Here in the South not only do we have a somewhat unique way of speaking, but we also have a way of eating that is common to our area as well. Biscuits and gravy, country ham, fried okra, fried squash, potato cakes, and the like come to mind as the mouth begins to water. But, as obesity rates soar for both children and adults, can we continue down this road that often leads to diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and other medical conditions? We feed ourselves heavy, starchy, calorie dense foods that a person can eat and then work for hours. But do you work a labor intensive job that requires these extra calories? Do we need to give up our traditional eating habits? How do we need to eat for optimum health? Let's address these three questions.
We can't ignore the fact that we eat too much and move too little for the way that most of us live. We aren't the farming communities of 30 or 40 years ago and children don't go out and play, let alone work, for the most part. The farming that is done is much less labor intensive with the advent of machinery. One can actually farm and "not break a sweat." Few people grow their own food, cook, or have the family sit-down meals of a few years ago. Times change and we need to adapt. Most people do not need the heavy, starchy meals that kept one's belly full while trailing a mule that pulled a plow down an endless furrow. Does this mean we have to abandon our food culture?
Traditionally, we have eaten to support a very active, labor intense life that few of us actually live any more. Just as one has to eat to support a more active lifestyle (a son or daughter who begins a high school sport), we also have to scale back the calories to accomodate a current lifestyle which is increasingly more sedentary. And no, we don't have to give-up all of our favorite foods, but a lot of us need to do some serious scaling back! It's not that you should never eat gravy and biscuits; we need to enjoy these foods that are a part of who we are - but sparingly. "Everything in moderation" is a phrase that fits.
Eating for optimal health is somewhat unique to the individual and the current health issues in which one may be facing. But we could all probably agree that less inflamation and more energy is a good thing. Lean proteins and vegetables should be the staple of our diets - and by diet I mean 'what you eat', not the latest, greatest "Prune Juice Purge" or whatever you found in a magazine. If you will eat a protein source (about the size of your palm) and two servings of vegetables (a serving is a half cup) with an occasional fruit and/or starch, you are on your way to better eating habits. This, of course, will have to be tweaked according to your activity levels and goals. By eating every two to three hours, we can keep our energy levels high and hunger pangs and cravings at bay. It takes some planning and preparation, but it can be done. Stick with this for most of your meals - say 85% of them. If you have five meals per day seven days per week, you will eat 35 meals. This will give you five meals per week to 'cheat.' Have pizza for lunch - OK, scratch-off one of those weekly cheat meals (unless you made your own 'healthy' pizza), biscuits and gravy (anyone picking up on a favorite of mine??) for breakfast - scratch another cheat meal, miss a meal - scratch another.... What!!?? That's right, to get the nutrients that you need and fight off cravings, you eat every two to three hours with no exceptions, just cheat meals.
Most of us do not live the active lifestyles of yesterday, but we still eat like our parents and grandparents - who weren't sitting behind a desk all day. We need to eat to fuel our bodies for the tasks that we do today. And while it is OK to have the occasioanal 'cheat' meal, we need to stick to a plan that supplies us with enough nutrients to thrive in today's world without packing on the extra body fat that leads to so many complications.