A recent study indicates that by 2015, approximately 75% of US adults will be either overweight or obese. Sadly, our children will face the same predicament if they continue to eat like ‘typical Americans’. Let’s face it. Many of us live to eat, not eat to live. Eating is undoubtedly one of life’s greatest pleasures. The sight, smell, taste, and texture of food are just a few characteristics that entice us eat what we eat. History, religion, culture, friends, family and the environment also influence our food choices. But hopefully, we also base at least some of our food choices on nutrition and health.
Being overweight or obese has been linked with several chronic illnesses including heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and osteoarthritis. In order to avoid suffering many of the chronic diseases associated with being overweight, we all need to pay more attention to our diets. A healthy diet provides the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals. This balance can be obtained from eating a variety of foods that are available, affordable, and enjoyable. Knowing how to select and plan a healthy meal can be important for staying healthy and/or improving your health.
In order to make the right choices, the USDA and Department of Health and Human Services updated the 2000 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in 2005. This advice is meant for individuals over the age of two. The Dietary Guidelines not only emphasize healthy diet, but also regular exercise to achieve good health. To maintain a healthy diet, consider the following:
- Variety: Eat a variety of foods from all groups of The Food Guide Pyramid. No single food contains all of the nutrients your body needs to function properly. Eating foods from the five food groups ensures that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs. It also provides a large variety of tastes and textures to enjoy!
- Balance: All persons need to consume at least the minimum number of servings from each food group every day. The goal is to obtain adequate amounts of nutrients by making food choices from each food group in The Food Guide Pyramid. Children, adolescents and seniors have different nutrient requirements. Pyramids are available for these specific populations as well for the elderly and certain ethnic populations.
- Moderation: Remember, there are no good foods or bad foods. Watching portion sizes of some of your favorite “not so healthy” foods or beverages will help you to maintain the appropriate weight for your age, gender, and activity level.
- Safety: Be sure to keep foods safe to eat through proper handling, storage and cooking methods. Also, use proper hand washing techniques and sanitation.
To maintain good health, follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and use the Food Pyramid to guide your food choices. You can customize your own Food Guide Pyramid with the help of this web site.
Nutrients and Other Food Components
Most foods contain nutrients and other components that help us maintain good health. But there are some ‘energy dense’ foods, such as soda, candy and processed snack foods that contain lots of calories, but are devoid of nutrients. Nutrients can be broken down into two groups- macronutrients and micronutrients.
- Macronutrients include carbohydrates (starches and sugars), proteins (meat, dry beans, eggs), and fats (oils and margarine). Macronutrients provide energy (calories).
- Micronutrients include vitamins and minerals. These are needed in much smaller amounts, and unlike macronutrients do not provide energy. It is best to obtain these nutrients from whole foods rather than vitamin or other supplements.
Other components found in plant foods that are not classified as nutrients include water, fiber and phytochemicals. Fiber is the indigestible part of plants that helps maintain bowel health and may reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. For more information on fiber, click here. Water is vital to life and should be included as part of your daily fluid intake. Most people need a minimum of 6 to 8 eight ounce glasses of water each day.
Plant foods also contain several phytochemicals that may aid in the prevention of cancer, heart disease and other chronic conditions. Phytochemicals make up the taste, texture and smell of foods and can be found in the skin, flesh and juice of fruits, vegetables and grains. Ongoing research is being done to determine the roles that these substances play in maintaining health. Like vitamins and minerals, phytochemicals should be obtained from a variety of plant-based foods, rather than supplements.
You Are What You Eat
Studies show that a healthy lifestyle, which includes balanced meals and regular physical activity, can play a role in reducing the risks of several chronic diseases and premature death. In addition, eating healthy and exercising regularly improves self esteem, aids in sleep, reduces depression and helps reduce or maintain weight. With the rate of obesity on the rise, we can’t afford to ignore good nutrition and physical activity.
As mentioned above, poor eating habits and lack of physical activity are risk factors for several chronic diseases among adults including:
- Heart disease
- Some cancers
Again, by improving your diet and getting regular exercise, you can stave off several of these conditions. While the focus of the media is so often on weight loss, people concerned about health should focus on healthier eating habits and physical fitness for a lifetime. You can learn more about adopting a healthier lifestyle by talking to a registered dietitian and your health care provider. Click here to use the American Dietetic Association’s “Find a Dietitian” service. Good luck!
For more information:
Go to the Diet and Nutrition health topic.