I received an email on Wednesday from a new reader, Christine from Canada, who had a few nutrition-related questions. Normally I try to reply personally to as many of these types of emails as possible, but I thought it would be better to just answer her questions here. Who knows, maybe some of you have similar questions.
Now, I’m not a dietician, so don’t expect dietician types of answers. I’m an Undieter, so in general I try to be less analytical and more commonsensical when it comes to looking at food and eating. That said, here are Christine from Canada’s questions and my answers.
CC: If I’m baking something (say banana bread), how big should the portions be? Like the size of a regular slice of bread?
DS: Well, first off, I’m looking at baked goods as an infrequent treat. Doesn’t matter if there are bananas in it, banana bread and most other baked goods are not something that you should be eating very often. Of course, a lot depends on what you’re putting in it, but bottom line is it should be looked at as a special treat. Given that, comparing the portion size to regular bread really doesn’t make sense. If you were going to have some chocolate or ice cream for a treat, you’d know that the smaller the portion size the better. Treat banana bread the same way you’d treat chocolate or ice cream.
CC: Do you consider a banana a starchy carb, or a fruit? Like if I was having 2-3 servings of starchy carbs and 2-3 servings of fruit per day, would I knock it down as fruit, or starch?
DS: Here’s where people who want an analytical, dietician type answer are going to be disappointed or upset. Bananas are fruit, and nobody ever got fat by eating too much fruit. I probably eat at least seven or so servings of fruit every day, and that includes at least one banana, sometimes two. People should eat a variety of fruits and veggies every day, and I say don’t bother worrying about whether they are starchy, fibrous, or whatever. Simply eat a variety, and eat lots of them.
CC: What about carrots? Considered just a regular veggie, or do they fit int with the corn/peas/potatoes as a starchy carb?
DS: Same answer as bananas. Nobody has gotten fat from eating too many carrots, peas or potatoes. I know lots of people think potatoes are evil, but they aren’t. How people prepare them might make them no better than junk food (french fries, potato chips, potato skins, etc.), but potatoes on their own are ok to eat. Again, nobody eats too many carrots or peas. Like fruit, don’t waste time worrying about whether a vegetable is starchy or fibrous. Just eat a wide variety of them, and eat more of them. And, if you can, buy locally grown veggies. I belong to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm and get an assortment of locally grown, seasonal, organic veggies every week during the summer and early fall. They’re tastier and much fresher than the stuff in the big grocery store produce department, and it’s great to support the local farmer.
CC: Do you recommend adding healthy fats to every meal, or only 3-4 meals per day? (Not counting trace fats found in carbs and such.)
DS: In my opinion, dietary fat is probably one of the most misunderstood nutrition topics out there, and where most people go off the rails. The truth is, ever since we started demonizing fat, the obesity epidemic has exploded. Thirty years ago food manufacturers rushed to produce low-fat and fat-free versions of everything, and suddenly fat was the enemy. The problem is that all of these newly formulated “foods” tasted like crap once the fat was removed, so the manufacturers had to start adding all kinds of chemicals, additional processing, and engineered gems like high fructose corn syrup to make the food palatable and less craptastic.
The bottom line is your body needs fat to survive, and the right kinds of fat will actually make you healthier and more fit. Similar to the above answers, you should try to get your fat from a variety of sources, and spread throughout the day. I could go on for a while trying to cover the details, but here’s a great article on dietary fat by Mike Geary that does a wonderful job of laying it out for you. I pretty much concur with everything he says in the article (though I’ve never had raw milk and don’t know enough about it to take a side on that issue as I’ve already written.)
CC: What do you consider the “limits” of each food group, servings-wise? I know I probably eat WAY over the recommended servings for veggies…just curious.
DS: I don’t really have any sort of numerical limits that I place on food groups. Again, I think being over-analytical when it comes to food is counterproductive. When people just learn to eat right (fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, high quality protein, water, minimal processed crap), then you don’t need to stress over how many servings of food group A or B you should have, how many grams of starchy vs. fibrous carbs you ate, whether or not your protein intake is adequate, etc. You just eat. A few quotes from Michael Pollan, author of “The Ominvore’s Dilemma” and several other great books on food and eating, kind of sum up my perspective:
Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
“Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.”
“Treat treats as treats.”
“While it is true that many people simply can’t afford to pay more for food, either in money or time or both, many more of us can. After all, just in the last decade or two we’ve somehow found the time in the day to spend several hours on the internet and the money in the budget not only to pay for broadband service, but to cover a second phone bill and a new monthly bill for television, formerly free. For the majority of Americans, spending more for better food is less a matter of ability than priority.”
There you go Christine from Canada. I hope that helps. I answered your questions as best I could from my perspective as an Undieter. I know some people would have preferred that I spout off specifics like “you must eat X servings per day of this food group”, but that’s simply not how I roll. People get too caught up in the details when instead they’d be 1000% better off simply focusing on the basics.
I’d love to hear comments from you all below. Are you someone who needs to take the analytical approach, or do you prefer something simpler? What works best for you? Let me know.
Dave Soucy is an entrepreneur, coach, trainer, motivator, husband, dad, and former fat guy. Learn more about him here.