Food is our fuel and our medicine.
Just like a high octane fuel keeps your car engine running smoothly, the quality of the food you eat will help determine how well you perform, how much energy you will have, and how healthy you will be.
Recently, I was invited to speak to the students of School District 36 for Health and Wellness Day. It was a great opportunity to talk with young adults about the importance of fueling up their bodies by eating a healthy breakfast every morning, and what a good healthy breakfast might look like for them. We also talked about ways to make healthier food choices using Nutrition Facts labels and The Altman Rule.
Ever heard about the Altman Rule?
It is a super quick way to determine if the foods you are eating are the healthiest ones for you. Read on to find out how you can use this simple tool while shopping for your next meal!
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!
You’ve probably been told that many times before. But do you really know why it is true?
Have you ever thought about what the word “breakfast” really means? It can be broken down into two smaller words, “break” and “fast.” When we have breakfast, we are “breaking the fast” because breakfast is the first food we will eat after fasting through the night.
We typically eat our last meal of the day around 7 or 8 p.m. in the evening and don’t eat again until morning. That means at least 10 or 12 hours will pass before we fuel up our bodies again with food. Now, you may think that we don’t use that much energy overnight because we are asleep for most of that time and not active; however, our bodies don’t shut down when we sleep. It is busy repairing and regenerating new cells, and preparing us for the next day. When we wake up, we need to jump start our metabolisms for the busy day ahead of us by refueling.
The quality of that fuel that we put in our bodies will determine the type of day we will have!
If you have ever looked at the nutrition label on a box of cereal, instant oatmeal, energy bar or drink, you may have noticed that sugar is one of the main ingredients in many of them. Sugar is a source of energy for our bodies, but it has drawbacks.
Sugar gives us lots of energy very quickly. It enters the blood stream where it is shuttled to where it is needed most. If we are very active, it is used by our muscles and other organs. However, we usually have more sugar in our blood stream than what we need, so it is shuttled out of the blood stream and stored as fat, leaving us with very low blood sugar levels and very quickly we feel tired. We can’t think straight, have no energy, and get moody. We can’t focus on the tasks at hand. Our bodies need quick energy again so we start craving more sugary foods.
This is not a good way to start the day!
So, what are the components of a “high-test” breakfast?
We want to start our day with food that is low in added sugars and high in protein and fiber. Some good examples might be oatmeal with nuts and fresh fruit, a spinach and mushroom omelet, a yogurt parfait with fresh berries and a low sugar granola, and, yes, even some cold breakfast cereals.
But why stop there? Who says a breakfast has to consist of traditional breakfast foods? Why not try some left overs from last night’s dinner? Or how about a healthy hearty soup? If you like a food, you are more likely to want to eat it, so be creative. Think out of the box, literally!
In a perfect world we would all be able to sit down and have a perfect family breakfast. I am a firm believer in the importance of eating a whole food diet, which means avoiding prepackaged foods whenever possible. Sometimes though our busy lives make it very difficult to do this. One handy tip might be to plan your breakfast the night before, the same way you might plan your lunch.
But, there still will be times you might find yourself reaching for a quick meal in a pinch.
When that happens, here are a couple of simple tips you can use when shopping to ensure you are making healthier food purchases. Remember, the best way to eat healthy is not to bring less healthy foods in to the house in the first place!
Read the Nutrition Label
Every box, bottle, or package of food has the Nutrition Facts listed on the side or back. In addition to the suggested serving size, there is information on the amounts of fats, carbohydrates, sugars and some vitamins and minerals. There is also a list of ingredients at the bottom.
First, look to see how many ingredients are in the food.
Use a simple guideline: Look for very few ingredients. If the food contains more than five ingredients, take a pass and look for another brand. And, if you don’t recognize what the ingredients are or can’t pronounce them, put it back.
Second, look to see how many grams of sugar it contains.
Try to choose foods with 5 grams of sugar or less if possible. If there is more sugar listed, look to the ingredients list. Ingredients are listed in order from highest amounts to lowest. If sugar is listed as one of the first 5 ingredients, these are empty calories that you don’t want in your food. You probably don’t want this food in your diet. Be aware too, that sugar may be listed many times under different names in smaller amounts. If added all together these would bump the added sugar to the top of the ingredient list!
Third, use The Altman Rule.
I came across this last handy tip just recently, devised by Dr. Wayne Altman from the Department of Family Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine. It is a way to quickly look at similar foods and determine if one might be a healthier alternative, based on the amounts of fiber, protein and sugars it contains.
The Altman Rule simply states:
A single serving size should contain 3 grams of fiber or more, and
The protein and fiber in a single serving of food should exceed the amount of sugar.
Let’s take a quick look at a couple of examples:
One single serving of this food contains 5 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein for a total of 9 grams. Compare that to 1 gram of sugar. Since 9 grams exceeds 1 gram, this food passes the Altman Rule as a healthier food.
4 grams of fiber + 5 grams of protein > 1 gram of sugar
Let’s look at another label
This food contains 4 grams of fiber and 4 grams of protein, very similar in profile to the last food we looked at. However, it also contains 12 grams of sugar. Since 8 grams does not exceed 12 grams, this food fails the test of the Altman Rule.
4 grams of fiber + 4 grams of protein < 12 grams of sugar
Why is there so much more sugar in the Apple and Cinnamon Oatmeal? It is easy to see from the ingredients labels shown below that there is a lot of added sugar in the Apple and Cinnamon version of oatmeal. It is the second ingredient that is listed! A better alternative would be to buy the plain oatmeal and add your own apples and cinnamon. If you need a little more sweetness, you can add some raisins or a sliced banana (which adds more healthy fiber and potassium).
Now that you know the Altman Rule, try it out the next time you go shopping. Or use it to clean out your pantry and refrigerator to make room for healthier foods.
I would love to hear what you learned about the foods you have been eating!
Yours in Health,