The web has been abuzz with the new U.S. dietary regulations. Most of the things that appear are probably not much of a surprise for most of us, but more of a reminder of the path we are trying to be on. As a chef and advocate for healthy eating, I have to say that I have been promoting and following the majority of the recommendations for years.
My personal favorites:
- Eat more fruits and vegetables.
- Substitute healthy oils for solid fats (such as margarine).
- Avoid fast foods.
- Read food labels.
- Substitute whole grains for refined grains.
- Eat more seafood — at least 8 ounces a week.
The suggested reduction in sodium intake was a good reminder for me. Salt is probably my biggest downfall. Taking sugar out of your diet is a major withdrawal and heartache for some of you…reducing my time with salt and vinegar potato chips would be mine. The guideline recommends:
“Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.”
Wow! 1500 mgs for half the US population. Going out for Chinese takeout probably will land you close to a 2-3000mg sodium mark-and that’s just for one meal. Here are a few tips on reducing sodium in your diet:
- Cook your meals. Yes, simply cook your own meals. This is the best way to control your sodium levels in your foods. Any sort of frozen or processed entree is going to have a high sodium level. Adding salt simply makes meals taste better and packaged and frozen foods add plenty of sodium to help with taste.
- Use medium-grained kosher salt at the end of cooking your meal. Pinch and sprinkle the salt over your food by hand (yes, like the fancy chefs) — this way, you can see the salt grains on your food and will tend to use less than if you were using a shaker filled with fine-grained salt.
- Purchase ‘no salt’ peanut butter (0 mg of sodium vs. about 200 mg in regular peanut butter!).
- Fill at least half your plate with fresh vegetables and fruit. These raw ingredients are so delicious they don’t need salt.
- Finally, remember to add flavor through spices and herbs (vs. salty marinades and sauces). Don’t forget to grab the citrus and vinegars as well – these are great toppings that give the right kick. I feel like I’m a bit of a preacher on this subject but I’m telling you, the flavor it will add will be worth all my nagging.
As far as the other recommendations, a simple way to add more vegetables to your diet is to have cut up veggies in your refrigerator ready to plate and dip. Hummus or a homemade sour cream or yogurt based dip is great with veggies. Kids love dips and love the crunch of veggies, so just put a plate out when you know they are hungry — either after school or after sports (don’t ask them if they want it…just put it out; trust me — it works every time!) and watch them chow it down.
The recommendation of 8 ounces of seafood a week is an easy goal to achieve. This breaks down into only two 4 ounce servings of fish a week. Find out what fish is wild and freshest at your market. Put your broiler on high and coat your fish with fresh lemon or lime, cracked pepper and olive oil. Cook for approximately 3 minutes per 1/2 inch thickness (i.e. sole or trout are very thin fillets and will cook in 3-5 minutes; a thicker piece of salmon or halibut will take about 10 minutes).
I know it can feel a bit overwhelming if you feel you need to make many changes based on these dietary recommendations. Remember that this is the way that people ate for centuries before us. There were no obesity and diabetes epidemics like we are faced with today. It is our fast food, highly-processed American diet that is wreaking havoc on our bodies and health care. It’s time to get back in the kitchen…one meal at a time.
You can do it!
Until next time, stay fresh and delicious!
~ Chef Domenica