Happy Birthday, Lean Plate Club members! This column marks its seventh year today. Since we can't blow out the candles together, I'm sending you a gift: a brief roundup of some nutrition tenets and a look ahead at what's likely to be on your plate in the future.
But like a piece of rich, dark chocolate, this present comes wrapped in the bittersweet knowledge that this will be our last column together.
Journalism is evolving from print to the Internet and beyond. I'm one of the many journalists who have been offered a buyout to move on. I'm not leaving nutrition or writing, but I'll be doing them in a new venue as director of health and wellness at the strategic communications firm PowellTate/Weber Shandwick.
From the beginning, this column has been about adding healthy habits to eat smart and move more. It was also aimed at making sense of what can seem like confusing nutritional messages that pepper our lives.
If you've been taking this journey with us, you know that it's not hard to eat smart if you follow the basics. Lean Plate Club members demonstrate that week after week with their inspiring stories on the Internet chats.
How do they do it? By eating more like our ancestors. This means lots of fruit and vegetables, which are packed with flavor, nutrients and fiber. While it's hard to beat the taste of a ripe juicy tomato or a fresh peach this time of year, studies show that it really doesn't make much difference nutritionally whether you eat them fresh, frozen, canned -- without lots of added sugar or sodium, of course -- or dried. Those options also can help stretch your food dollars.
Dried beans -- one of nature's most nutritious and best bargains -- and whole grains also are essential. Other parts of a healthful diet include nonfat or low-fat dairy products and lean protein, from soy burgers and eggs to poultry without the skin and flank steak.
While fat has fallen in and out of favor in recent decades, studies clearly show that healthy fat is important for your heart, brain and joints. Find it in nuts and seeds, avocados and seafood, as well as olive, canola and other oils rich in polyunsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats. Go easy, since gram for gram, fat contains more than twice the calories of protein or carbohydrates.
Diet fads come and go. I'd love to tell you there's a secret to shedding pounds quickly, but there isn't. Calories do count. It doesn't matter whether you choose low-carb or low-fat, or try the newest purported way to lose belly fat. If you eat less than you burn, you will lose weight. If you eat more, you'll add pounds. Nutrition still can't outsmart metabolism. So what's ahead?
Look for "nutrigenomics," a concept that examines how your genes dictate what foods are best as fuel for you. It's an emerging area of research that is just one example of how nutrition advice is likely to be individually tailored in the future.
Energy density is another hot topic. Few people want to eat less. So reach for soups, stews, salads and popcorn packed with water, fiber or air. Your stomach and brain are fooled into feeling fuller on fewer calories.
Watch for calories to be listed on restaurant menus -- already required for chain restaurants in New York City. Look for supermarkets to offer more nutritional guidance. Hannaford stores in New England have a program to point consumers to healthier choices. Others are in the works.
Food is apt to have less sodium in the future. There is agreement that too much salt increases blood pressure and raises the risk of stroke and kidney disease. Last fall, the Grocery Manufacturers Association teamed with the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest to call for reductions in salt in food.
Also on the horizon: the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines. The committee of experts will be named later this year. What they decide will help determine national food recommendations for the next five years.
I have loved my time with you. These seven years have been the best of my journalism career. Thank you for all that you have brought to the Lean Plate Club in your e-mails and lively postings to the weekly Internet chat. You have kept my plate overflowing with great ideas, inspiring stories and a huge helping of joy. It's been an honor and a privilege.