper. Pour over broccoli mixture and toss until it’s evenly coated. Refrigerate for an hour before serving.
Serves 18 (1 cup portions)
Fat 4.7 grams
Saturated fat negligible
Fiber 4.3 grams
Carbohydrate 18 grams
Protein 8 grams
The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the Univ. of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kane‘ohe, HI and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.