Q: I'm so busy that most days I have whole grain cereal for breakfast, turkey and cheese on whole wheat and yogurt or an apple for lunch, and spinach salad for dinner. I know these foods are healthy, so is my diet okay? — Kathy Hofschield, Northbrook, Illinois
A: Your choices do sound healthy. And a stable diet offers a few advantages: Some studies have found that by limiting your choices, you're less likely to overeat. I also appreciate the convenience of easy shopping and preparation.
But I have some concerns. First, not all whole grain cereals are the same. Some have more salt and sugar and less real whole grain than the packaging might suggest. Sliced turkey can be highly processed and have loads of sodium. Knowing the details about your food choices matters as much as what the foods are called. Take a close look at ingredient lists and the nutrition facts panel to ensure that you make good decisions. The FDA provides an excellent guide to food labels at www.cfsan.fda.gov/~dms/foodlab.html .
I have another worry about the lack of variety in your diet. If you don't eat nuts and seeds, you are missing out on unsaturated oils and vitamin E. Selenium (an antioxidant) and chromium (it helps insulin process sugar) are both found in nuts in particular. You didn't mention any citrus fruits, which are a great source of vitamin C. Beans and lentils, also absent from your list, offer heart-healthy soluble fiber and magnesium. Zinc, important to the immune system, is concentrated in shellfish. And what about omega-3 fatty acids from fish? What about the potent carotenoid antioxidants found in brightly colored fruits and vegetables, as well as the flavonoids in red wine, dark chocolate and green tea?
I suspect you are getting my point: Variety is the best way to get all the nutrients vital to health in the right proportions. I recommend you expand your dietary repertoire.