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Special Reports August 2016 Issue

Eat Healthy, Not Guilty

Donít let food become your enemy - it's OK to enjoy what you eat.

If you think food that tastes good can't possibly be good for you, or if you feel guilty about enjoying a meal, it might be time to hit the reset button on your attitudes toward eating and nutrition. While it's smart to pay attention to what's in your food, today’s culture of information clutter can make it difficult to sort out facts from fads. Once you start worrying about what you need to avoid at every meal, food can morph from enjoyment to enemy.

"We are beginning to have an adversarial relationship with food," says Alice H. Lichtenstein, DSc, director of Tufts' HNRCA Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory and executive editor of the Health & Nutrition Letter. "We need to eat to live, to consume certain foods to meet our nutrient requirements. There are many ways of doing that, and you should be able to eat foods that you really enjoy while optimizing health outcomes and maintaining a healthy body weight."

Lichtenstein served as vice chair of the scientific advisory committee for the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans. She notes that those recommendations emphasize consuming a healthy eating pattern within the context of personal preferences and ethnic tastes.

"We've lost sight of the concept of enjoying food, that it's OK to enjoy food and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it," she says. "People think if food tastes good, it must be bad for you. Or they say things like, 'You’re not going to eat that, are you?'"

WORRY LIST: Part of the problem stems from the ever-growing categories of foods people are told to worry about. There are legitimate reasons to seek out sustainable foods and choose organic products (although there is little if any difference in nutrient content). You might prefer not to buy foods containing genetically modified (GMO) ingredients or to go gluten-free (even though only people diagnosed with celiac disease actually need to avoid gluten). It's probably smart to limit your intake of artificial colors, preservatives and other additives, although no additives currently in the food supply have been definitively shown to present a hazard. (Neither is there any evidence that consuming them has any benefit.)

Add up all these concerns, however, along with advice to avoid unhealthy fats, added sugars (particularly from sugar-sweetened beverages) and excess sodium, and soon mealtime becomes a gauntlet to be run, rather than an experience to be enjoyed.

Relax. Occasionally eating that brownie at a party or indulging in a strip of bacon while on vacation is not going to undermine all your efforts to improve your eating pattern or moderate your calorie intake. In fact, such occasional indulgences may actually help you stay on track for the vast majority of the time, and that is the real goal.

Next: Page 2: Seek Healthy Food, Pick Your Pattern and Custom Cuisine

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