If you’re adding fish to your diet to maintain heart health – and you should – it’s easy to cancel out those benefits by filling the rest of your plate with unhealthy choices.
The best way to avoid this trap is to follow the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s MyPlate! guidelines. A quarter of the plate is protein, in this case, heart-healthy fish; half of the plate is fruits and vegetables; and the final quarter is grains.
For grains, choose a brown rice or whole-grain pasta. A trendy option is high-protein, gluten-free quinoa (pronounced keen-wah), which is often used as a replacement for oatmeal or brown rice. You can make it savory by adding soy sauce and herbs and spices, or use it in a cold salad with peppers, onions and black beans, tossed in an oil and vinegar dressing.
Many people don’t get enough vegetables, so be sure to include a nice, large serving. There are no unhealthy vegetables. If it comes from the ground and is made in the dirt and not in the factory, it’s going to be good for us and have health benefits. But we can do some unbeneficial things to vegetables by putting too much oil or salt in it during processing.
There are two categories of vegetables – starchy and non-starchy. The starchy vegetables are potatoes, peas, corn and legumes. They’re still very nutritious, but they have higher calories. For those who are adding more fish to their diets for heart health, or weight and diabetes control, limiting quantities is important.
One vegetable in this group that gets a bad rap because it contains carbohydrates is the white potato, but potatoes also contain beneficial nutrients, antioxidants and fiber. Again, portion control is the key. Choose portions the size of a fist, not a shoe. Some salt, pepper and butter are OK, but if you add sour cream, cheese and bacon bits, or process the potatoes into chips, you’re losing the benefits.
The non-starchy vegetables include everything else – tomatoes, green beans, cauliflower, eggplant, onions and so forth. You can eat these in unlimited quantities, but again, watch what you’re topping the with, like heavy cheese sauces.
Finally, make sure that you’re getting enough fruit, which also contains antioxidants and fiber. Because fruits can cause a rise in blood sugar, watch your intake and the amount you eating, especially if you’re diabetic. A good rule of thumb is a one-half cup portion, which has about 15 grams of carbohydrates. That’s an apple the size of a tennis ball.
If you can get three or four of these food groups in a meal, you’re doing a good job. Think about food as preventive medicine. I’m a big believer that the solution needs to be food, not a pill.