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BOZEMAN -- For too long now, people have labeled certain food as "junk," like chocolate candy for Valentine's Day or soda pop. In our diet-crazed world, we've put emotional baggage on "junk food," labeling it as "bad" and to be avoided. In this mentality, only "good" food should be eaten, like apples, oranges and vegetables.
Unfortunately, because good foods are not the only things the majority of us eat, we have set ourselves up to fail.
March launches National Nutrition Month. This year's message is "All Foods Can Fit." People across Montana and the nation will hear the message that foods are not divided into "good" and "bad," but rather that all food can fit into an overall healthy diet.
Most of us enjoy the taste of chocolate, potato chips or soda pop: foods typically labeled as "junk." Though these foods have fewer nutrients per calorie, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with having them once in a while.
However, when people make a habit of choosing foods high in calories and low in nutritional value, they won't get the nutrition they need and they will gain weight. Your food choices over several days have to average out to the calories your body uses in that time. You might be able to fit in a two-ounce nutty caramel bar that gives you 280 calories and 14 grams of fat. But be careful. If you grab that big five-ounce milk chocolate and nut bar, you had better notice that it is labelled as containing 3.5 servings! If you eat the whole thing rather than sharing with three other people, you would tally 770 calories and 46 grams of fat. On 2,000 calories a day, you would have had 40 percent of your allotted calories and more than 60 percent of your recommended fat intake in that one item.
The key to eating foods higher in fat, salt and sugar is making sure they are a small part of your overall diet. That means, perhaps, eating them only at certain times, choosing a smaller piece, eating somewhat less before or after a higher calorie food or taking an extra walk.
The benefit of tossing out the "good food/bad food" idea and choosing a mentality of "all foods can fit" is that it will help move you away from what can be the destructive and ineffective diet mentality that has captured many Americans.
The diet mentality suggests we never or very rarely choose foods high in fat, sugar and salt, choosing instead foods very low in fat, sugar and salt but higher in fiber and nutrients.
The problem with this diet mentality is that very few people can maintain this over a long time. You end up feeling deprived. Eating food is one of our greatest pleasures. Denying ourselves the pleasure of eating some foods high in sugar or salt sets us up to diet, binge and diet again. That's not healthy!
So try enjoying the "all foods can fit" mentality by enjoying the grains, fruits, vegetables, meat, beans and dairy products as recommended by the Food Guide Pyramid.
But don't get down on yourself when you enjoy foods that may be higher in fat, salt, sugar and calories. They can add to your enjoyment. In moderation, they do not cause problems associated with junk diets, such as obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and osteoporosis.
Each person will need to find what works best in dealing with foods higher in fat, salt, sugar and calories. Some people may choose to drop from three soda pops a day to one. Others may switch from three soda pops to one diet pop and one juice.
Don't get discouraged if your first attempt at change doesn't work out. In fact, first attempts at change rarely work. Give it another try with a more detailed plan or try a different eating pattern until you find what works for you. Making good food choices a habit may take some time, but it is well worth the effort.
Whatever works for you, keep in mind that "all foods can fit."
Paul is a registered dietitian with a doctorate in Adult Learning and Education. She can be reached at MSU in the Department of Health and Human Development, (406) 994-5702.
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