Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Pasta is Not the Enemy

This summer, I was having lunch with a friend. We were sitting at our outdoor table, perusing the menu, when I began contemplating a pasta dish. "What?" she asked, nearly shocked. "You of all people should know better than to order pasta. Pasta is the enemy!" I laughed, before realizing that she was serious. Dead serious.

In the past few years, the newest trend in dieting is to avoid carbs. Carb has literally become a four-letter word (I know, I know). Our bodies need carbs to function properly, yet people shy away from bread, grains, and even fruits and vegetables (which, by the way, are also carbs). This Atkin guy did some number on us. In what universe is it more healthy to eat bacon and eggs for breakfast, than it is to eat oatmeal with strawberries? Seriously. There is no good rationale behind it. People initially lose weight on carb-free diets, but it isn't because of the lack of carbs. It's because they are eating less calories. Protein keeps you fuller longer, so you eat less.

If this Atkins diet works so well, then why do most people gain all the weight back? And why, prey tell, is America considered one of the fattest countries in the world?

I remember in the early 90s the trend was to eat everything fat-free. Fat was the bad guy, which almost makes more sense. Almost. Susan Powter with her spiky, platinum locks and lean body was telling everybody to eat potatoes all day long. I remember her saying something to the effect that you could just eat 'til you were stuffed and you'd soon be thin. Ah, potatoes are carbs. I don't agree with her potato pushing, and I would hardly trust someone who wants me to eat one food all day, but you see how something that was once considered the food of choice is blacklisted just a decade later?

Diets don't work. And neither do trends. While the Food Pyramid has been slightly altered through the years, it's basis is pretty consistent. You want to eat a lot of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, lean meats, skim milk, and minimal saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. The best advice anyone ever gave me is to shop the outside aisles of the grocery store. That means fruits, veggies, cheeses, meat/fish/poultry, eggs. Of course, nuts and beans and all that good stuff too. But the middle aisles, with their partially hydrogenated, fat-free snacks and artificially sweetened beverages should be avoided.

My old nutritionist taught me a lot about food. I love pizza and worried he'd ban me. Good thing was that he loved pizza, too. He loved the tomatoes (lycopene) and the cheese (protein, dairy), the crust (carbs = energy). His suggestion was to have one slice instead of two, and to put some kind of veggie on the slice, just to give it a little more bang per bite. The other option was to eat it with a nice big salad, dressed with vinegar and extra-virgin olive oil.

When it comes to dining out, I really avoid chain restaurants. The food is so heavily processed that by the time it hits your plate, you don't know what you're eating. If you look at the nutrition information for some of the biggest chains, you will be shocked at the information for even their salads. The sodium content is through the roof. Better to have a fresh burger than a processed Tex-Mex salad.

Anything that has the words fry, fries, or fried in them should be eaten in moderation, with the knowledge that fried foods may taste good and are okay once in a while, but have little nutritional value.

Ultimately, though, it's everything in moderation. Eating the right portion size helps. For a burger, it should be kids size. A portion of nuts should fit in the palm of your hand. Bagels should be about the size of a hockey puck (the bagel shop ones are about triple the size). Pasta is a half cup (cooked), or to eyeball it, the size of a scoop of ice cream. Veggies and fruits are the size of a fist (and the more you eat, the better). If you follow me around for a week or two, you are bound to see me picking fries off of my son's plate, or having a handful of salt and vinegar potato chips. It's not all or nothing, remember. It's what you do 90% of the time that counts.

So go ahead. Have your pasta. (I suggest the Pasta Alla Norma. Here's the recipe:

Tiffany Palisi is an ACE Certified Personal Trainer, Holistic Fitness Specialist, and Group Fitness Instructor. She has extensive training in Pre- and Post-Natal Fitness, and is a Johnny G certified Spinning Instructor. She trains women in their home, and does emotional eating coaching in her home office (and by telephone). Palisi works exclusively with women. She can be reached at

1 comment:

  1. Too true! A few years back, I lost weight employing the principles of the South Beach Diet. My intake of "fake" sugar became high, and carbs became my enemy...

    I have gained the weight back, and then some, and feel so guilty eating things like pasta and bread. Unfortunately, I find it easier to limit my eating than to just get out there and MOVE.

    Great post, it really got me to think! Things must change...