In the Catbird Seat/Joe Kirkish

There’s a saying that goes like this: “If you eat a French fry it lasts in your mouth for a few minutes, in your stomach for a few hours, and on your hips for the rest of your life.” Sad to say, there’s a lot of truth there.

It’s no secret that three out of four Americans are seriously overweight. The cause is simple, a combination of overeating, eating the wrong foods, and not getting enough exercise simple as that. From childhood, we fall into a habit, making the terrible mistake of eating what we have grown up to like instead of what’s beneficial to our healthy longevity. It’s been said over and over: we are what we eat. And the way we eat pays off one way or another as we age.

That means, if we really long for a good healthy life into the 80s and beyond (which is what dieticians tell us is quite possible today), we have to do some serious thinking about our eating habits and, especially, those of our youngsters.

So how do we know how to eat well, to be well? Easy as 1, 2, 3…

1. KEEP THE PORTIONS MODERATE, especially with high-calorie foods. “Super-sized” is a dirty word. Haven’t you noticed, the first bite or sip is always the tastiest, with the appreciation diminishing after it? Stop before you find yourself just shoveling it, hoping to regain the pleasure of that first bite.

2. EAT A VARIETY OF FOODS, and that means don’t brag about being a straight meat-&-potatoes person period. Branch out, try new things, prevent too much of any one kind of food overloading you with whatever might be bad for you.

3. FOCUS ON HIGH-FIBER FOODS veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains the “good” carbs. Fiber slows the absorption of carbs, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, are nutritious, filling, and relatively low in calories.

4. LIMIT REFINED CARBS (white bread, regular pasta, white rice, most snack foods), stripped of many nutrients. Also limit empty calorie foods (sodas, sugar, candy, bakery).

5. EMPHASIZE THE “GOOD” FATS OVER THE SATURATED FATS focus on nuts, fish, avocados, veggie oils in place of a diet composed of animal fats, butter, and full-fat dairy products. Hint: try substituting olive oil for butter.

6. AVOID TRANS FATS AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE, usually found in hydrogenated oils (used in commercial baked goods, snack foods, stick oleo, and such things as deep-fried French fries), which raise bad (LDL) cholesterol while lowering good (HDL) cholesterol like olive oil.

7. CUT DOWN ON SODIUM (salt), limiting it to about 2/3 teaspoon a day and that includes all the sodium added to most canned or processed foods to lower blood-pressure.

8. INCREASE FOODS CONTAINING POTASSIUM (citrus fruits, potatoes, beans, yogurt), CALCIUM (“light” dairy products, supplementaries of vitamin D). In general, get vitamins and minerals from foods as much as possible; supplements are only an adjunct to a good diet.

9. DRINK ALCOHOL IN MODERATION, which means no more than one drink a day for women, two for men. Moderate alcohol has heart benefits, but proceed with caution on that account.

10. WATCH OUT FOR LIQUID CALORIES. Beverages supply more than 20% of the calories in the average American’s diet, but it keeps rising with the increasing size of servings. A small can of soda has up to 12 teaspoons of sugar in it; imagine what is in the large containers! But some liquid calories come from healthy beverages as well low-fat milk, fruit juices included.

Because obesity (which eventually results in many debilitating problems foot trouble, diabetes, heart troubles, etc.) often exists because of ignorance of its cause, there’s hardly a popular magazine that doesn’t focus on the above suggestions in one way or another. At times they may appear to be contradictory, but eventually ongoing new testing brings more agreements.

In general, consider the big three: fats, protein, and carbohydrates the “macro-nutrients” that provide calories and are the biggest constituents of foods (along with fiber and water). To play safe, observe the simple rule of moderation and variety.

And if you want to learn more, there are plenty of good, compressed pamphlets put out by medical centers that specialize. For example, among the best: the University of California, Berkeley’s “Wellness Letter” the food bible for anyone seriously looking for expert advice on public health; also, Tuft University’s “Health & Nutrition Letter; Johns Hopkins “Health After 50;” the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), “Nutrition Action.”