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Taking the back way around to eating better

PORTLAND, Ore. - The news is full of gloom and doom about our eating
habits. Over and again, Indian country is singled out for high rates of
obesity and its associated diseases. But as Linda Thompson of Williams,
Ariz. asked, "How do we get around all the bad stuff when it's in
everything?"

The bad stuff: namely sugar, salt and fat, although more and more folks,
are adding white flour products and refined grains with the nutrients
polished off to the list. Indeed, said Thompson, who calls macaroni and
spaghetti "paste-a," "Isn't white flour what we made paste out of in
elementary school? And now we're eating it? What's wrong with this
picture?"

The trick is how to nudge closer to better food without having the kids -
not to mention your own inner child - rebel in full force. Indeed, between
the Oreos and the bags of chips it seems as though the corporate world has
a ring in our collective noses. Modernity may have brought better health
care, pickups and boom boxes that knock our socks off, but it has a ways to
go on getting food figured out.

Walk into any traditional woman's kitchen, though, and you'll find that
what the experts are saying is no surprise: Keeping it simple and staying
in season is the way to good eating that's both healthy and affordable.

Take the Mexican tostada, for example: corn tortillas warmed in a bit of
oil, homemade pinto beans, a little grated cheese, some salsa and as much
dark green leafy lettuce and green onions as you can pile on; and you've
got yourself a meal the surgeon general would beam over. Even with some
ice-cold lemon water to drink and a fresh orange for dessert, the meal
costs just pennies.

If a dinner like that seems too far from your family's current eating
habits to sell, consider taking the back way around to eating better.
Rather than omitting what your family enjoys, add more nutritious fare.
It's true that while refined sugar is coursing through our systems the
sweetness in fresh fruits might seem a bit on the dull side, but weaving
increased amounts of seasonal fruits into meals and snacks will be a step
in the right direction.

Another practice that will help you arrive at the checkout stand with
high-quality foods is sticking to the edges of the store when you shop.
Looping around through the produce, dairy, fish and meats sections and
staying out of the central aisles (that are stacked high with processed
foods) works wonders. Also, locate the oatmeal and corn meal: they make
great heart-healthy breakfast cereals when paired with yogurt, raisins and
nuts.

Watch for 100 percent whole wheat products that initially might taste too
hefty, but soon will edge the white stuff out of the running. Keep the
vegetables varied and flash-steamed without a lid to retain their color,
favor and nutrition. Then drizzle on a little olive oil, toss on some
freshly-grated parmesan or chunks of bleu cheese: and watch the troops
first nibble and then - gradually, perhaps - start to develop a taste for
the good stuff.

Reducing salt consumption works the same way. Once people start to eat
home-cooked food that's reasonably salted, they will recoil when they go
back to packaged fare that's overloaded with sodium.

While the process, like all good things, may take months or even years,
cultivating a taste for high quality foods is a rewarding experience that
pays off handsomely in terms of mealtime enjoyment and health.

The key is displacement rather than replacement; a slow change, whereby we
sort of sidestep like we're in a round dance. And while each step might not
get us very far, if we persist and stay the course, pretty soon we'll find
that we've come to think about what we eat and drink with new eyes - and
that we enjoy the clean hands and hearts we get from treating ourselves
well.