2009-07-31 / Columnists

Rockaway Walks Fitness Column

Commentary By Steven McCartney, IPO, HSW, MS

Eating healthy foods and following a balanced diet is critical, and it is now easier to create such a diet for yourself, your family and your friends, thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture's "My Pyramid Plan" at http:// www.mypyramid.gov. The site will give you a customized food guide (with portion sizes), as well as information about the food pyramid. You can print out what you learn and discuss your food plan with your primary care provider, nutritionist, or dietician.

While the food plans are not therapeutic diets and anyone with specific health conditions or anyone taking medication should consult with his or her primary care provider for a specific diet tailored to his/her needs, this website is a great first step to learn about the food pyramid, portion size, how to read nutrition labels, and dietary guidelines. It's important to know all this because what you eat every day can have a big effect on your health.

In addition to looking online, follow these rules to maintain a healthy diet: 1) Eat a variety of foods. Choose foods from each food group, eat different things everyday, and watch portion size. 2) Eat regularly. Try to eat at regular intervals, at the same time every day. 3) Eat a balanced breakfast. Make sure to include some protein in your breakfast! 4) Eat the same amount each meal. Avoid eating more at one meal than another, and try to have the same sized portions at each meal. 5) Drink 6-8 glasses of fluids each day. While water is best, any fluids count, except those containing alcohol or caffeine — they are diuretics and cause water loss.

In addition, nutrients play an important role in keeping your body healthy, and it is important to make sure you are consuming the right nutrients. Nutrients are substances that the body requires for the maintenance of health, growth, and repair of tissues. Good nutrition comes from a diet in which food is eaten in proper quantities, resulting in the proper distribution of nutrients throughout the body. Malnutrition, on the other hand, is the result of a diet in which there is an under consumption, or unbalanced consumption of nutrients that can lead to disease. There are six different types of nutrients.

The first type of nutrient is carbohydrates, the main source of energy (glucose) in the human diet. There are two types of carbohydrates: simple and complex. Complex carbohydrates have greater nutritional value because they take longer to digest, contain dietary fiber, and do not excessively elevate blood sugar levels. Common sources of complex carbohydrates are fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products, and legumes.

The second type of nutrient is protein, which is necessary for growth, development, and cellular function. The body breaks down protein into component amino acids and stores them for future use. Major sources of protein are meat, poultry, fish, legumes, eggs, dairy products, and grains.

The third type of nutrient is fats, which provide a concentrated energy source to the body. There are three different types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are the healthiest because they may lower cholesterol levels, while saturated fats increase cholesterol levels. Common sources of unsaturated fats include nuts, most vegetable oils, and fish. Common sources of saturated fats include dairy products, meat, coconut oil, and palm oil.

The fourth type of nutrient is water, which makes up 55-75 percent of the human body, and is essential for most bodily function. It can be obtained through foods and liquids. There is a useful tool on the Internet that will allow you to see if your water intake is proportional to your level of activity; Google "hydration calculator" to check your water intake.

The fifth and sixth types of nutrients are vitamins and minerals, organic substances that the body requires in small quantities for proper functioning. People acquire vitamins and minerals through some types of food, as well as in supplements. Important vitamins include A, B, C, D, E, and K. Important minerals include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, sodium, chlorine, and sulfur. Nutritional requirements vary from person to person; general guidelines for meeting adequate nutritional needs are: no more than 30 percent total caloric intake from fats (preferably 10 percent from saturated fats, 10 percent from monounsaturated fats, and 10 percent polyunsaturated fats); no more than 15 percent total caloric intake from protein (complete); and at least 55 percent of caloric intake from carbohydrates (mainly complex carbohydrates). Maintaining a proper diet is an important part of keeping your body healthy, but exercise is equally important. Exercise will help you maintain a proper body weight by equalizing caloric intake and caloric output, as well as lessen disease symptoms (pain, fatigue, depression, etc.), give you more energy, and help you feel better about yourself.

If these tips seem overwhelming, start by making small, gradual changes in your diet and exercise. For example, you can first try reducing the fat and increasing the fiber content (found in vegetables and fruits) in the foods you select. Foods that are high in fiber and low in fat help with weight management, reduce cholesterol, and prevent constipation and forms of cancer. Drink plenty of water to help move the fiber through, and remember, when you decide to increase the amount of fiber you eat, do so gradually.

No food plan is right for everyone, but some food choices are much smarter than others. The best way to start eating healthier is to have an organized food plan. Follow these tips for eating smarter and you'll be on your way to a healthier life!

For questions or concerns e-mail: steven_mccartney@walkprograms .com or come out to Beach 11 Street every Saturday at 8 a.m. through September 12, 2009 for the Rockaway Walks fitness program.

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