Fitting good health and nutrition habits into modern life is tough for many people to do -- especially with today's hectic schedules, two-career families and long work days. But now there's help, in the form of Jane Brody's "Good Food Book," the author's second volume on nutrition.
Where her last book gave an overview of nutrition -- and helped debunk many myths -- this new book explains how to put it all into action. Besides providing tips on weight control and exercise, Brody, who writes a column on health for The New York Times, offers hints on shopping, gathering kitchen utensils and cooking more efficiently, including making "more foods from scratch without spending your life in the kitchen."
And there are recipes. More than 350 of them, geared to implementing a food plan subtitled "Living the High Carbohydrate Way." Americans are guilty, Brody and others contend, of eating "too much protein, fat, sugar and salt." To decrease saturated fat and cholesterol, consumers need to turn to complex carbohydrates -- the starchy foods that many people erroneously associate with weight gain.
The place to start altering dietary habits is with breakfast -- a meal that Brody considers the most important of the day.
"I really think that we should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and sup like a pauper," she says.
Yet most Americans eat the opposite way: little if any breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a huge dinner, usually centered on a large portion of meat or poultry. That's the dietary equivalent, Brody writes, of driving from Manhattan to Washington on empty, then filling the tank with gas.
"There is no point in stuffing your body full of lots of calories and lots of nutrients at the end of the day, when all you're going to be doing is sitting around and watching television, maybe reading the paper and going to sleep," she said in a mid-afternoon interview last week (during which she consumed black, decaffeinated coffee and rice pudding).
The time people really need the most fuel, she says, "is early in the day" particularly at breakfast and at lunch. And since protein is "our alert food," Brody recommends eating the majority of protein servings at breakfast for optimal concentration during the day.
"I'm not saying eat protein in the morning to the exclusion of carbohydrates," she explains. "If you make oatmeal with skim milk, you've got good protein in there.
"I'm also saying have a peanut butter sandwich, perhaps even bean soup for breakfast.
"One of my favorites is pita pizza for breakfast. It's a wonderful breakfast, and there isn't a kid in the world who can resist it."
Dinner, on the other hand, can be a meal largely devoid of protein but rich in complex carbohydrates -- for instance, pasta, beans, rice or other whole grain dishes, plus vegetables. People who eat this way reap several benefits, Brody says. First, because recent evidence suggests that complex carbohydrates are burned inefficiently and may pass through the body without being digested, meals rich in complex carbohydrates provide good fiber and fewer calories.
And research by Dr. Richard Wurtman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology suggests that eating carbohydrates "sedates you, calms you down and makes you feel better" -- the perfect way, Brody says, to wind down after a long day.
This departure from traditional American eating habits also stretches food dollars. Brody recommends limiting the amount of concentrated protein (such as meat, poultry, fish and cheese) to no more than two ounces per person per meal.
Another idea is to rely more upon soups for two reasons: cutting time in the kitchen (soup stock can be made ahead and frozen) and minimizing calories.
Soup is a "wonderful food both as a first course and more importantly as a main course," Brody says. "It's very versatile. Whatever you have in the house can go into it."
Eating soup also "gives your brain time to register satiety before you've overconsumed calories," Brody writes. Studies from a weight-loss program at the Institute for Behavioral Education in King of Prussia, Pa., showed that the more often dieters ate soup, the more weight they lost. Participants who ate soup fewer than four times a week "lost an average of 15 percent of their excess weight," while those who consumed soup four or more times a week achieved an average loss of "20 percent of their excess weight."
Despite a great deal of advice on losing weight, don't look for calorie breakdowns or other listings of nutrients in recipes included in this book.
"I purposefully did not put them in," she says, because it's "almost impossible" to calculate exact calorie counts for many foods given the wide variation in cooking methods and portion sizes. The best most people can expect to do is to "get an overview of relative caloric value."
"I don't think that we can eat by number," says Brody, who once weighed a third more than she does now. "I don't count calories. You have to learn how to eat the right kinds of foods and the calories will take care of themselves."
The key to better nutrition is cooking more foods from scratch, a feat that Brody (herself a wife and mother of 16-year-old twin sons) says doesn't have to mean an excessive amount of time in the kitchen.
"When people tell me that they don't have time to cook, my answer is that you have time for anything that you think is important," she says.
"And how you fuel your body should be important to you. It should be far more important than what you put in the tank of your automobile. You don't have to spend your life in the kitchen, but you do have to be prepared to spend at least an hour a day making food.
"And out of 16 hours of awake time, I don't think that's a lot, especially since you can watch the evening news or talk on the phone while you do it."
The other essential to a healthy life, Brody believes, is exercise, noting that "the interesting thing about exercise is that exercise doesn't take time -- it makes time."
Spend an hour a day exercising, she says, and "I'm willing to bet that within six months, you'll be sleeping an hour a night less because you will get that much more rest out of your sleep.
"You will have no trouble falling asleep, you will sleep soundly and you will wake up refreshed. Furthermore, people who exercise work more efficiently, so that they get more done, in less time, with less effort."
Exercise not only increases energy, but it also makes people feel better. "You're more energetic, you feel like doing more, and you waste less time feeling pooped, anxious, whatever by exercising," she says.
"All those negative feelings take time out of our day. So the hour that I spend exercising has probably given me two hours back in quality time."