Choosing diet is often a balancing act


January 24, 1995|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,Special to The Sun

Nutrition issues are rarely black or white. In fact, it's the gray areas that tend to make us all crazy.

People constantly ask, "Is this a good food?" or "Should I eat this food?" expecting a simple yes or no answer. Sorry, folks, it's just not that easy.

It is challenging, though. Take nuts and seeds, for instance.

Nuts and seeds are often promoted as great sources of protein. And they can be helpful in creating high- quality protein when they're combined with grains and legumes. But they contain far more fat than protein, which puts them in the "use sparingly" category.

I run into people who so fear fat that they totally avoid nuts and seeds after they get that high-fat message. What a shame. Nuts and seeds taste great and, used carefully, can improve the flavor of many other foods. Best of all, they offer vitamins and minerals needed for good health and missing from many other dietary fats.

Nuts and seeds offer fiber for good bowel function and cholesterol lowering, vitamin E to prevent heart disease, cancer and cataracts, magnesium for good nerve and muscle function, zinc for a strong immune system, iron for healthy blood, copper for wound healing and even a little calcium for strong bones.

Most of the fat from nuts is polyunsaturated. Most of the fat from seeds is monounsaturated. Both these fats are heart-healthier than saturated fats from butter or transfatty acids from margarine.

So if you start to think of nuts and seeds as substitutes for other fats, they begin to shine.

We need to eat a little fat in order to absorb the fat-soluble vitamins, to keep our gallbladders functioning and to keep our skin from drying out. Since fat of all kinds has to be limited for good health, it's a good idea to choose the ones that taste the best and offer some extra nutrition, too.

So the next time you "butter" your bread or roll with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter instead of butter or margarine, you'll save 4 grams of fat and 10 or 15 calories, and you'll also get 2 percent of your iron, 6 percent of your copper and zinc, 10 percent of your vitamin E and 18 percent of your magnesium for the day. But don't get carried away. Each tablespoon of peanut butter contains 8 grams of fat. Most women should limit fat to 65 grams/day. Most men get 93 grams/day.

Instead of buttering your green beans, add half an ounce (about 1 1/2 tablespoons) of slivered, toasted almonds. For 90 calories you'll get 2 grams of fiber, 38 percent of your vitamin E, 5 percent of your calcium and 4 percent of your iron for the day.

Add a tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds to your next salad or plate of steamed vegetables for a real taste treat. For just 47 calories and 4 grams of fat, you'll add half a gram of fiber, 4 percent of your iron, 7 percent of your zinc and 10 percent of your magnesium.

To toast sesame seeds, sprinkle them in a heavy skillet over high heat. Shake the pan to keep them from sticking. Just about the time your arm gets tired, the seeds will begin to pop. Remove them from the heat immediately or they'll jump all over the kitchen.

Sunflower seeds are another high-nutrition fat. One ounce offers 162 calories, 2 grams of fiber and 14 grams of fat. For that you get 60 percent of your vitamin E, 4 percent of your calcium, 12 percent of your zinc, 13 percent of your iron, 33 percent of your copper and 36 percent of your magnesium. Pair them with a tangerine or 6-ounce glass of grapefruit juice for a long-lasting afternoon snack.

Pumpkin seeds are an outstanding vegetable source of iron. One ounce (about 3 tablespoons or 142 seeds) contains about 150 calories, 12 grams of fat and 1.5 grams of fiber. That tasty little package gives you 18 percent of your zinc, 26 percent of your copper, 30 percent of your iron, 35 percent of your vitamin E and 54 percent of your magnesium. Have them with a good source of vitamin C, such as 6 ounces of orange juice, to maximize your absorption of all that iron.

That power-packed 200-calorie afternoon snack outshines a Snickers bar any day and gives you all the energy you need to fuel a workout, then keep going long enough to prepare a healthy dinner. The Energizer Bunny will have nothing on you!

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

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