Scientific studies have shown that a healthful diet is based on these basic principles:
- The foods to emphasize each day are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes (“legumes” means beans, peas, and lentils).
- Meats, dairy products, eggs, and oily foods are unnecessary for health (and do considerably more harm than good) and should be excluded.
- Foods that cause a marked blood sugar rise—white bread, white potatoes, and sugar itself, for example—should be replaced by choices that are gentler on your blood sugar, such as rye or pumpernickel bread, yams and sweet potatoes and fruits. These are known as low-glycemic-index (or low-GI) foods.
- It is important to include a source of vitamin B12, such as any common multiple vitamin or fortified foods.
Oils are certainly better than animal fats. Beef fat, for example, is about 50 percent saturated fat—saturated fat is the “bad” fat that increases cholesterol levels and is linked to other health problems. About 30 percent of chicken fat is in the saturated form. Olive oil comes in at about 13 percent saturated fat. So cooking with olive oil is better than using chicken or beef fat, but is not nearly as good as sautéing your onions and garlic in water or vegetable broth so you can skip all that unnecessary “bad” fat.
It’s good to remember that fish oil is a mixture, too. Yes, some of it is in the healthful omega-3 form, but most of the fat in fish is not omega-3 at all. It is a combination of saturated fat (usually between 15 and 30 percent) and a variety of other unnecessary fats that can expand your waistline and do your body no good. Because fish are carnivores, small bits of mercury or other contaminants ingested by small fish become more and more concentrated as they are eaten by larger fish. And beyond unhealthful fats and contaminants, there is one more issue with fish: The protein in fish is not the healthful plant protein that is easy on your body. Animal protein—from cows, chicken, fish, or any other animal—tends to be hard for the kidneys to process, encouraging a gradual loss of kidney function. This is of most concern to people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or other conditions that may have already eroded their kidney health. But no matter who you are, a varied diet drawn from plant sources provides more than enough protein in its most healthful form.
So, skip the animal products and greasy, sugary foods, and enjoy the tastes and great health that vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and legumes can bring.