Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Healthy Eating: How to Recognize a Healthy Diet


A healthy diet   American Heart Association No-Fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight LossMayo Clinic Healthy Weight for EverybodyEat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating
implies that you are eating foods that help your body to function optimally, keeping you well, preventing disease and restoring you to good health when disease strikes.

Unfortunately, millions of Americans fall short of optimum health. This is due in part to the vast amount of junk food on the market, people’s lack of knowledge as to what constitutes a healthy diet, inability to resist the junk food due to powerful advertising on TV and via other media, and bad eating habits that may develop from early in life.

A healthy diet consists of a variety of foods that provide the protein, carbohydrates, fat, minerals, vitamins, and other phytonutrients that your body needs to function optimally. A healthy diet also provides water and other nutritious fluids to maintain proper fluid balance inside and outside of the cells. Fiber is another substance that should be provided in a healthy diet. Fiber helps to promote healthy digestion, regulate absorption of sugar, fat and other nutrients, and to prevent constipation.

The best foods for a healthy diet are foods that come from nature and that have been minimally processed. These types of food are more likely to contain large amounts of health-building compounds while being lower in calories. You are less likely to gain excess weight when you eat a diet of minimally processed foods.

On the other hand, highly processed foods are likely to be high in unhealthy fats, sugars and salt. These foods are responsible, to a large degree, for the high incidence of obesity in the United States (US), due to excess calories from fats and sugars, and large amounts of sodium added during processing.

Food Groups
MyPyramid is a visual display of foods from 5 basic food groups that is designed to help you recognize healthful foods. This graphic, produced by the USDA, includes five basic food groups, along with sugar and salt.

Grains. At the base of the pyramid is the grain group. According to the USDA, registered dietitians and other food and nutrition professionals, you should eat at least 5 servings of food from this group. For optimum nutrition, most of the grains you eat should be whole grains.

Fruits. Fruits are loaded with a wide array of vitamins and other phytochemicals that support good health and prevent or fight disease. According to the USDA and others, you should consume a minimum of 2 to 3 servings of fruits daily.

Vegetables. Vegetables provide large amounts of vitamins, minerals and other phytochemicals that support good health and prevent or fight disease. According to the USDA and others, you should consume a minimum of 2 to 3 servings of fruits daily.

Milk. Milk is the primary source of calcium in the diet of Americans. Calcium is vital in the formation of bones and teeth. Calcium is also critical for proper nerve function. According to the USDA and others, you should consume 2 to 4 servings of milk, depending on your age and rate of growth.

Meat, seafood, poultry; also dried beans and peas, nuts and seeds.  This food group, more aptly termed the protein group, provides most of the protein in the diet of Americans. Protein is essential for building muscle, tendons, the matrix for bones and teeth, and in the formation of hormones and enzymes. According to the USDA and others, you should consume 5 to 7 ounces (2 to 3 servings) of meat daily.

In addition to eating foods from the five major food groups, you should also pay attention to the fat and sugar in your diet. Seafood, avocado, nuts, olive oil, canola, and flaxseed are sources of healthy fat. Keep in mind that calories from fat can easily add up and lead to obesity and related health problems. So, aim for a healthy balance of calories from fat.

Naturally occurring sugars in fruits and other plant foods are okay.  However, sugar in the form of syrup, including high fructose corn syrup add an excessive amount of calories to your diet, create spikes in your blood sugar, contribute to inflammation and chronic diseases, and lead to overall poor health. Keep added sugars (as well as sugar substitutes) to a minimum.

What you don‘t see on the pyramid is salt. Salt is a dietary essential in that you need both the sodium and chloride (minerals) for good health. But Americans consume much more than they need. Studies show that a diet high in salt (sodium) can lead to high blood pressure in some individuals, who are said to be salt-sensitive. Studies also show that too much sodium may interfere with the way your body handles calories from sugar and fat. This is especially true for people who are overweight or obese.

If you want to achieve optimum health, start by identifying foods that contribute to good health and those that do more harm than good. Then make the right choice.

Tags: health, healthy diet, optimum health, nutrition, MyPyramid, food guide pyramid, USDA, fat, sugar, salt, calories, food, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, milk, meat, seafood, obesity

About Dr. Dorene E. Carter
Dr. Dorene E. Carter is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant with over 25 years of experience in nutrition education, counseling, training, consulting and writing. She is founder and CEO of CHANA Project, the Child Health and Nutrition Access Project, a nonprofit organization serving children and families. Dr. Carter received her PhD in Nutrition from the University of California, Berkeley.