Designing a Healthy Diet
Dr. Blackburn serves as Associate Professor of Surgery and Nutrition, Associate Director of the Division of Nutrition, and is the first incumbent of the S. Daniel Abraham chair in Nutrition Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the, Chief of the Nutritional/Metabolism Laboratory, and Director of the Center for the Study of Nutrition Medicine, which are affiliated with the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.
Blackburn: We have here wonderful contributions from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Health and Human Services. We have something called My Pyramid. And I think almost everybody has seen these pyramid symbols. And on the My Pyramid Web site you can find ways to analyze the food and build your own pyramid. Now obviously we want to start with vegetables and whole grains, and we want to know that we've had a lot of activity during the day. So the base is to build these plant-based foods, these locally-grown foods, these vegetables and these whole grains, and then add your fruit, add your low-calorie, low-fat dairy in this area. Now we're accumulating a lot of the food groups. Then the next is a modest amount of meat, fish or poultry, which is about half of what most people eat. But again in this 20 minutes you'll be satisfied. That's all the bites I needed. I got plenty of this. Then we have these discretionary calories. So this is really the added sugar, added fat, desserts, and these have to be consumed with discretion, and infrequently. But if we build each our breakfast, our lunch and dinner in this fashion, and we do it with a 20-minute meal plan, then we'll be able to add eat less to eating healthy, which will be then combined with our physical activity and we'll get the weight loss that the population at large needs.
Question: How do you pick the right diet?
Blackburn: Well, I think that, you know, what people should eat is food, and then eat healthy food, and eat balanced food. And every one of us needs to personalize the recipes that we like and the taste that we like. So that then becomes your diet. But to eat somebody else's diet, when we have to every day for the rest of our lives, doesn't make any sense. So let's keep it simple. Let's choose healthy food, food that tastes good to us, eat it slowly, eat it in moderation, portion control, and that'll become our diet. It will allow us to get to a healthy weight, and all the benefits from avoiding weight gain and getting weight loss.
Question: Do Americans exercise enough?
Blackburn: No. I mean, Americans are all over the place. But all of our approaches, a vast majority, are frank sedentary. So the answer is absolutely a zero for them, and that could be 25 percent. Another 25 percent burns so few calories per day that they might as well be sedentary. They just don't get a benefit. So now we're only left with half of the population, and a quarter of that is doing some activity. And then there's a small percent who are really vigorously active, meaning they're doing 30 or minutes of brisk physical activity per day: stair climbing, brisk walking, you know, sports, housework, gardening. There are a lot of ways. But you really have to get fit if you want health and longevity.
Question: How do you know if you’re burning enough calories?
Blackburn: That's the elegance of all of this,
is that when you get up in the morning and get on the bathroom scale you get an identification of your set point, and you know how you did. If that is the same weight to you were yesterday, then you know you took in just the calories you needed to meet your energy expenditure. If it's less, if you're losing weight, a pound a week or something like that, then the number will go south and you'll be resetting your set point at this time, and that'll already make you feel good. I think an important point to a sidebar here is that the whole process of set point, the whole process of health is each eating event. The illness, the problem is overeating. And the therapy, the direction is to under-eat. So you can't imagine how much better you feel. Everybody knows how terrible they feel when they overeat, particularly at holiday meals and Thanksgiving. But even modest overeating, once you've learned to under-eat, most if not every day will become unpleasant for you. And what people need to know besides the 20 minutes from the start to the end of the meal is not to overeat.
Following ‘My Pyramid’ for healthy eating habits.
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