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Get Out of That Eating Rut! Choices Are Limitless


If you feel like you're always eating the same old thing, you probably are. When it comes to food, we tend to be creatures of habit.

"Many people resort to lowest common denominator eating," says Lisa Licavoli, a registered dietitian and owner of Newport Beach-based Concepts in Nutrition. "We rely on the same foods over and over again. Most Americans have a selection of just 10 recipes that they use on a regular basis."

Some common foods you may recognize on your grocery list or in the products you buy include potatoes, wheat, corn, dairy products, eggs, beef and chicken. "These foods are a small fraction of the 20,000 items found in the average grocery store," says Licavoli. "If you aren't trying new foods, then you're missing out on a lot."

The first commandment of nutrition is to eat a wide variety of foods.

"This is important because there are phenomenal healing properties in food, some of which we haven't yet identified," says Licavoli. Eating many different types of food ensures adequate nutrient intake. It also protects you from developing sensitivities to foods and eating too much of any one food that has been tainted."

There are a couple of reasons why we are preoccupied with the same recipes, including a need for the familiar during a time of rapid change. "Many people today comfort themselves by doing regressive eating and having familiar foods from childhood, such as meat loaf," says Licavoli.

Another reason for our eating the same foods has to do with America's agricultural history, she says.

During the 1960s, the United States improved agricultural technology, which led to several high-yielding crops, including corn, wheat and rice, says Licavoli.

"These crops were and still are planted on large sites and harvested in mass quantities. This may have made America the bread basket of the world--but a very limited one."

Here are some ideas to broaden the gastronomic horizons:

* Eat more fruits and vegetables.

The best way to immediately add healthy variety to our diets is to eat more fruits and vegetables, says Susan Kishiyama, a registered dietitian who teaches nutrition at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa.

"At the beginning of the semester, I have my students record what they eat," she says. "Most of them consume a lot of fatty foods like red meat, fried chicken and french fries, and very few eat an adequate amount of fruit and vegetables."

Kishiyama's findings aren't unusual. A 1991 survey conducted by the Produce for Better Health Foundation and the National Cancer Institute found that more than 40% of Americans eat two or fewer fruits and vegetables daily. Health research groups and nutritionists recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Because of the state's year-round growing season, Californians have access to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that other parts of the country rarely see--such as mangoes, papayas and kiwi.

For the best buy and taste, take advantage of seasonal fruits. Right now, those include tangerines, grapefruit, pineapples and strawberries. In a month or two, there will be an abundance of fresh plums, apricots, peaches and cherries.

To fill daily vegetable requirements, Kishiyama suggests making a salad with dark green leafy vegetables and adding at least two other vegetables, such as broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, squash, peppers, jicama, turnips, cucumber and celery.

* Expand grain horizons.

Although the United States produces a lot of wheat-based products, there are actually many ancient grains available today that are nutritionally superior to wheat, says Licavoli.

Those include spelt, which is higher in protein and iron than common wheat and tolerated well by wheat-sensitive individuals; kamut, which is also higher than wheat in protein, magnesium, potassium and zinc; quinoa, which has the highest protein content of the vegetable kingdom; teff, which is high in iron and calcium; and amaranth, which is higher in iron and protein than wheat and supplies all the essential amino acids.

Although these grains aren't grown as abundantly as wheat in the United States, some can be found in flour form and you'll find all of them in a variety of products. When shopping, check ingredient lists for these grains in cookies, animal crackers, hot and cold cereals, breads and pastas.

When baking, instead of just using white or wheat flour, try other types such as soy flour, oat flour or rice flour--all of which can be found at health food stores and gourmet shops.

Other interesting grain additions to your menus include millet and barley, which Kishiyama says go well in soups. Wild rice is also good in casseroles and makes a flavorful side dish.

* Protein alternatives.

The American Heart Assn. recommends eating no more than five to seven ounces of meat a day. For those wanting to follow that guideline or simply explore tastes, there are a number of other protein choices.

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