The Quick Answer: For a healthy weight, eat more whole foods and fewer refined foods. And start your day with a good breakfast, like Katie’s Granola (below).
I promised a granola recipe, but first let me comment on a Harvard study just out. The study analyzed dietary patterns for over 200K people, taken over 8-20 years, and found that over the years, some foods add weight while others are linked to weight loss. No surprise, I suppose, but which foods do which?
Weight loss foods—are unprocessed (and low in sugars and starch) and include yogurt (a surprise finding), nuts, fruits, whole grains, and extra helpings of vegetables. The benefit of yogurt is unclear; it may be the probiotics or just the fact that people who eat yogurt do a lot of other healthy things. Exercise and adequate sleep are also important habits.
Weight gain foods—are generally processed and include sugary drinks (most impact, because people drink so much), potatoes (French fries, potato chips and plain old baked potatoes), refined grains, red meats, and processed meats. The farmers in Idaho will defend the baked potato and I’m with them—but I will avoid things deep-fried and try to limit chips to national holidays. Also, smoking cessation, alcohol consumption, too little/too much sleep, and TV watching are all linked to overweight.
We intuitively knew this, but it’s nice of Harvard to confirm. Without saying it outright, the study challenges the common practice of calorie counting. We discussed this in a post, titled The Skinny on Overweight, which stated that eating a variety of whole foods moved us from eating calorie-dense food to eating nutrient-dense foods that had a low glycemic index (G.I.). You don’t need to go hungry to lose weight; nutrient-dense foods are filling, you won’t eat too much. Further, a low G.I. diet of whole foods would lower our insulin level and the propensity of insulin to convert excess glucose into cellular fat. Bottom line: don’t count calories; buy whole foods.
All this follows the longevity survey discussed in a recent post (Last Person Standing). A county-by-county survey of the US found a few counties where longevity was improving even more than the leading nations. (Nations with best longevity include Japan, Sweden and Switzerland.) But it also found that 85% of our counties were falling further behind. It was disturbing that in the greatest democracy, we are not all progressing together.
The Healthy Change of this week is to regularly eat a healthy breakfast. This is important—people who do so have more vigor and are less tempted by sugary snacks. Remember the Breakfast Compote, our effort to make a perfect meal? Two other healthy breakfasts you can make yourself include the Swiss tradition, muesli, and the American invention, granola. They’re both oat-based with nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. The main difference is granola is baked and has oil/fat added to bind it together. Both will keep for a week or two so can be made in advance to save time.
Granola Recipe: The beautiful wife and I have three daughters. When they went off to college, our main requirement (I was going to say “only”, but there were a few other parental dictates) was they work to help pay their way, avoid debt, and pick a major that would lead to a paying job. Reflecting their uniqueness, one is a firefighter, another is a designer, and the last is a photographer. They all share an interest in healthy eating and the picture above comes from Brooke’s blog, Inchmark, which links to the recipe at Katie Did.
I call it Katie’s Granola and it is unique because it’s baked in a cool oven (250 F) but for a longer time (2 hours). Most granola recipes bake at 350F for 15-30 minutes, depending on moisture level. (Brooke adds more nuts, as shown below. You might want to add a little salt.)
10 c old-fashioned rolled oats
2c whole-wheat flour
2c wheat germ
2c coconut, shredded or flaked
2 to 3c total of chopped pecans and sliced almonds
Mix above ingredients in large bowl
1c (or less) healthy oil (try coconut oil)
Mix wet ingredients in a medium bowl, then stir into the dry ingredients. Spread in shallow baking pans and bake about 2 hours at 250 F., stirring gently every 15 minutes. Cook until golden brown and nearly dry. Cool and store in airtight containers; refrigerate.
Budget Wisdom: You can save money by making your own granola, and you’ll have the confidence that you know what’s in it. Katie’s recipe is for the frugal—it has fourfold more grains than nuts/seeds/dried fruit. Other recipes balance the grain quantity with the more expensive nuts/seeds/fruit. Another savings: because many love it but don't make it, granola makes a great gift and is simpler than wandering the store aisles looking for something people often don't even need.
Please comment: We’re all moving away from factory-made stuff, towards home-cooked foods that are both healthier and less expensive. You're inventing a new economy: blending healthful food traditions with new, time-saving methods. Examples: home-made granola can last a week or two with the refrigerator, and wheat can be fresh-ground with a home grinder. Please share your creative ideas for healthier living.