Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Food: Fruits, Veggies, & Why More Can Be Less

red fruits & veggiesWhile it's true that I get a lot of exercise and make a point of trying to eat (at least reasonably) well most of the time, I really do believe that I have genetics to thank for a good bit of my athleticism and the fact that I've never really had to worry too much about my weight. By this, I mean I'm fit, healthy, and can more or less wear whatever I want within reason.

yellow fruits & veggiesThat said, I do tend to hover right around 13-15 pounds above what I considered my ideal racing weight in high school & college. By & large, this isn't a big deal; I won't pretend that I don't love Mission burritos, deep dish pizza, the French bakery down the street, goat cheese, crusty bread, cream-based soups, good wine, good beer, and good cocktails. I live in San Francisco, green fruits & veggiesby God, and what kind of a waste would it be to not take advantage of these things?

The issue isn't IF dropping those extra pounds is possible; it's more that I KNOW it's possible, but I've done the math and I know what I would have to give up, and that it would make me a sad, sad shell of a person. For an A-race, I can buckle down for a month or so and drop green fruits & veggiesmaybe 5-8, but that's about as far as I'm willing to go.

Well; sort of. One thing I've been reminded of lately is that I really don't eat enough fruits and vegetables (do any of us??), and this is unfortunate for several reasons:

  • In a 2004 study, the number of servings of fruits & vegetables that subjects ate per day (on average) was inversely proportional to their risk of heart attack or stroke. (Subjects who averaged > 8 servings per day had a 30% lower risk.)
  • In two other studies, people who ate more than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day had a 20% lower risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (compared with people who had only 3 servings per day, the American average).
  • While the main studies that were once considered to prove that eating more fruits & vegetables prevented cancer have been called into question, there is still reasonably strong evidence that specific types of fruits and vegetables contain certain chemicals that prevent specific types of cancer.
  • Because of their low energy density and high fiber and water content, fruit & vegetable consumption is strongly correlated with weight loss (or maintenance, relative to gaining). In at least one study (which I remember reading but now can't find), people lost weight simply by increasing the amount of fruits & vegetables they ate, without any additional dieting instructions. If I rightly recall, the researchers surmised that this was due to people to feeling fuller (again, fiber & water) on fewer calories and eating less meat, dairy, grain, & fats as a result.

So, while I don't plan to stop eating Mission burritos or goat cheese any time soon, I'm willing to eat more fruits & veggies, partly because I should, and partly because, hey, maybe 11-13 pounds over race weight isn't quite as bad as 13-15 over? :D

The next question was, precisely how many fruits & vegetables should I be shooting for each day?

Well, according to the USDA's MyPlate website (which replaces the old food pyramid), I should be eating three cups of vegetables and two cups of fruit every day (the old 'serving' measurement is out the window). The site also told me how my veggies should break down each week (click to embiggen).

I have a feeling that if I can do this consistently, I probably will end up eating less of things that are less good for me when I don't really want them (ie, I'm just snacking because I'm hungry & that's what's there).

seaweed saladSo how's it going so far? Well, so far today I've had a small seaweed salad, two cups of pineapple, probably 3-4 cups of kale salad, and a few handfuls of cherries. How's that for a killer start! Also, it's probably important to point out that these are all foods I really like & sometimes just don't think to buy -- one thing I figured out a long time ago is that forcing myself to eat foods I kale saladdon't like because I feel like I should (beets, celery, cabbage...I'm looking at you) is a no-go.

I really like the idea of going back to a 'diet' being a prescription for what you DO eat, rather than what you DON'T eat. One thing I've definitely learned about myself during those weeks before an A race when I'm actively trying to drop weight -- feeling deprived will do me in every time. So I'm quite excited about framing things in terms of what I WILL TRY to eat every day, instead of what I will try NOT to eat. :)

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