As a registered dietitian and nutritionist who has spent countless hours advising clients, one of the most often misunderstood concepts is the role of individual nutrients in health. In this crazy world where people clamor for a diet, drug or supplement to lose weight or maintain health, research shows that dietary patterns have greater impact than specific nutrients or foods on reducing chronic disease and maintaining a healthy weight.
A dietary pattern is different than a diet. When I go on a diet, I adopt intake changes for a period of time with the unconscious decision to terminate those changes when I reach my goal. This is the underlying flaw in any diet. A dietary pattern by contrast is a conscious decision to make permanent changes in how and what I consume. For example, I might decide to discontinue consumption of sodas or other sugary drinks. Or reduce how often I eat fried foods. Eat less salt. Drink less alcohol. The benefit of making these kinds of changes is cumulative – the longer we continue the habit, the greater the health benefit. Layering one change upon another is an effective strategy for making gradual and consistent changes to improve health.
Some diets stress eliminating healthy foods like potatoes, whole grains and even carrots. but if we want to make permanent changes, we need to eliminate harmful elements and retain healthy ones. There are several healthy patterns labeled as “Diets” that in fact are not true diets. The Mediterranean Diet is a pattern that emphasizes less meat, more fish, whole grains, more vegetables, fruits, beans and nuts with moderate cheese and wine consumption. This popular dietary pattern has been rated the best diet by US News & World Report’s panel of health experts for the last four years. It has been shown to be successful with weight loss and longevity and is a balanced sensible plan.
The DASH Diet, another dietary pattern was developed to reduce blood pressure. DASH emphasizes less red meat, less cured meats and other salty foods, less processed foods, more vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and more reduced fat dairy foods. DASH was rated number two this year and has been shown successful in reducing blood pressure and weight.
The MIND diet was rated number five this year and combines elements of both the Mediterranean and DASH diets. It has shown to reduce risk of Alzheimer’s, senile dementia and parkinsonism as well as weight loss and other health benefits. Foods common to these three patterns include fish and seafood, green leafy vegetables, berries and olive oil.
A regional favorite winter green in East Texas is collard greens. Although my dad loved collards, for me as a boy the flavor was just too strong. Years later, I would learn that certain compounds in foods such as tannins are the source of bitter flavor and when specific cooking techniques are employed, we can reduce the bitterness. The traditional cooking method for collards is to boil them with pork fat, salt and a little sugar. The fat and salt, two strong flavors help cover the tannins released during boiling and the sugar offsets the bitter. But what if we don’t boil them? Because of their firm texture, collards do well in sautés. My recipe sautés the greens thus releasing fewer tannins and replaces the pork with a healthy fat, olive oil. Salt, pepper and garlic round out the flavor and tomatoes add bright red color to the dark green dish. Carrots could replace the tomatoes for color.
All of the above patterns are sensible strategies that change the ratio of plant foods over animal foods consumed thereby increasing fiber and lowering calorie intake. This is why they result in sustained weight loss. Dietary patterns are easier to follow than diets. What makes a pattern is the frequency of consumption. Eating a burger and fries once a year will not significantly impact my health. But eating red meat and fried foods weekly will. Choose a pattern you like and drop the diet.
Tim Scallon is a registered dietitian nutritionist with years of experience practicing nutrition therapy in local hospitals and clinics, teaching nutrition and developing healthy recipes. He is a Nacogdoches resident and he helped create the popular TV show Memorial Cooking Innovations celebrating the world of food and health.
Sautéed Collard Greens
Serving size: ½ cup
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, diced
¼ teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 bunch fresh collard greens, washed, trimmed, and chopped
½ cup vegetable broth
1 large ripe tomato, diced
Juice of one large lemon
In a large pan, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and sauté until soft. Add the garlic, salt and pepper. Add the collards and lightly sauté about 1-2 minutes. Add the broth, cover and simmer just until the greens are tender and begin to turn an olive green. Add the tomatoes and simmer an additional minute. Squeeze the fresh lemon over the greens before serving.
When we overcook greens, more tannins are released causing a bitter flavor. This variation on method from boiling to sautéing, reduces the bitter taste of the greens. The addition of ripe tomatoes adds eye appeal and flavor. Diced carrots could replace the tomatoes. If so, add them with the onions to ensure they are tender when served. The tart lemon pairs well with the bold flavor of the greens.
Exchanges per serving:
2 Vegetable, ½ Fat
Nutrients per serving:
Calories from fat: 27
Total Fat: 3g
Total Carbohydrate: 10g
Dietary Fiber: 4g