When you make subtle changes in your food choices, you see big differences in your workouts, waistline and mental state. No one but you can make the changes needed in your diet. It is time to start paying attention.

There are so many mixed messages telling you how and what to eat. You get these messages from television, magazines and even food labels themselves. There are only two categories of food: real/whole foods or processed foods.

Often we are told to choose whole foods over processed foods. How can you determine the difference and make better food choices?

Processed foods use manufacturing methods to transform raw ingredients into neatly packaged foods with a long shelf life. Look for words like monosodium glutamate (MSG), flavors, preservatives, hydrogenated oil, fillers, and artificial sweetener, to identify processed foods.

These processed foods offer little or no nutritional value and are typically wrapped in layers of plastic or foil. Examples of processed foods, are cookies, crackers, canned soups, cakes, and chips. One helpful hint is most processed foods are found in the middle isles of the grocery store. Try to buy as little as possible from the middle of the grocery store.

Instead, stick to the outer isles and the back of the store. There you will find whole foods. Whole foods are foods that are grown in nature, unprocessed, and have a shorter life span. Whole foods are full of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber. Examples of whole foods are meats, whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Four elements of a healthy whole food diet include water, fats, protein and carbohydrates. Water is the easiest. Keep it simple; avoid the processed sodas, sweetened juices and other sugary drinks. Opt for water in its original state or in the form of tea especially green, black, or white teas that are shown to contain many beneficial antioxidants.

We need to consume certain fats to support growth and provide us with energy.  Unfortunately, fat has received a bad reputation over the years because we all know what too much can do. Sources of good fats though, include lean meats, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds. Notice all these examples are whole foods, grown in nature and food on the outer isles of the grocery store. These good fats also supply your body with protein that makes up body tissue, muscles, skin and organs.

The carbohydrate group often presents the hardest challenges when making smart food choices.  Whole grain breads, brown rice and whole grain pasta are far better carbohydrate choices than white breads, rice or pasta.  Always follow the rule, “the darker, the healthier.”  Darker whole grains have little to no sugar, take your body longer to process, thus keeping you full longer, and they contain beneficial fiber.

When at a sushi restaurant, ask for your sushi to be made with brown rice rather than white rice. Most grocery stores including Publix and Whole Foods Market now offer brown rice sushi. And stay away from tempura. Tempura is just another way of saying, “deep fried.”

When eating Chinese or Thai foods, ask for steamed brown rice instead of steamed white rice, and avoid the fried rice. Fried rice is full of fat and sodium. Your entrée will taste as good with steamed brown rice, and you will feel good knowing that you are avoiding hundreds of extra calories with your smart whole grain choice.

At Italian restaurants, ask for whole wheat pasta and pizza crust. You will hardly notice the subtle change, but your body will. It is just a habit that you need to start.

When you understand the difference in whole foods and processed foods, you are on your way to better living. Remember, shop the outer isles of the grocery and try to avoid the inner isles.  Buy foods that are made by nature, that humans have not manipulated, and healthier carbohydrates are always darker, never white.

It's now or never.

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Apr. 23, 2011 at 7:06 PM

I truely appreciate your educated information and  I have wanted to make a change in my whole families eating but I swear, I do not know how to cook this way! My mother is a very good cook and she taught me her way to cook. The good ole meat and potatoes, thats what were used to and i hate to say it but my family including my kids, are all over weight! I have to find recipes we all will like, somehow get this turned around. My husband and I are in our early 40's and already see signs of medical problems and the other morning, my beautiful 16 yr. old daughter was in tears cause she couldn't" zip" her pants! I felt absolutely terrible and don't know where to start cause they don't want to eat salads and other healthy foods plus I don't even know how to make them! Thought I'd put that"out there" and see if you have an advise? I'm just sooo frustrated! Thanks!

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