The Healthy Diet for Cyclists (or Anybody)
NOTE: This web page gives my recommendations for a healthy diet which are usually the same as those provided by the US Department of Agriculture, the Surgeon General, and similar authorities. As I already have stated in this directory, I am not a health expert; on the other hand, I am very careful not to make any statements that could jeapordize anyone's health, which some health "experts" do. When I disagree with or speculate beyond scientific knowledge, I will be sure to indicate it's my personal opinion. I used The PDR [Physician's Desk Reference] Family Guide to Nutrition and Health (copyright 1995) as my primary source of information on nutrients because I found it to be objective, scientific, and detailed. However, I used only a small part of the information from that source, and the content, style, arrangement, and message of this page is quite my own.
ALSO NOTE: In writing this, I have not included a full list of the fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds each time because I needed to conserve space; instead, I just listed the common choices. In addition, the common foods are more likely to be researched than others. I have no doubt that Kiwi fruit, acorn squash, and many other extraordinary foods are excellent choices. Research is underway, and there are a number of websites with up-to-date information.
"Diet" has three meanings, two common and one uncommon (as an example of the last, Martin Luther is associated with the Diet of Worms). Unfortunately, most people see "diet" as a temporary way of losing weight, the less valuable of the common meanings, rather than as a food lifestyle, the preferred meaning. The food lifestyle that I chose as a teenager to replace my parents' is very similar to the diet recommended by sound scientific research. It is not yet possible to identify all the desirable qualities of foods, and undoubtedly some changes in opinions will occur in the future; nonetheless, present scientific knowledge can explain very readily why the diet of most Americans is harmful and can suggest positive improvements.
What Is Wrong with Dieting?
Every few years, a new fad diet comes out just to disappear a few years later and be replaced by another fad diet. Then, after a generation or so, the old fad diet will become the new rage again. So the current top fad diet of today has existed many times in the past and will continue to be reincarnated in the future. These fad diets, as opposed to the special diets prescribed by doctors for specific purposes, are all almost always undertaken to cause weight loss, usually rapid weight loss. Fad diets basically depend on restricting part of the usual diet that people eat, either by allowing only a very limited selection of food or by not allowing foods of a certain type or by limiting the time during which which certain foods may be eaten. These include crash dieting, high and low protein diets, liquid diets, and single-food diets. These diets all have long-term health problems, and some create immediate risks.
Nonetheless, these diets are popular for a while because they all work to some extent. Most cause an immediate rapid weight loss by reducing the amount of fluid retained by the body. Most also create an imbalanced condition within the body which acts as a form of partial starvation, leading to additional weight loss. Finally, most lead to poor appetite and thus a reduction in food consumption.
However, these are all basically unhealthy ways of losing weight. The diets are very likely to be a greater risk to health than was the initial overweight condition. Some of the possible unhealthy consequences are 1) weight swings, 2) dehydration, 3) energy loss, 4) high blood pressure, and 5) mood swings. And it's very possible that the weight that is lost will not be fat anyway.
Thirty years ago when I married, I tried to convince my wife to adopt my diet and exercise as she was worried about her weight. Instead, she followed Dr. Atkins' diet plan, which is a low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet, when she followed any plan at all, because she was worried about calories (somehow she could see the calories in bread and donuts but not the calories in fried chicken).
I wrote a poem at the time (based on "Jack Sprat") expressing how I felt in an amusing fashion:
It works out neat, Ken eats no meat,
His wife eats nothing more.
When sitting at table, they scarcely are able
To eat more than a dinner for four.
Of course, the meat diet with its heavy fat content did not help her lose weight nor did it give her the energy she needed for bicycling. I am upset to see that 30 years later, Dr. Atkins is still pushing a diet that has been harmful to so many.
Dieting is an unhealthy and unrealistic method of weight control and should be avoided.
Is Diet Important?
As an alternative view, some have come to the belief that diet -- that is making a life choice about which foods to eat -- is unimportant. To some extent, I agree with this point of view for two reasons: First, I feel that most cases of overweight and obesity are caused more by sedentary behavior than by excessive calories. A sedentary lifestyle is so common nowadays that the doctor (who is also usually sedentary) seldom sees it as the problem and cautions his patients that they are "eating too much" instead. Give someone eight hours of hard physical work each day, and the problem will be one of maintaining weight rather than of losing it. As a construction worker, I never weighed over 160 pounds in spite of a huge appetite, yet when working as a teacher under high pressure with no time for exercise, I reached 193 pounds very quickly. However, a better (and more realistic) solution to the problem of overweight would be to get the person to engage in an hour or two of aerobic activity each day, such as riding a bicycle to and from work; then the bathroom scale will probably not be needed any more. Second, I partially agree that the choice of food is unimportant because I think that many widely different diets are quite healthy. Man is an omnivore and is capable of living on a wide variety of foods and diets, as is attested by the many different traditional food lifestyles around the world which were necessary due to limitations on what could be grown (or hunted) in the many different climates.
Some Bad Older Diets
On the other hand, I would hardly go so far as to believe that all diets are equally satisfactory. Many diets can seemingly be quite healthy and yet cause long-term health problems. In the mound-builder culture, the early Spanish slave culture, and in the South at the turn of the century, too great an over-dependency on corn (maize) resulted in poor health and a reduced lifespan because corn is deficient both as a protein source and as a vegetable. In the South, a diet of fatback, molasses, and corn among the poor resulted in vast outbreaks of pellagra, which resulted in suffering and sometimes death. In the North, the old meat-and-potatoes diet that I was raised on was over-dependent on meat, did not include enough vegetables and fruit, and seldom included legumes. Fortunately, Mother kept us kids furnished with raw vegetables and fruit as snacks. The common Southern diet which I encountered in the 50's included more legumes (a healthy choice) and vegetables, but the vegetables were all over-cooked with animal fat added or were breaded and fried in fat, and the beans were cooked in fat as well; then they were served with fried meats and fried cornbread. Due to this diet and a lack of exercise, the South has the highest rates of overweight, heart disease, stroke, and type II diabetes in the nation. By the way, there is no food in these diets that is "wrong"; the diets are just unbalanced. In 1974, the average American ate 250 pounds of meat, far more than what is necessary or even desirable for good health, as that meat included far more protein than necessary and many pounds of saturated fat.
Fast Food and Junk Food
Diets have changed since then and seem to be lighter and healthier. Unfortunately, they are usually not any better. The fast-food and junk-food diet which replaced the meat-and-potatoes and cornpone diets contains too much salt, which raises the blood pressure, and too much cholesterol and saturated fat, which increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer. But even worse, the common American diet is low in many of the substances which lead to longer life and better health. You might deny that the American diet is so bad; if so, compare the choices at your quickstop, fast-food outlet, restaurant, and supermarket to the suggestions I make below. In only a few parts of the country can I find any good choices at a quick stop, and I seldom have found a balanced meal in a restaurant, let alone a meal that is low in salt and fat. The only fast-food choices that I ever pick are the bean burrito and the veggie sandwich, and the burrito is high in salt. While I can eventually round up a good meal in a supermarket, unless it is a small store, in most parts of the country the majority of counter space is given to foods that are not good for the health. A national survey (cited in the PDR) confirms my observations. On a given day more than half of the people in the United States don't eat a single vegetable or piece of fruit or drink any fruit juice. And less than one person in ten eats the recommended amounts of vegetables and fruit.
Don't Vitamins Solve the Problem?
People are actually more likely to take vitamin pills than to eat properly. However, since we don't even yet know all the necessary and helpful nutrients found in foods nor the correct amounts to give, using vitamin pills can lead to shortages and overdoses. Vitamin pills, at the least, lack the fiber and phytochemicals found in food.
What Is a Poor Diet?
The most significant "nutrients" in fast-food and junk-food diets are saturated fat, sugar, and salt. The burger and fries combination is a typical example of fast food. The red meat in the hamburger is high in fat, cholesterol, and salt. The French fries are also heavy with fat and salt. The only vegetables with the meal are a bit of lettuce, a ring of onions, a slice of pickle, and whatever ketchup used. The pickle and ketchup are also high in salt. The combo includes a soft drink which has no nutrients at all. This meal can provide up to half of one's daily calorie requirements while achieving or exceeding the maximum recommended amounts of salt, fat, and cholesterol and while supplying little of the fiber, vitamins, and other important nutrients needed for good health. Junk foods -- generally snacks -- are even worse. Besides being very high in calories, saturated fat, and salt, they usually provide few nutrients and little fiber.
What Is a Healthy Diet?
With little trouble and no extra cost, it is possible to turn an unhealthy diet into a healthy one. A healthy diet will taste very good as well.
I have a diet that is both inexpensive and very healthy. The most important foods in my diet are grains and starches (bread, rice, pancakes, pasta, and potatoes), which supply complex carbohydrates, unsaturated fat, fiber, protein, iron, thiamine, niacin, and riboflavin. Vegetables are second in importance (onions, carrots, celery, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, lettuce, tomatoes, green peppers, and black olives), providing fiber, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, phytochemicals, and monosaturated fat (from the olives). Fruits come third (bananas, apples, plums, grape juice, berries, pears, and oranges), providing carbohydrates and also fiber, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and phytochemicals. Fruits and vegetables overlap to some extent, so I eat more fruit when fewer vegetables are available and vice versa. Protein sources are the least important (grains actually supply most of my proteins), although these foods also supply some important vitamins and minerals. My order of preferable sources is almost the reverse of the popular. Beans (legumes) come first (low in saturated fat and cholesterol, high in other nutrients), low-fat diary products second (calcium and little fat or cholesterol), fish and seafood third (contain omega-3 oils and calcium, but also cholesterol), eggs fourth (high in cholesterol and fat), and chicken fifth (less cholestrol but more fat, even after removing as much as I can). If I was willing to eat beef, pork, and other red meats, they would would come sixth (high in cholesterol and saturated fat), and organ meats last (very high cholesterol). However, to avoid being a hypocrite, I must point out that I currently eat legumes much less often than I recommend and chicken more often. In actuality, I am eating as follows: legumes (about twice a week), dairy products (a small amount every day), fish (two or three times a week), eggs (one a day), and chicken (two or three times a week).Finally, I use some sweets, soft drinks and honey, which are not necessary. This study has helped me improve my diet, which I will explain at the end.
Why I Won't Eat Many Meats
Although not related to the health effects of of diet, I think I should explain why I won't eat beef, pork, or the flesh of other mammals. Through experience with cats and dogs, I became aware that the higher animals have thoughts and feelings and their own individual personalities. It is true that they are rather stupid compared with us in many ways, but we don't eat stupid people. For some years, I vacillated between eating meat and a vegetarian diet, but after working milking cows in 1971, I realized that the cows had personalities just like dogs and cats, so I quit eating the meat of mammals for good. However, I don't go around and yell at people about what they eat; it's a matter of conscience. It was just my good fortune that, by not eating beef and pork, I was creating for myself a healthier diet, not only by reducing saturated fats in my diet but also by eating more grains, starches, and vegetables.
Is It Wrong or a Mistake Not to Eat Meat?
Learning that I don't eat red meat at all bothers many people greatly. I have even been told by conservative Christians that it's morally wrong for me not to eat meat. Actually, St. Paul defends vegetarians (see Romans 14), and the book of Daniel recommends a vegetarian diet (1:5-16). There are many Christian vegetarians. Nutritionally, there is no necessary substance found in red meat that is not found in other foods, and vitamin B12 is the only nutrient that must come from animal sources (except it is found in kelp and some algae). Our emphasis on meat not only leads to heart attack, stroke, and cancer but also reduces our food production (16 pounds of grain are needed to make one pound of beef) and adds to global warming (due to clearing woods to make pasture and to raise animal feed and also due to the animals' production of methane, a greenhouse gas). Why is red meat the basis of our diet? There are several possible causes. Since the powerful and the wealthy have always eaten a lot of red meat (because they could afford it), we tend to associate it with success. An even older association is that by eating a powerful animal, especially its organs, one becomes more powerful. We see these two causes acting today; due to the wealth and power of the US, young people in other parts of the world are adapting our clothing and our foods in the hope that these will make them more successful, which quite often leads to poorer nutrition. A third cause for eating red meat is also very strong: a diet high in meat is high in fat. While a high-fat diet is unhealthy for those with plenty of food, to those short in calories, choosing high-fat foods would result in more energy. In a recent study, which I heard about over the radio, rats given a choice between a high-fat and a lean diet preferred the high-fat diet, even though rats on a lean diet were much healthier.
The USDA Food Pyramid
The kind of diet I eat is not just something I thought up, nor is it a fad diet. Although a simple diet based on grains, vegetables, and fruit has been advocated for thousands of years, the wisdom of using it has been tested by recent sound research and is supported by medical authorities. The USDA Food Pyramid illustrates a healthy diet similar to mine. The references to the number of servings below are based on diets of from 1,600 to 2,800 calories per day; the lowest calorie diet is for sedentary women and older adults who should receive the smaller amount of servings mentioned below, and the highest calorie diet is for teenage boys, active men, and very active women, who should receive the larger amount of servings mentioned below.
According to the USDA Food Pyramid, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, and cereals should make up most of our calories, about six to eleven servings (this does not mean six big plates but six slices, ounces, or half-cups). The complex carbohydrates in these foods provide the best energy source for physical activity. Whole grain foods, such as brown rice and whole wheat, are preferred, as they supply more nutrients and more fiber.
We should eat three to five servings of vegetables per day. A serving would be half a cup of cooked or chopped vegetable or one cup of a leafy vegetable. Vegetables include legumes and potatoes even though legumes are listed with the meats as well (legumes have the dietary advantages of both groups) and potatoes are listed with the grains as well. Corn is also part vegetable and part grain.
The pyramid asks that we eat two to four servings of fruit each day. Each serving would be a medium-sized single fruit or a half of a large piece of fruit (grapefruit) or a wedge of a larger piece (melon or cantaloupe) or half a cup of small fruit or a quarter cup of dried fruit.
Dairy products are included separately in the pyramid, and two to three servings a day are recommended. A serving would be a cup of milk or an ounce and a half of cheese. To me, this is an over-recommendation for these products, due to the pressure of the dairy industry. There are other fine sources of calcium. Cheese should be eaten sparingly, as it is high in fat.
For meats, the recommendation is for two or three servings a day; however, the recommendation is for lean meats, the quantity only two and a half to three ounces (very small servings), and legumes, poultry, fish, nuts, and eggs are considered to be equal in value to red meat.
It's important to also pay attention to the little food extras and the drinks, which may add considerably to the calories without adding to the food value. For instance, a salad can be a high-fat, high-calorie food when served with lots of the wrong dressing. The food pyramid suggests that we use sugar and fats sparingly.
The Mediterranean Food Pyramid
Not all nutritionists agree with this food pyramid. The Harvard School of Public Health and the World Health Organization, among others, support a Mediterranean Food Pyramid which is otherwise the same but which firmly places beans, other legumes, and nuts between fruits and vegetables (for daily consumption) and suggests less use of meat products. Red meat is recommended no more than a few times (and a total of no more than 16 ounces) per month. In this diet (as opposed to my own list), cheese and yogurt are preferred to fish, and poultry is preferred to eggs. The diet also makes olive oil the oil of choice. In addition, the diet recommends a moderate daily consumption of wine. Recent research, however, shows that red grape juice has all the benefits of wine without the dangers of alcoholism.
Dangerous Substances and Beneficial Nutrients
To explain the value of these diets, I think it makes sense for me to list the dangerous and beneficial substances in our food, their value, and their sources:
Although those who preach low-carbo diets like to pretend that carbohydrates are evil, the truth is that they are our best energy source and the building blocks of life on earth. The simple sugars found in fruits give instant energy while the complex carbohydrates found in grains, starchy vegetables, and some fruits provide steady energy over the course of the day. Since carbohydrates are burned up pretty quickly, we find ourselves needing to eat frequently to restore them.
Many people believe that there is great danger of not getting enough protein. Actually, protein shortage is pretty rare, and the human body needs only a small amount; the USDA says we need only 50 grams per day. Excess protein is not stored but is turned into fat, the process creating a strain on the liver and kidneys. Protein is found not only in red meat, chicken, fish, milk, and eggs, but also in legumes, nuts, seeds, grains, and some green vegetables. Strict vegetarians do need to plan their diets, as most non-animal sources have reduced amounts of some of the essential amino acids and must be combined with complimentary protein sources. An excellent source of information for that purpose is Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé. However, I will add briefly that many traditional complimentary combinations occur around the world, such as peanut butter and bread (USA), bread and cheese (Italy and France), beans and corn (Mexico), lentils and rice (India), rice and beans (Caribbean), and soy with rice (China).
People often believe that all fats are bad for you. This is not true. Fats are complicated chemicals which are used for long-term energy storage, which help protect the body and blood, and which carry the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. The main problem with fats is that most of us eat far too many of them, and this results in overweight, diabetes, heart attacks, and perhaps even cancer (no direct link has been established, but countries with high fat consumption have higher rates of breast cancer, colon cancer, and prostate cancer). Our actual need for fat is small, as our bodies can produce it from proteins and carbohydrates, and we shouldn't be eating a diet heavy in fat. Unfortunately, some people get up to half of their calories in the form of fat, and the average diet is 35% fat. It would be impractical and undesirable to eliminate all fats from our diets, but it is important to reduce our fat intake, especially of those fats which cause the most amount of trouble in order to reduce weight and to reduce the danger of arterial blockage.
The second most important problem is that we eat too much of the wrong fats. Saturated fats are the most dangerous, for all the reasons given above plus raising the cholesterol levels. They are found in meat, whole milk, ice cream, butter, cheese, palm and coconut oils, and egg yolks. They are commonly added to junk food. Hydrogenated fats (sometimes called trans-fatty acids) are unsaturated fats which have been converted by chemical processes (partially saturated) to make margarine and shortening. They seem to have the same health risks as the saturated fats. These fats are commonly added to breads, pastries, crackers, and peanut butter to improve texture.
There are beneficial fats as well. Polyunsaturated fats, found in corn, soybean, safflower, and sunflower oil, are partially beneficial as they help lower cholesterol levels. We should use these fats to replace saturated fats and hydrogenated fats whenever possible. Omega-3 oils, found only in fatty sea fish, help prevent the hardening of the arteries and help prevent blood clots. We should eat fish every week for this reason. Mono-unsaturated fats, especially found in olive oil but also in peanut and carnola oils, have been proven to reduce heart problems. Olive oil should be used whenever possible to replace butter, margarine, and the other fats and oils.
Cholesterol is a substance needed by our bodies, but our bodies produce all that we need. It is found in all animal foods and in no plant foods. Organ meats have the highest levels, and egg yolks rank second. High saturated fat intake indirectly raises cholesterol levels while exercise is beneficial. Excessive cholesterol coats the arteries and thus causes heart attacks and debilitating strokes. There are two forms of cholesterol, and LDL (the more common type) causes all the problems while HDL seems to be helpful. Nowadays even children sometimes have high cholesterol levels due to a diet of junk food.
Sodium (Mainly from Salt)
Sodium chloride is used to regulate the pressure within cells, and it is used to make stomach acid. An excessive consumption of salt leads to excessive water retention and high blood pressure. Americans average 12 grams per day, which is five times the recommended amount, most of which is added to food before we get it. There's no need to ever use a salt shaker if you purchase processed food, as such foods supply 75% of the sodium in the American diet. In fact, I have never purchased salt in my life, and I still get too much in my diet.
Potassium, calcium, iron, iodine, magnesium, zinc, and copper are considered necessary to good health. They can all be taken to excess, but this would not occur from a normal diet. Other minerals may be necessary in very small amounts but have not been assigned a daily value by the USDA. Potassium (along with sodium) helps regulate cell pressure. It also is used by the heart, brain, kidneys, muscles, and nerves. It is found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, milk, legumes, and cereals. Calcium is used to make bones and teeth and also prevents muscle cramps. It is found in dairy products, sardines, leafy vegetables, nuts, and soybeans. Iron is used in the blood and in the muscles. It is found in enriched bread, prunes, nuts, eggs, legumes, and whole grains. Iodine is used by the thyroid gland, cells, skin, hair, and nails. Seafoods, sunflower seeds, and iodized table salt are sources. Magnesium is used by the bones, teeth, nerves, and muscles, and it helps control the body's metabolism. Sources include fish and seafood, fruit, leafy vegetables, dairy products, nuts, and soybeans. Zinc is used in enzymes, RNA, DNA, and in red blood cells. It is found in meat, seafood, eggs, milk, seeds, sunflowers, and whole grains. Copper helps the body utilize iron. It comes from nuts, some grains, honey, and some seafoods.
Vitamins are either water-soluble or fat-soluble. The water soluble vitamins are flushed out of the system very quickly and normally must be in the diet every day.
Vitamin A or retinol is a fat-soluble vitamin, which the body can produce from beta-carotene. It regulates cell development, bone and tooth growth, helps protect the body from disease, and is essential to night vision. It (or beta-carotene) is found in fruits and vegetables, especially carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, and squash-type vegetables. Although fat-soluble, it is needed daily. In 2001, the recommended amount was doubled.
Vitamin B1 or thiamine is a water-soluble vitamin which helps provide the body with energy. Although very common in the diet, alcohol impedes its use, thus leading to deficiencies. Thiamine is found in whole grains, seeds, soybeans, legumes, meat, and salmon.
Vitamin B2 or riboflavin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps with energy production and helps cells breathe and eliminate wastes. Good sources are dairy products, chicken, organ meats, leafy vegetables, grains, and nuts.
Vitamin B3 or niacin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps with energy production, synthesizing DNA, processing fat, and eliminating waste from cells. It is found in meat, seafood, poultry, peanuts, yeast, and sunflower seeds.
Vitamin B5 or pantothenic acid is a water-soluble vitamin that helps in the production of energy. It is found in meat, eggs, whole grains, legumes, and nuts.
Vitamin B6 or pyridoxine is a water-soluble vitamin that helps with food processing, energy production, and cell growth. It is found in seafood, dairy foods, meats, organ meats, and eggs.
Vitamin B9 or folic acid is a water-soluble vitamin which is essential to the production of RNA and DNA and is especially important in the production of red blood cells. It is found in leafy vegetables -- especially broccoli, spinach, and lettuce -- and in fruit, grains, and legumes.
Vitamin B12 or cobalamin is a water-soluble vitamin which helps with the burning of fats and carbohydrates, the function of the nervous system, and the growth of cells. This vitamin is found in seafood, milk products, meats, and eggs but is not found in vegetable sources, except from kelp. Although water-soluble, B12 is not needed daily; in fact, adults can go for years without it. Nonetheless, strict vegetarians, especially children, need to take B12 supplements.
Vitamin C or ascorbic acid is a water-soluble vitamin which helps in the production of connective tissues and the functioning of red blood cells and which also functions as an anti-oxidant. Sources include most fruits and many vegetables. The recommended amount has also recently doubled.
Vitamin D or cholecalciferol is a fat-soluble vitamin used in the formation of bone tissue. The primary source is sunlight, but it is also found in fortified milk and seafoods.
Vitamin E or alpha-tocopherol is a fat-soluble vitamin which protects body membranes from oxidation. It is found in vegetable oils, nuts, whole wheat, and some common fruits and vegetables.
A new value of foods that is still being researched lies in supplying anti-oxidant vitamins and chemicals. Oxidation (or burning) within the body is not a one-step process, and under the wrong conditions, the wrong molecules may get oxidized, which can damage cells, promote heart disease, help form cataracts, increase the risk of Alzheimer's, and even promote cancer. These problems increase when a person smokes or is exposed to polluted air, drinks alcohol excessively, or gets too much solar radiation. Due to air pollution and ozone loss in the upper atmosphere (ironically, too much ozone at ground level is one form of air pollution), the problems caused by free radicals have increased. Vitamins A, C, and E plus beta-carotene have been found to have anti-oxidant properties. Some of the phytochemicals below also aid the process, and research has just begun.
Another recent discovery is that some foods contain chemicals which help fight cancer and perform other healthy functions within the body. Research is just at the beginning stages; however, the following substances have been identified: P-coumaric acid and chlorogenic acid are found in tomatoes, carrots, strawberries, and other fruits and vegetables. Sulforaphane, isothiocyanate, and various indoles are found in broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and other crucifers. Allyl sulfides are found in onions and garlic. Flavonoids are found in tomatoes, peppers, yams, soybeans, carrots, and other foods. The discovery of these nutrients is just another argument for a diet of grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes.
Fiber is not a food and is not digested by the body; however, it has been shown to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Most Americans consume only half of the fiber they need. Soluble fiber (that is, fiber absorbed by body fluids) is the most beneficial. It softens stool and helps with bowl movements, and it moderates glucose and cholesterol levels in the blood. It is found in legumes, whole grains, apples and pears, and many vegetables, including crucifers and carrots. Insoluble fiber passes through the body unchanged and can help prevent constipation and diverticulosis. It is found in nuts, seeds, brown rice, unpeeled vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and fruit.
How Can a Busy Cyclist Get a Good Diet?
Different people have different reasons for not being able to make changes in their diet. Here are three possible life scenarios and improvements for them plus the problem encountered on a day trip by bicycle:
Scenario One: You'd like to improve your diet but unfortunately you're tied to your mother's/wife's/daughter's (or father's/husband's/son's) cooking or you belong to a meal plan. While you can't make great changes, you still have good opportunities. The best thing to do in this situation is to supplement by adding fruits and vegetables as snacks. A few apples, bananas, oranges, carrots, and/or celery sticks each day can improve your diet greatly. In addition while at the table, you can select smaller portions of meat and larger helpings of other foods. And don't use the salt shaker at all.
Scenario Two: You'd like to change, but unfortunately you are stuck with a fast-food lifestyle due to your job, which you can't give up right now. Well, not every fast-food restaurant is equally bad, and almost all will provide you a list of the nutrients (and fat and salt) in their meals. So, look them over and pick the healthiest meals or, if they don't have such a guide, pick the meals with the least meat and the most grains, legumes, and vegetables. Many of these places offer salads. Again, adding a late-night fruit or vegetable snack after you get home (or back to the motel) will make a major difference.
Scenario Three: You cook all your own meals, but you feel no desire to get rid of your favorite foods in order to go vegetarian. Actually, it would be a mistake to plunge full-force into a radically different diet. Instead, make one change at a time, looking to increase the amount of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes that you eat while reducing the amount of meat. Experiment with recipes and don't force yourself (or your family) to eat foods you don't like.
The One-Day Bike Trip: The problem is that it is extremely hard to find suitable foods in a country store. One solution would to be to pack a lunch before you leave, or if that is too much trouble, just carry along some fruit and/or vegetable snacks. Another is to look for the vegetable and fruit drinks where you eat. Finally, you might be able to stop at a supermarket somewhere instead of at the quick stop, and there you'll have a better selection. Roadside food markets are another option, when available. Although normally selling in quantities, the vendors will be glad to sell a few pieces of fruit or some tomatoes to you.
A Healthy Attitude Towards a Healthy Diet
Remember when looking for a better diet that this isn't original sin that you're having to deal with. A little straying from the fold is not going to send you straight to hell. If one day you eat something that is too high in fat, salt, or cholesterol, you have been hurt extremely little. In fact, it might be good to even plan some "vice" into the diet for variety and spice. However, don't fool yourself into believing you have a healthy diet when you don't. It's true that some people eat a lousy diet all their lives while smoking and drinking and still get to live to a ripe old age. But why play life with the cards stacked against you? You can't change your heredity, but you can improve your odds. So, take the light approach to changing your food lifestyle, but don't forget to change. The heart attack/stroke/cancer you prevent will be your own.
In writing this, I became aware of some improvements that I could make in my own diet. I have started eating brown rice again (I quite eating it when the flavor became too strong, but it doesn't seem strong now), I am eating lentils and sardines more often than I was, I have replaced my hydrogenated peanut butter with natural, I found low-fat graham crackers to replace the white ones (they taste better too), and, on my daily bike trip, I am buying at least one juice instead of a soft drink.
AFTERWORD: Since I wrote the above, I have given up eating chicken! It happened this way: I told a farmer friend that most people were hypocrites because they would eat food that they were unwilling to kill. My friend wanted to convince me that it was OK to eat pork as he sometimes invites me to dinner, and his logic was that if he convinced me that I was unwilling to kill a chicken that I would then have no scruples about eating pork, a logic that was utterly false. As it happened, he had been raising some chickens from when they were small, and these chickens would come to me to get me to overturn some rocks or boards, so they could hunt for food underneath. He picked up one of the chickens, now half-grown, held it upside down, and asked me to break its neck, and I would get the meat to take home. It was an unfair test, as it would have been much easier for me to kill a strange chicken with a weapon than to kill a familar chicken with my bare hands. I could not do it, but I could not go back to eating chicken again, a result he had not planned on. Dropping chicken from my diet has got my waist and weight back to the ideal amount. I have also been eating sardines more often, but I have been unable to increase the frequency with which I eat beans.