Good diet goes beyond classifications

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A healthy body and good nutrition go hand in hand.

There are so many nutrition related terms out there, it’s easy to get confused. For healthy nutrition, don’t get caught up in the terminology.

Let’s clarify a few common terms and then dig into the simple ways we can focus our eating, and thinking, for good health.

A vegetarian is someone who doesn’t eat animal flesh of any kind. Period. It may be for health reasons, moral or ethical reasons, or even for the health of the environment that vegetarians choose not to consume meat.

Dr. Caldwell B. Esselstyn Jr., in his “book Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease,” recommends avoiding consumption of “anything with a face or a mother.” If it has either, it’s probably not on the menu in a strict vegetarian household.

It is common for some vegetarians to consume dairy and eggs (termed ovo-lacto vegetarians).

Pescetarians are common as well. The only animal flesh they consume is seafood, and they aren’t technically vegetarians.

Vegans do fall under the category of vegetarian. In addition to not consuming animal flesh, vegans avoid all animal-based foods including dairy and eggs.

The term “vegan” oftentimes refers to more than just dietary habits, and may denote a lifestyle, with many vegans rejecting all animal products including leather, wool and silk.

Just because someone follows a vegetarian or vegan diet, we cannot assume that they eat nutritiously. There are plenty of “junk food” vegetarians and vegans out there.

Eating white rice, white pasta, white bread, sugar, salt, fat, other refined carbohydrates and processed pseudo-meats is all vegetarian. But is it nutritious? No! Potato chips? Those are vegan. Candy? That’s vegetarian.

Whether you follow a plant based diet, or enjoy meat and dairy, what we really need to emphasize for a healthy diet is whole foods.

Whole foods are as close to their natural state as possible. Refined and processed foods were taken from their natural state and mechanically or chemically altered.

During this process much of the nutrition (in the form of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, antioxidants, etc.) has been stripped away, frequently replaced with fat and salt for added taste.

For example, a baked potato, skin and all, is a whole food. Fast food french fries however, started as a potato, have much of their fiber removed, sodium and fat added, then are shaped and formed, and eventually they spend time in the deep fat fryer followed by a generous sprinkling of salt before landing on your plate. Not much resemblance to a potato at the end of the process!

Eating whole foods doesn’t have to be confusing. Read the ingredients list on the foods you purchase.

If you don’t recognize an ingredient or it sounds like a chemical from a lab rather than something from nature, skip it.

Whole foods such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, don’t have long ingredients lists or added salt or fat.

Spend your time at the grocery store in the produce and bulk foods department and you likely won’t have an ingredients list to worry about.

Don’t be afraid to try something new, you can find endless recipes and cooking instructions on the Internet for free, no fancy cookbooks needed.

Start thinking about hunger differently. Your body really only has one way to send you a message that it needs nutrients… hunger! Hunger isn’t your body just asking for calories, it’s pleading for vitamins, minerals, antioxidents, and phytochemicals.

True hunger isn’t a craving, a sweet tooth or a little noise from your stomach. True hunger is a sensation you feel in the chest and throat, and can be satisfied by vegetables, fruits and other nutritious foods.

Most of us don’t experience the sensations from true hunger due to habitually eating to satisfy a craving, or eating because the clock says it’s time to eat.

Elizabeth Sparks is an NCCA– and ACE-certified personal trainer, a Yoga Alliance registered yoga teacher, and holds a certificate in plant based nutrition from eCornell and the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. She leads fitness and wellness classes at Whitman College and the Walla Walla YMCA.

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