In recent decades multiple health problems and chronic disease have been linked to poor diet choice. The good news is that diet is considered a modifiable risk factor which means it can be changed and controlled to prevent disease, and most experts agree that improving diet choices can be effective in preventing and managing these chronic diseases. Patricia L. Coar, MPH, RD, CDN, Clinical Nutrition Manager at Burke Rehabilitation Hospital, provides the following guidelines for living well through nutrition.
Eat a Variety of Foods
The best way to get started is to focus on eating from all the food groups every day. Strive for variety, balance and moderation and include at least one item at most meals from each of the six food groups: grain group, vegetable group, fruit group, milk group, meat and bean group and the fat group.
Make half your grains whole grains as they are an excellent source of dietary fiber, iron, thiamin, riboflavin, folate, magnesium and selenium. Get a variety of two cups of fruit per day by adding fruit to casseroles, rice dishes or salads or try baked pears with cinnamon for dessert. Strive to eat even vegetables, with the goal of eating at least three cups each day. Don’t forget about calcium. Shoot for eating a total of three cups of dairy daily. Go easy on the meats but try to include five to six ounces of a variety of lean protein foods each day for a healthy and balanced meal plan.
Limit Total Fat, Saturated Fat and Cholesterol
Fats are part of a healthful diet, but the type of fat and the amount make a difference to health. Saturated fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, shortening, lard or the fat around the edge of a pork chop or marbled through meats. Trans fats are formed during a manufacturing process called hydrogenation. Both of these fats can be found in many animal products, eggs, nuts and baked goods, among others. When choosing foods from these groups do so in moderation and always chose those that are lean, low fat or fat free.
Reduce the Amount of Salt in Your Diet
Salt is naturally occurring in most all foods in small amounts and accounts for about ten percent of salt intake in the diet. The body needs salt to function and the minimum sodium requirement for US adults is 500 mg per day. In the US, the actual salt intake may be as high as 4,000 to 6,000 mg per day on average.
Evidence suggests there is a strong relationship between high blood pressure and salt intake of greater than 2400 mg per day and that high blood pressure increases risk for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines recommends reducing daily sodium intake less than 2,300 mg and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and all high risk populations. Americans have much to gain in terms of cardiovascular health and nothing to lose from cutting back on added salt as part of healthy lifestyle to reduce blood pressure and improve health.
Reduce High Sugar Foods and Beverages
Sugars are both naturally occurring and are also added to foods by manufactures for taste and texture. Naturally occurring sugars provide energy in the form of carbohydrate and in moderation, can be part of a healthy diet. Added sugars supply only calories and no nutritional benefits and are often referred to as “empty calories.” It is well documented that added sugars are associated with the increasing rates of obesity in this country, which is a risk factor for chronic disease and a host of detrimental health problems. It is recommended to reduce foods and beverages containing added sugars to no more than five per week as part of healthy meal plan.
A Nutritional Approach
There are few things in life we can control and diet is one of them. By making smart, informed and healthy diet choices you can begin to choose a healthy diet that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts, and one that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. Begin to make gradual dietary changes to meet your nutrient needs to help prevent chronic disease and live well.