Gourmet Food

Healthy Ingredients

Your diet should always contain roughly equal amounts of whole grains, lean proteins, colored vegetables, and fruits. Selecting those oils and fats considered good for your health is especially important, since you'll be using them to prepare your own healthy dishes. If you make your choices from among those recommended food groups, you've taken your first important step toward good health.

Why Choose Whole Grains?

Whole grains cooked by themselves form a substantial and delicious basis for fish or vegetable dishes. Used in bread, they make an ideal product, hearty and satisfying, especially when that bread is made at home without excess salt or preservatives. Whole grain has three layers: the inmost germ, the surrounding endosperm, and the bran coating.

The endosperm is formed of carbohydrates, plus some oils and proteins. The bran holds as much as 80% of all minerals found in the grain, plus B vitamins and fiber, which is why bran cereals are considered so good for you. The contents of the germ are similar to those of bran (although it contains less fiber), plus valuable antioxidants and fatty acids.

Not only are those three parts each healthy choices, they have synergistic benefits when eaten together. Refined flour, in contrast, consists only of the starchy endosperm, which is the type of undesirable carbohydrate that can cause unwanted fluctuations in blood sugar. The germ and bran have been milled off the grain, and their nutritional value cannot be replaced with the supplements added to enriched flour.

Whole grains range from standards like whole wheat, oats, and barley to grains new to the American table, such as millet, farro, quinoa, triticale, and spelt. Alternative whole grains are enjoying a current vogue, and tasty recipes are easy to find.

Which Proteins Keep You Healthy?

Best of all for human health are the proteins found in nuts, beans, poultry, and fish. The body treats vegetable and animal proteins identically, but the other nutrients found in the food along with those proteins make a difference in the net effect on your body.

The key to making sure your body enjoys the nutritional benefit of protein without the health risks of the saturated fats found in meats like pork and beef is to consume a limited amount of red meat (Mayo Clinic offers a handy guide to lean cuts) and diversify your protein sources. Surprisingly, a half-cup of beans contains the same amount of protein as one ounce of steak (after broiling).

Thus, best dietary practice says also says to avoid any processed meat entirely, because of the unhealthy fat content and because of the undesirable additives used to prepare it. In fact, if you wish to focus exclusively on legumes while avoiding meat and even fish, you'll be perfectly safe in doing so. Your body will find the combinations of amino acids it requires in whole grains, legumes, seeds, and nuts, when you add those to dietary vegetables and fruits.

Why Colored Vegetables?

That term is designed to exclude that national favorite the potato, which is almost all starch with little else to give, very much like refined flour. Let the intensity of color be your guide to the vitamin and mineral content: choose dark green, iron-rich spinach as opposed to pale green lettuce, for example. But it's only fair to note that even iceberg lettuce, not a nutritional star by vegetable standards, does contain folate, vitamins C and especially K, potassium and iron.

There are exceptions to the color rule, such as white onions and cauliflower. Like broccoli and cabbage, cauliflower belongs to a very nutritious group called the cruciferous or Brassica vegetables, which are perhaps the very best options in this highly recommended category because they contain some unusual and beneficial sulfur compounds.

Moral of the story: a less healthy vegetable is still good for you. You'll be rewarded at the very least with vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber that fend off chronic diseases.

Benefits of Fruits

Like vegetables, fruits help lower your risks of cardiovascular disease, some cancers, and ocular and gastrointestinal ailments by offering similar vitamin-mineral-fiber combinations. As America moves away from a meat and potatoes orientation toward more healthy and exciting alternatives, food stores stock wider arrays of fruits and vegetables once very difficult to find.

Experimenting with exotic newcomers to the produce aisle like star fruit, horned melon, or rambutan can keep you in good health while continuing to tempt your palate. Dried fruit provides the same nutrition in a less-messy package that's easy to carry and eat on the go. Choose organic dried fruits to avoid preservatives.

Most fruits offer some vitamin A. Other vitamins like C, D, E, K, and those in the B family are present in a wide assortment of fruits. Look up your favorite fruits in one of the many vitamin content charts to see specifics on how they supplement your diet.

Which Fats Are Considered Healthy?

The words "oil" and "fat" have negative connotations, but some oils and fats can actually be good for you. The trick is to consume mostly beneficial fats, limit your intake of saturated fats, and avoid what are called trans-fatty acids fats (trans fats) altogether.

Beneficial fats (the mono- and polyunsaturated types) can lower your risk of some illnesses and should be welcomed in your diet. You can find these in nuts, seeds, plant oils (corn, olive and canola are common examples), and fish. Saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature, and occur in fatty meats, dairy products, and palm and coconut oils.

Trans fats are found in small amounts in fatty meats and butterfat, and in large amounts in hydrogenated fats, which occur in products like margarine, shortening, and hydrogenated cooking oils. Partially hydrogenated fats present the same problem, because trans fats are a byproduct of hydrogenation.

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