Common Food Mistakes

Food mistake #1:  You reach for multigrain bread or cereal

Foods labeled 7-grain or multigrain may seem like the healthiest choices—especially with new findings showing that a diet rich in whole grains protects against heart disease, cancer, and other ills.  Studies show documented lower rates of heart disease and stroke among whole grain eaters.  Experts don’t know all the reasons behind the benefits, but they do know that intact grains are rich in fiber and nutrients—including vitamin E, B vitamins, and magnesium—that are stripped away when grains are refined into flour.  Unfortunately, many foods are only posing as rich in whole grains.  When you take a closer look at the labels, you may find there’s not a single whole grain in them.

The reason:

Labels can claim that products contain grains even if they’re highly processed and stripped of most of their nutrients and all of their fiber. White flour is made from grain after all……

Smarter move:

Learn the lingo of food claims.  For example, bread that’s 100% whole grain means just that—it contains no refined flour; cereal that’s made with whole grain may have a little or a lot; crackers labeled multigrain may not contain whole grains at all.  To be sure you’re getting the grains you want, check the ingredients panel.  Whole grains should be the first or second ingredient listed.  Luckily, finding whole grain products is easier now that manufacturers supplying at least 16 g of whole grains per serving (considered an excellent source) are stamping their packaging with the Whole Grains Council’s Logo.

Food mistake #2:  You buy bottled water “fortified” with vitamins

It’s a measure of how health conscious we’ve become that water is now fortified with nutrients and even medicinal herbs.  Unfortunately, many are bloated with unnecessary calories.  The label of one leading brand, for example, reports that it supplies half the daily requirement for some nutrients.  But to get that amount, you have to drink the whole bottle, which contains 125 calories.  And for that you just get 6 of the 40+ essential nutrients provided by most supplements.  And, an entire bottle supplies no more vitamin C than you’d get from eating 2 strawberries.

Smarter move:

Drink plain, refreshing, calorie-free water when you’re thirsty—and take a whole food-based multivitamin daily to make sure you get balanced levels of essential vitamins and minerals.

Food mistake #3:  You choose veggie chips over potato chips

Dozens of munchies are now made from carrots, spinach, kale, and even exotic tropical vegetables.  But scrutinize their ingredients and you’ll find that vegetable coloring is all most of them have in common with produce.  In fact, the label reveals that vegetables are at the bottom of the list in most cases (that means they contribute less, by weight, than ingredients at the top of the list, like oil).  Also, many of these seemingly healthful snacks are loaded with calories and hydrogenated fats.

Smarter move:

When you must have chips, look for brands with vegetables at the top of the ingredient list (Terra chips are a good choice).  A tip-off to a snack’s healthfulness is their fiber content (3 g for example is not bad for a snack food).  However, they’re still loaded with calories.  If you’re counting calories, baked chips are a better choice.  An even healthier alternative would be a handful of nuts, loaded with fiber, healthy oils, vitamins and minerals; they’ll even satisfy your urge to nibble.  And, if you want to be truly virtuous, go for the real thing—raw veggies.

The Importance of Chewing Your Food

Healthy digestion and nutrient absorption begins with the simple act of chewing your food. When you chew your food properly, your body releases digestive enzymes in the stomach that help to break down food so that your body can convert it into energy. When food isn’t digested properly, you could suffer from digestive issues such as indigestion, heartburn, constipation, headache and low energy.

Why is Chewing Your Food So Important?

The physical process of chewing food in your mouth helps to break down larger particles of food into smaller particles.  This helps to reduce stress on the esophagus and helps the stomach metabolize your food.  When you chew each mouthful properly, you also release a lot of saliva, which contains digestive enzymes.  As you release these enzymes into the throat and stomach, you further improve the digestive process.  Throughout the chewing process, the body undergoes several processes that trigger digestion.  Digestion is one of the most energy-consuming processes of the body, so it’s essential that you help your body along by doing your part!  It is especially important that processed foods are avoided by children and older adults, as they require little or no chewing—for example, eat small pieces of apple instead of applesauce.

Other Reasons to Chew Your Food Properly

  • Reduce the risk of bacterial overgrowth – food particles that aren’t broken down properly can cause bacterial overgrowth in the colon which leads to indigestion, bloating and constipation
  • Helping food move through the digestive tract – chewing your food sends messages to the gastrointestinal system that food is on its way.  This triggers hydrochloric acid production which helps speed up the digestive process.
  • Relaxes the lower stomach – your lower stomach needs to relax before food can be channeled to the intestines. Releasing saliva helps to relax the lower stomach and also speeds up the digestive process.

How Many Times Should You Chew Your Food?

The number of times you chew really depends on the type of food you consume.  Soft fruits and vegetables will break down more easily than chicken or steak, so you will need to make sure you chew your food as thoroughly as possible.  According to the experts at Ohio State University, you should chew softer foods 5-10 times, and more dense foods (meats/vegetables) up to 30 times before swallowing.

Other Healthy Eating Tips

In addition to chewing your food completely, there are several other ways to improve digestion and reduce the risk of constipation and bloating.  You can:

Avoid drinking water or beverages while eating.  Too much liquid in the stomach will slow down digestion.  However, you can drink up 20-30 minutes before or after your meal to avoid dehydration the rest of the day.

Concentrate on the meal when eating:  Avoid distractions such as television or eating on the run so that you are calm and focused during the meal.  This also makes for a more enjoyable meal.

Make sure you’re swallowing the tiniest pieces possible.  If you can still feel parts of the food in your mouth, you haven’t chewed it enough.

Aspartame and Weight Gain

Low-calorie artificial sweeteners were originally marketed primarily to diabetics and dieters, but now you find them in a variety of processed foodstuffs and snacks that are not specifically aimed at this target market.  But do these zero- or low-calorie products really help you lose weight and/or keep it off?

Well, the research and the epidemiologic data suggest the opposite is true, and that artificial sweeteners such as aspartame tend to lead to weight gain.  One reason for aspartame’s potential to cause weight gain is because phenylalanine and aspartic acid – the two amino acids that make up 90 percent of aspartame — are known to rapidly stimulate the release of insulin and leptin; two hormones that are intricately involved with satiety and fat storage. Insulin and leptin are also the primary hormones that regulate your metabolism.

So although you’re not ingesting calories in the form of sugar, aspartame can still raise your insulin and leptin levels.

Elevated insulin and leptin levels, in turn, are two of the driving forces behind obesity, diabetes, and a number of our current chronic disease epidemics.

Over time, if your body is exposed to too much leptin, it will become resistant to it, just as your body can become resistant to insulin, and once that happens, your body can no longer “hear” the hormonal messages instructing your body to stop eating, burn fat, and maintain good sensitivity to sweet tastes in your taste buds.

What happens then?

You remain hungry; you crave sweets, and your body stores more fat.

Leptin-resistance also causes an increase in visceral fat (belly fat), sending you on a vicious cycle of hunger, fat storage and an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and more.