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  Good foods and bad foods

By Nancy Clark, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition Services SportsMedicine Associates

Do you choose your meals from a "Good Food, Bad Food" list? That is, do you eat apples believing they are good for you, but avoid bread because it is (supposedly) bad for you? Enjoy piles of broccoli (good) but pass on the potatoes (bad)? If so, it's time to think again!

Despite popular belief, the only foods that are bad for you are foods that are not food safe, or foods to which you are allergic. While a bad diet does exist, a bad food does not. That is, a diet including only "good" apples becomes a "bad diet" when the apples displace too many other wholesome foods from your daily intake. Apples in moderation are fine. Apples in excess are not.

Did a good food go bad?

Pasta is an example of a traditionally "good" food. High in carbohydrates and low in fat, pasta was considered a heart-healthy alternative to yet another meat-and-potatoes type meal. In our quest to eat a heart-healthy diet and lower our intake of dietary cholesterol and saturated fat, pasta rose to center stage. In the past few years, however, pasta has been given a bad rap, thanks to the popularity of the high protein fad diets. All of a sudden, carbs have fallen out of favor and have become the fattening enemy.

This new classification of pasta as a "bad" food is inaccurate and misleading. Neither carbohydrates nor pasta is fattening. That is, 100 calories of pasta is no more fattening than 100 calories of broccoli, apple or any other form of carbohydrate. EXCESS CALORIES of any type of food--carbohydrates, protein, or fat-- are fattening. Just as excess calories of pasta can be fattening and hinder your good intentions to lose weight, so can excess calories of tuna, salad, or cottage cheese.

Feeding the active life

It's important to include pasta and other carbohydrate-based foods in your daily meals--particularly if you exercise, and most particularly if you will be running the BAA Boston Marathon. That's because the carbs in pasta help fuel your muscles with glycogen (a form of stored carbohydrate). Depleted glycogen stores are associated with muscular fatigue.

That means: 1) dieters who chose primarily turkey breast, egg whites, and other high protein foods will lack the fuel they need to enjoy their exercise program. 2) runners who eat too few carbs are more likely to "hit the wall" during the marathon.

As an active person, every meal you eat should be carbohydrate-based--even if you are on a reducing program. This means choosing cereal for breakfast, sandwiches made with hearty, whole grain breads for lunch, and dinners based on pasta, potato, rice or noodles for dinner. By making carbs the foundation of your daily diet, you'll have the energy you need to get though your day, the stamina to enjoy this marathon called life, and the pleasure of eating one of your favorite foods. Plus, by fueling on wholesome meals, you'll be less hungry in the evening--and that's when you can cut out the excess snacks that easily lead to weight problems.

The good nutrition game plan

Eating a variety of foods helps maintain your body's good health. Strive to eat balanced meals that include three different types of food per meal. For example:

    cereal + banana + milk
    bagel + peanut butter + yogurt
    pasta + tomato sauce + extra-lean meat.

By eating a small amount of protein with each carbohydrate-based meal, you'll feel satisfied, plus you'll give your body not only the carbs it needs to fuel your muscles but also the nutrients it needs to build, repair, and protect your muscles. Eat wisely, fuel well, and enjoy your high energy!

Nancy Clark, MS, RD, Director of Nutrition Services at SportsMedicine Associates in Brookline MA, helps active people win with good nutrition. She is author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Second Edition (available at and official nutritionist of the BAA Boston Marathon's Ronzoni Pasta Party.

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