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How to Make Healthy Food Choices

Posted on Fri, 29 Jan 2010 05:48:00 -08:00

How to Make Healthy Food Choices

How to Make Healthy Food Choices

by Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS

If I were the average Joe walking down the street, I probably wouldn’t care so much about the eating habits of other people. However, as a personal trainer, dedicated and passionate about helping people transform their lives and bodies, I’ve built my professional life on health, fitness and human performance. This means that the cornerstone of all my work is a balance between proper nutrition and exercise – for me and my family, for my clients and for my team. So, forgive me, but I do care. I care a lot! Here’s what got me thinking about your nutrition habits (more than I normally do).

An August 2009 issue of Fast Company (great magazine) includes an article on Darden Restaurants, owner of Olive Garden, Red Lobster, etc. Darden generated $6.7 billion in revenue last year by feeding 400 million meals in 1,770 restaurants. This is a giant restaurant company! You might be interested to know that even Red Lobster, home of popcorn shrimp and cheese biscuits, has decided to “revitalize” its brand to include what they call “stealth health.” In other words, they are adding all new wood-fired grilling plus fresh fish menus reprinted twice daily.

I read this article and had mixed feelings. On the one hand, I said, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” On the other hand, I said, “That’s it people – it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee!” Come on folks, do the restaurants have to stop serving up a diet of salt, fat and sugar for us to make better nutritional choices?

The moment of truth has arrived. It’s time to ‘fess up to the big question. DO YOU EAT NAKED? I do as often as I can. Sorry to disappoint, but when I say, “naked,” I mean food that is naked – not buried, covered up or disguised. Food that is fresh and nutritious and... well, naked!

My goal with this article is to persuade you to examine your eating habits, to say NO! to fast food, soda, processed foods, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup and to say YES! to a lifestyle of healthy, nutritious and fabulous food. To do this, I’m not going to lecture you about the evil of fried and processed foods. I’m not going to scare you with details of nutrition labels that read like chemistry experiments (and food that probably tastes like one too). I’m not going to quote research about the effects bad food choices can have on your health. No, I’ve got a better idea.

I’m going to win you over from the dark side by reminding you of what you’re missing. Who doesn’t love fresh foods? Go to your local grocery store or farmer's market and check out the bounty: tomatoes, corn, zucchini, peaches, cherries, apricots, blueberries, strawberries, figs... and the list goes on. As a guy from the Garden State, I gotta ask, “How can it get any better than Jersey tomatoes and sweet summer corn?”

When I was at The College of William & Mary, a group of us went on retreat to Haiti with Fr. Charlie Kelley, the head of campus ministry at the college. This experience was a powerful one for me for many reasons, but one particularly vivid memory is of the local women with baskets overflowing with exotic fruit they carried on their heads for the five mile trip back to their homes. They fed their children from these baskets for a week. Years later, Melanie and I spent our honeymoon in Costa Rica. I couldn’t possibly count the number of mangoes I ate on that trip. I couldn’t get enough then, and I feel the same way now when we visit Hawaii. Tell me there’s a breakfast buffet at our hotel, and I’m there for the mangoes and pineapples!

Today, Melanie and I are raising our family with less red meat and white starches than I may have eaten as a kid, and fresh produce is front and center in our meals at home. Just like you, we want to be role models for healthful eating and nutritious food choices so that our kids grow up to be healthy and strong. Nowadays, our naked foods-of-choice might be blueberries and strawberries piled high on morning oatmeal, fruit smoothies we make in our Jack Lalanne Power Juicer, a handful of fresh spinach and other veggies in an egg white omelet or sliced avocados on nearly anything! We eat a lot of fresh fish prepared simply in the oven or on the grill and our frig is always stocked with a big variety of fruits and veggies.

Chris Mohr, a registered dietitian and nutrition expert, gives us an easy rule of thumb to use for selecting foods: “the less legs, the better!” Brett Klika, Director of Athletics at FQ10, recently wrote about the dangers of “Franken-foods” – referring to the chemistry experiments many popular food items are. I could go on and on. The advice is straightforward, and the message is simple. The idea of naked food is just a way to keep us mindful that when we take the best of natural ingredients and cover them with sauce, bury them in layers of fat, salt, sugar and chemicals or process them to death and put them in a bag or a box – we’ve ruined them. Think about it.

Just around the corner is spring, and you know what that means... outdoor farmer's markets with anything and everything your heart (or taste buds!) could desire.... so what are you waiting for? Eat naked. It’s a reward in itself.

Todd Durkin, MA, CSCS, is the owner of Fitness Quest 10 ( in San Diego. Additionally, he is the Head of the Under Armour Performance Training Council. He has appeared in 60 Minutes, on ESPN, the NFL Network, and been featured in Sports Illustrated, Business Week, Prevention, ESPN the Magazine, Men's Health, Men's Fitness, Men's Journal, Stack Magazine, Self, Shape, Fitness and the NY Times and Washington Post.

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