Article at a Glance
• Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, seafood, and low-fat dairy products.
• Limit saturated fats, trans fats, sodium, dietary cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains (e.g., white flour).
• Balance what you eat (calories consumed) with what energy you use (calories expended).
• Increase your physical activity with a minimum goal of exercising at least 150 minutes each week.
• Even if you are at a healthy weight, physical inactivity and/or lack of proper nutrition puts you at risk for many diseases including cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease—so get moving and eating the right kinds of food.
More than one-third of American children and more than two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. While we all want to look and feel our best, achieving and maintaining the optimum weight may seem overwhelming and can be confusing. Taking the time to understand and live good health principles can help you live longer, lower your health care costs, increase your energy levels, and improve your self-confidence. It is especially important to help our children establish healthy eating and exercise patterns now — the habits we create with them today will carry over throughout their adult lives.
The recently issued Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, jointly published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), offers clear steps to improving and maintaining good health for those two years of age and older. This article will highlight aspects of the guidelines, but they can be viewed in their entirety at dietaryguidelines.gov. Another good resource for understanding portion sizes and servings per day for your specific age, weight, height, and goals is foodpyramid.com/mypyramid/ .
Increasing Physical Activity
For those of us needing to lose weight, we must increase our physical activity and decrease the calories we consume each day. However, even in those who are not overweight or obese, a lack of the proper nutrients and a physically inactive lifestyle can still contribute to cardiovascular disease, certain types of cancer, type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), and osteoporosis. Only one-third of adults are getting regular physical activity; as most of our jobs today are sedentary. We need to make sure that in our limited leisure-time activities we make physical exercise a high priority.
Start by turning off the television, electronic games, computer, mp3 player, and cell phone at least one night a week and replace those sedentary activities with physical activity. Here are a few ways in which you could combine your need for exercise with family time:
• Take a long walk with your children after dinner and discuss the events of the day or something in the news.
• Grow a garden. Not only will you and your children reap the physical benefits from weeding, hoeing, and other gardening work, but you will also have the benefit of healthy, nutrient-rich produce that costs less.
• Play a pick-up game of soccer or have dance parties on Fridays.
To lose one pound a week, you need to eat 500 fewer calories every day than you burn. The Dietary Guidelines offer great suggestions for cutting calories and increasing nutrition in healthy ways.
• Fruits and vegetables should take up half of your plate. Make a special effort to include dark green, red, and orange vegetables as well as beans and peas.
• Serve and eat smaller portion sizes. In a way, we eat with our eyes. If we use a large dinner plate and serve a smaller portion, we tend to feel less satisfied and hungrier than if we serve the same portion on a smaller plate.
• Cut out sodas and sugary drinks and replace them with water. Switch from full fat or 2% to skim or low-fat (1%) milk.
• Change at least half of your grains from refined grain (white flour based, for example) to whole grains.
• Avoid eating at fast food restaurants more than once a week.
• Cut down on or eliminate foods with added sugars.
• Switch to lean sources of protein and increase the amount of seafood in your diet.
This table found within the Dietary Guidelines (download PDF) can help explain what percentage of your calories, and your children’s, should come from fats, proteins, and carbohydrates.
A Nutrient-Rich Diet
With the rising cost of food, many parents are concerned about providing adequate nutrition for their families. One of the cheapest and easiest ways to do this is to buy nutrient-rich foods and to avoid foods that are high in calories and low in essential vitamins and minerals — that way you get the most bang for your buck.
Increase your consumption of fat-free or low-fat dairy (milk, cheese, yogurt, fortified soy drinks), vegetables, fruits, whole grains, unsalted seeds and nuts, lean meat and poultry, seafood, beans, and peas. Not only are these foods high in the essential vitamins and minerals that many Americans lack, they are also an excellent sources of dietary fiber.
Limit your consumption of dietary cholesterol (to less than 300 mg per day), sodium (to less than 1500 mg per day for children and seniors and no more than 2300 mg per day for healthy adults), calories from saturated fats (to no more than ten percent of total calories), alcoholic beverages (one drink per day for women, two drinks for men), and added sugars (especially those foods that combine added sugars with solid fats and sodium: donuts and pastries, for example).
Eliminate trans fats by cutting out foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils and by replacing solid fats (butter, margarine, shortening, fat from beef, etc.) with healthy oils (such as canola, olive, vegetable, soy, corn, peanut, etc.).
For Women in Childbearing Years
Women of childbearing years should choose foods rich in iron and vitamin-C (aids with absorption of iron) and take an iron supplement as well as taking a folic acid supplement (400 micrograms of folic acid each day). If you are pregnant, you should also limit your consumption of white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces or less each week and completely avoid tilefish, swordfish, shark, and king mackerel.
You Can Do It!
The Dietary Guidelines help us navigate the confusing and sometimes contradictory nutrition and diet information available today. The good news is that gaining optimum health and fitness is relatively simple and straightforward. Focus on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains; these should form the basis of your diet. Add lean meats, poultry, seafood, beans, peas, and healthy oils. Exercise more and eat less. These habits might seem hard to establish at first but even small steps towards a healthier lifestyle can provide benefits to you and your children today and in the future.
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