By Brenda Owen
Most adults remember being told to eat their veggies as a child, yet when it comes to good eating habits, these same adults are sadly lacking, say several Northeast Mississippi nutritionists.
The average American diet has too many calories, too much fat, cholesterol, and sodium while at the same time the diet doesn’t contain enough complex carbohydrates and fiber, said Ginny Meyers, nutritionist with North Mississippi Medical Center.
Such diets are one cause of America’s high rate of obesity and of certain diseases such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and some forms of cancer.
To aid Americans in watching their eating habits, the United States government regularly publishes nutrition guidelines. Basically the guidelines are as follows:
– Eat a variety of foods
– Maintain healthy weight
– Choose a diet low in fat, saturated fat and cholesterol
– Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits and grain products
– Use sugars only in moderation
– Use salt and sodium only in moderation
– If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation
These guidelines call for moderation avoiding extremes in diet. Both eating too much and eating too little can be harmful, according to information from the National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics. Also, the center’s literature warns, be cautious of diets based on the belief that a food or supplement alone can cure or prevent disease.
Spice of life
“Good nutrition alone cannot make you healthy,” Meyers said. “Good health also depends on your heredity, your environment, and the health care you get. Your lifestyle is also important to your health. How much you exercise and whether you smoke, drink alcoholic beverages to excess, or abuse drugs and other factors. But a diet based on good nutrition can help you keep healthy and may even improve your health.”
According to the American Dietetic Association, you need more than 40 different nutrients for good health. These nutrients should come from a variety of foods, not from supplements or a few highly fortified foods.
“Any food that supplies calories and nutrients can be part of a nutritious diet,” Meyers said. ‘The content of the total diet over a day is what counts.”
Many foods are good sources of several nutrients, says the ADA. For example, vegetables and fruits are important for vitamins A and C, folic acid, minerals, and fiber. Breads and cereals supply B vitamins, iron and protein; whole-grain types are also good sources of fiber. Milk provides protein, B vitamins, vitamins A and D, calcium, and phosphorus. Meat, poultry, and fish provide protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc.
No single food can supply all nutrients in the amounts you need, Meyers said. For example, milk supplies calcium, but little iron; meat supplies iron but little calcium. To have a nutritious diet, you must eat a variety of foods.
A diet low in fat makes it easier to include the variety of foods necessary for nutrients without exceeding your calorie needs because fat contains more than twice the calories of an equal amount of carbohydrates or protein.
“We should not be getting more than 30 percent of our calories from fat,” Meyers said.
Check labels on foods to see how much fat and saturated fat are in a serving.
Here, from the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s pamphlet, “Dietary Guidelines for Americans are some more ways to cut the fat in your diet:
– Use fats and oils sparingly in cooking. Choose liquid vegetable oils most often because they are lower in saturated fat.
– Use small amounts of salad dressings and spreads, such as butter, margarine, and mayonnaise. One tablespoon of most of these spreads provides 10 or 11 grams of fat.
– Trim fat from meat; take skin off poultry.
– Have cooked dry beans and peas instead of meat occasionally.
– Choose skim or lowfat milk and fat-free or lowfat yogurt and cheese most of the time. A cup of skim milk has only a trace of fat while the same amount of whole milk has eight grams of fat.
Getting it right
Rather than concentrating on foods to avoid, Lee County Extension Home Economist Sheryl Maxwell suggested keeping in mind those healthy foods which can be both filling and nutritious.
“Vegetables, fruits and grain products are the staples for a healthy, well-balanced diet,” Maxwell said. “They are generally low in calories if you don’t use a lot of fats and sugars in their preparation or at the table.”
She suggested the following tips from the government guidelines:
– Have plenty of green and yellow vegetables.
– Eat starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn in more moderation, about three 1/2 cup servings per day.
Have citrus fruits, melons, or berries regularly.
– Choose fruits as desserts and fruit juices as beverages.
– Eat products from a variety of grains, such as wheat, rice, oats and corn.
– Have several servings of whole-grain breads and cereals daily.
Eating for two
Proper nutrition becomes even more important when you are eating for two, said Carolyn Bullard, nutritionist with the Lee County Health Department, works to educate expectant mothers about nutrition for both themselves and their babies.
“During pregnancy, approximately 300 extra calories are needed daily,” Bullard said. After the birth of the baby, if the mother breastfeeds her child, she needs an extra 600 calories each day to maintain good health, she said.
Bullard said calcium needs also are greater during pregnancy and recommended four servings per day of milk, cheese, yogurt and dark green, leafy vegetables.
“Calcium is used to build a baby’s bones and teeth,” Bullard said.
Following a balanced diet during pregnancy can greatly increase a mother’s chances of delivering a healthy baby, she said.