Sunday Focus: Finding the right healthy diet for you

Julie Johng mixes the vegetables for her scrambled egg dish.

Julie Johng spent a lifetime learning about healthy cooking and eating habits.

As a cardiac nurse for 40 years and having a love for the art of cooking, Johng offers some advice in how to cook and eat well.

“There are so many different types of diets out there that it becomes really confusing to the general public about what to eat,” Johng said. “There’s certainly evidence for being a vegan, but a lot of people can’t sustain that.”

She said it’s important to base your decision on what’s sustainable and available in the area where you live. Maintaining that diet on a daily basis is key to success in a healthy lifestyle.

“I think it comes to balancing your diet and food in moderation,” Johng said. “One of the things that for Americans is that bigger is better and that has really happened to our food as well.”

Johng is frustrated by many of the popular TV cooking shows.

“On many of the cooking shows, they show such enormous amounts of food that people are eating,” Johng said. “You sit down to one of those and you literally have two days worth of calories in one meal. You just can’t do that.”

Johng became interested in cooking early in life.

“Growing up in Ogallala, there weren’t many places to eat out and with a family of nine. We really couldn’t afford to eat out,” Johng said. “I’m very fortunate that my great-great-grandmother was a farm wife in the Sandhills of Nebraska, but always cooked healthy for that day and age and cooked with a lot of vegetables that were available.”

Her husband, Yongsik C. Johng, MD, is an OB/GYN physician in North Platte.

“Then when Chris and I got married, he has been very interested in cooking as well,” Johng said. “There were five boys in his family, so no girls to help with the cooking. If there was anyone who went in and helped his mom, it was him.”

She said Chris’s mom was a very good cook.

“The Koreans, probably more than any other culture in the world, eat more vegetables than just about anybody else,” Johng said. “The other thing I think is true of the different Asian cultures is the presentation of the food is important, because that improves your appetite and even your interest in the food.”

Johng said a nice looking presentation is always helpful. She suggested using smaller plates as well so the eye fools the mind into thinking one is eating more than is actually there.

“Particularly as I over the years have taught healthy eating to heart patients, probably one of the easiest things to think about is balancing your meal,” Johng said. “Having moderation is to think of your plate as a pie and cutting it into quarters.”

She said a quarter of the plate can be protein, a quarter of it can be starch — corn, potatoes, pasta, rice or bread.

“All of that has to only fit in that quarter of your plate,” Johng said. “The other half needs to be vegetables and some fruit.”

Following that standard makes it easier to maintain healthy portions.

“The other thing is if you eat that way, you feel satisfied, but you just don’t feel weighed down,” Johng said. “For so many people, it’s like eating Thanksgiving dinner at every meal. You just feel bloated, you feel tired because you have eaten too much and eaten the wrong thing.”

Cooking methods can help with the process as well.

“We do more of a quick saute using something like an olive oil or avocado oil and just very quickly stir frying those vegetables so you still get the color,” Johng said. “Steaming things or just a quick parboil where you drop them into boiling water works well.”

Johng is opposed to the use of general multivitamins as a substitute for good nutrition.

“Research studies have not shown any benefit so it’s just a waste of money,” Johng said. “There are some specialized vitamins prescribed by medical professionals that should be taken as prescribed.”

Johng said, “There’s not just one kind of vitamin C in food. There’s many sub-types you’re going to get if you eat the food.”

But when a pill is made out of it, only a finite amount of those vitamins can be included.

“When they’ve done studies on foods high in vitamin E, they can be heart healthy,” Johng said. “But taking a vitamin E supplement doesn’t do anything and may actually be harmful.”

She said it is best to get the vitamins from the food itself rather than taking supplements.

Cooking healthy is a little more work, but Johng said by doing it regularly she has developed processes that make it easier to maintain.

“A little bit of planning ahead of time helps the process,” Johng said. “I spend a lot of time thinking about food, just because it’s an enjoyable thing to think about.”