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Having Your Ginger Beef and Eating it Too

September 20, 2011 by Joanna Drake, Registered Dietitian

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I believe that the secret to a good life lies in finding balance. For example, I’ve spent my adult life trying to find a balance between saving for retirement and spending some money on things I enjoy. I’ve tried to find a balance between spending time with my husband and children, time with girlfriends, and some time just by myself. I have also tried to find a balance between eating foods to meet my nutrient needs, and sometimes just eating a food because it tastes good.

 As a dietitian, my job is to help people eat well. Sometimes I have to provide very specific information such as how to avoid trans fats and reduce sodium (salt). When focusing in on the details, it can be easy to get lost in a whirlwind of numbers and start to look at foods in isolation from each other. Foods start to fall into categories such as “eat” and “don’t eat”.

So where is that joyful approach to eating that I value for myself? Where does that fit into my counseling others?

Rather than looking at each food separately, I like to encourage others to look at food in the greater context of a whole meal, a whole day, or even a whole week. It’s what we’re doing most of the time that impacts our overall health and well being; not what we do every once in a while. Take my favorite treat as an example: ginger beef from my local Chinese restaurant. It’s loaded with sodium and calories.

In the context of a whole meal, let’s look at two options:

Option 1 Option 2
Ginger Beef Ginger Beef
Chow Mein Steamed rice
Beef and Broccoli Stir fried broccoli (without sauce)

Option 1: All three items are high in sodium and calories

Option 2: Only the ginger beef is high in sodium and calories.

Option 2 is the better choice.

What if I decided I wanted to have all three foods?  I could plan the rest of my day to include lower calorie and sodium choices:

Instead of... I Could Have...
Breakfast: Ham and cheese omelet with toast and jam, glass of juice Breakfast: Bowl of oatmeal with blueberries and sliced almonds, glass of milk
Lunch: Tuna and salmon sushi, yam tempura and gomae (Japanese cooked spinach with a sesame sauce) Lunch: Sandwich with sliced chicken breast, lettus, tomato and cucumber; piece of fruit and yogurt
Snack: Crackers and peanut butter Snack: Veggie sticks and hummus
Dinner: Ginger Beef, chow mein, beef and broccoli Dinner: Ginger Beef, chow mein, beef and broccoli

 The revised menu may still put me over my recommended sodium intake for the day, but overall I’ve made better choices to allow myself that luxury.

How do you find your balance? Tell us!

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