When Deciding on a Diet, Do Your Homework

The US Department of Agriculture issued its first dietary recommendations to the nation in 1894. In 1916, a guide to children's nutrition appeared. The children's guide listed five food groups. In the 1941, the department came up with recommended dietary allowances and assisted homemakers, faced with war shortages, by modifying the basic seven food groups.

Only two years later, the USDA reduced the food groups from seven to four, citing public confusion over the complexity of seven groups. In the 1970s, the department bowed to mounting pressure from health professionals who noted a rise in heart disease. The USDA added a cautionary fifth group of fats, sweets and alcohol. Eventually, by 1992, the basic food groups were modified again and arranged in a pyramid graphic, adding a dimension of proportion..

Every five years for the past 25 years, the USDA has issued new nutritional guidelines. Later this month, the secretaries of the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services will jointly release the sixth edition of "Nutrition and Your Health: Dietary Guidelines for Americans."

A committee of experts made recommendations for the 2005 guidelines and other scientists independently reviewed them. The public was invited to comment on the proposed guidelines last summer. The pyramid graphic was challenged and recommended servings were adjusted. In the proposed basic food groups, beans could not find a resting place. They were listed in two different groups. The advisory committee's guideline report also addressed differing caloric and nutrient needs by age and gender in depth, probably the most dramatic change from past years. Some issues, such as the relationship of breakfast to body mass index or caloric compensation for liquids versus solid food calories, remained unresolved.

The recommended servings of fruits and vegetables has risen, as research continues to reveal a host of plant-based nutrients with beneficial effects on the body. Although the value of whole grains has been recognized for over a hundred years, the USDA has finally decided to emphasize the importance of eating whole grains in breads, cereals, and bakery products. The legume, too, may enjoy new celebrity status.

The advisory committee found that most Americans need to increase their intake of Vitamin E, calcium, potassium and fiber. Some diet experts strongly disagree with the committee's position on calcium. I found it encouraging that a nod went to reducing intake of sugar-sweetened beverages, although I would have liked to have seen some question raised regarding artificially sweetened beverages. I am keen to see how the media will present the 2005 guidelines and if a new graphic representation of basic food groups will be included.

Nine years ago, the USDA asked Americans if they agreed with this statement: "There are so many recommendations about healthy ways to eat, it's hard to know what to believe." Over 40 percent of the respondents answered "yes." I suspect that if the study were repeated today, even more Americans would agree with that statement. In my opinion, the 2005 guidelines may not reduce confusion. How can the average person cope with a continually changing, perplexing, contradictory flow of information on nutrition?

I think back to the early settlers of the vast Midwestern plains. Snowed-in, during a long cold winter, one took one's own counsel. That may be a solution to the complexities of today's nutritional information overload: to simply look within. To ask oneself: How do I feel? What foods seem to disagree with me, or with my mom or dad? Am I getting fat? Do I need more energy? Should I have my cholesterol tested? Should I check labels to avoid hydrogenated palm or coconut oil because I'm older and my eyesight is not the best?" When an illness like diabetes or heart disease is present, obviously a physician's advice on diet must be followed, but do your own reading and research. Ask questions.

One evening, while repairing my makeup in the ladies room, I eavesdropped on two women who were comparing diets. One lady said that she'd eaten a healthy breakfast for years and never felt very well afterward. She began to think about her diet and read a book that matched diets with blood type. According to the book, two of the items she'd eaten every morning did not agree with her blood type. She substituted a different breakfast from the list of preferred foods for her blood type. Immediately she noticed a huge difference in how well she felt after eating.

Does that mean that everyone should match their diet to their blood type? No, but it's a fine example of someone who began to listen to her body, experimented and made positive, healthy changes.

If you still insist that an expert make diet rules for you, how about your mother? - Eat your vegetables, if you want dessert.

Write Lynn Duvall at boblynn@ix.netcom.com or in care of the Valley Sun.

Toasty Oatmeal Vegetable Soup

1 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking or

instant)

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 large onion, chopped

1 to 3 cloves of garlic (to taste),

finely minced

1 large tomato, seeded and chopped

1 carrot, diagonally cut into 1/4inch slices

6 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken

or vegetable broth

1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. In a large, heavy skillet over medium heat, toast raw oatmeal, stirring constantly, until oatmeal is lightly browned, about 3 to 5 minutes. (Oatmeal bums easily, so watch carefully.) Immediately transfer oatmeal to a small bowl and set aside.

2. In large pot, heat oil until hot. Add onion, reduce heat to medium and, stirring frequently, sautée onion until soft and pale gold. Add garlic and continue sautéing a few minutes more. Do not allow onion or garlic to burn. Add vegetables and broth. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook about 10 minutes. Add oatmeal. Simmer 2 minutes more, or until oatmeal is tender. Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.

Yellow Rice and Blackbean Salad

1 can (14.5 oz.) fat-free, reduced-sodium

chicken broth

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 cup brown rice 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder,

or red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 can (15 -oz.) black beans,

rinsed and drained

1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced

1. Heat 1/4 cup of the broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook 2 minutes or until the garlic softens. Add the remaining broth, rice, chile powder and turmeric. Pour in 1/2 cup water. When the liquid come to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer 45 minutes, or until the rice is tender. Remove from heat and let the rice sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff the rice with a fork and turn it into a large mixing bowl.

2. When the rice is cooled to room temperature, add the beans, bell peppers and the onion.

3. In a small bowl, combine the lime juice, curry powder, salt and sugar. Whisk in the oil. Drizzle the dressing over the rice and beans, tossing with a fork until blended. Arrange on a serving platter, sprinkle on the cilantro and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

Ginger Spice Biscotti

Canola oil spray

1 1/4 cups unbleached, all purpose flour

1 cup whole-wheat pastry flour

4 teaspoons ground ginger

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoons allspice

1/4 tsp. salt

2 large eggs

1/3 cup canola oil

1/4 cup unsweetened

apple butter or applesauce

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup dried cranberries or other chopped dried fruit

1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Coat a large cookie sheet with oil spray. Set aside.

2. Mix dry ingredients together in a bowl. Use a food processor or hand mix eggs with oil and apple butter until blended. Blend in the sugar. Add half of the dry mixture and blend until smooth. Add remaining dry mixture. Mix until a dough forms. (The dough will be soft and sticky but easy to handle.) Transfer dough to a large bowl. Fold in the dried fruit.

3. Place one-half of the dough at each end of the cookie sheet. With damp hands, form each piece of dough into a log 3 inches wide and about 3/4-inch high. Place logs about 4 inches apart. (Logs will spread during baking.) Bake 25 to 30 minutes, or until firm to the touch. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes. (Leave heat on.)

4. With a serrated knife, cut each log into 1/2-inch cookies cut on the diagonal. Bake 10 minutes. Turn each cookie over and bake 10 more minutes. Turn off heat and leave them in the oven 10 minutes. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

Makes 40 biscotti.

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