Nutrition and Health: What’s the Connection?

Our diet is directly related to our physical well being in many ways. Our health status is determined by what we eat. Malnutrition occurs when a person does not get the nutrients or calories needed for optimum health. Your doctor can rate your nutritional status by completing a physical exam and:
 looking for unhealthy conditions that make eating difficult (like bad teeth) or conditions that interfere with your body using nutrients (like diabetes).
  looking for signs of poor nutrition such as: dull hair and eyes, an abnormally thin body, or poor posture.
 ordering lab tests to find nutritional problems early (like osteoporosis, caused by too little calcium).

The leading causes of death for Americans is heart disease and certain cancers. Scientific studies have shown that our diet is related to heart disease, certain cancers, and stroke. There is also evidence that proper nutrition can reduce the risk of getting heart disease, certain cancers, and “diseases of lifestyle,” including obesity, high blood pressure, arthritis, adult onset diabetes, osteoporosis, and gastrointestinal problems.

How do I get the nutrition I need?

Getting good nutrition means following a balanced diet (food plan). A balanced food plan has three key principles:
1. moderating how much food we eat, selecting a variety of foods, and balancing calories in with calories out
2. following the seven basic dietary guidelines
3. eating from the five basic food groups

To find out if your food plan is balanced, simply compare how closely it follows these key principles. The U.S. government has made it easy to follow these key principles by developing the Food Guide Pyramid, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and setting standards for labeling, selling, and grading foods. Later, we will talk about using these tools, guidelines, and principles when eating out and shopping.

1. Moderation, Variety and Balance

Moderation means eating the right amounts of foods and nutrients. Not too much, not too little. Too much food can lead to excess weight, too little can cause you to be underweight or malnourished. Too much fat and cholesterol can lead to heart problems, too little can keep your body from using certain vitamins.

Variety means eating a variety of foods within and from the five basic food groups. You may eat items from the same group at different meals. For example, from the bread, cereal, rice and pasta group, you can have cereal for breakfast, bread for lunch, and rice at dinner. Keep in mind, there are no “good” foods or “bad” foods.

Balance means balancing the number of calories taken in by the number of calories burned. Balancing “calories in” with “calories out” is how you maintain your weight. Knowing the right balance is as important as following a diet based on variety and moderation.

2. Following The Seven Basic Dietary Guidelines

These seven dietary guidelines explain the basic principles of moderation, variety, and balance:

1. Eat a variety of foods. The best way to get the many nutrients needed for good health is by eating a wide variety of foods from the five basic food groups. A balanced diet provides the right amounts of nutrients and calories needed for energy.

2. Maintain a healthy weight. Excess weight has been linked to an increased risk for heart attack, high blood pressure, and diabetes. With good nutrition and moderate exercise, you should be able to maintain a desirable weight.

3. Choose a diet low in fats and cholesterol. Keep the fat calories you eat every day to less than 30% of your total daily calories. Less than 10% of your fats should be saturated fats. Also, limit your intake of cholesterol. Cholesterol is found in animal fats, oils, and egg yolks. Cholesterol has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease. Excess cholesterol can clog up your arteries and increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. The body produces all of the cholesterol it needs naturally.

4. Choose a diet with plenty of vegetables, fruits, and grain products. These foods provide carbohydrates needed for energy. About 55% to 60% of your total calories should come from carbohydrates. Fruits and vegetables are also the best way to get dietary fiber. Fiber supplements can cause side effects such as bloating, cramps, diarrhea,
and gas.

5. Use table sugars in moderation. Many foods naturally contain some form of sugar. Starchy foods and fruits change into sugar during digestion. A sugar is the body’s main source of energy. Although sugar is the body’s quickest source of energy, sugar is high in calories and low in nutrients. Increased sugar levels can lead to headaches and mood swings. A diet high in sugar has been linked to weight gain.

6. Use table salt (sodium chloride) in moderation. A small amount of sodium is needed to regulate body fluids which help nutrients enter the cells and waste products leave the cells. One teaspoon of salt is all you need each day. Most processed foods and fast foods contain salt. If you add more salt, you’re probably getting too much. The typical American diet contains too much salt.

7. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Alcohol is high in calories, seven calories per gram, and low in nutrients. Too much alcohol can damage the brain, liver, and other organs. An occasional glass of wine, beer, or a cocktail is not harmful.

3. Eating From The Five Basic Food Groups

Healthy eating can be fun when you know the basics!

1. Bread, Cereal, Rice, and Pasta Group (grains and grain products). Grains and grain products are important sources of energy, fiber, and vitamins. Nutrients provided include carbohydrates, iron, thiamin, and niacin. Your best choices: whole-wheat bread, bagels, pretzels, and pasta; oatmeal and high-fiber cold cereals; brown or wild rice; and air-popped popcorn. Avoid muffins, doughnuts, sugar-frosted cereals, and pastas with cream sauce or cheese sauce. Prepare grain products with small amounts (if any) of fat and sugar.

2. Fruit Group. Fruits are rich sources of potassium, magnesium, fiber, and vitamin C. Fresh and plain frozen fruits and fruit juices are naturally low in fat and sodium and high in fiber. Avoid fruit packed in heavy syrup and juices sweetened with sugar.

3. Vegetable Group. Vegetables are rich sources of potassium, magnesium, fiber, and vitamin A. Fresh vegetables, and plain frozen vegetables are low in fat and high in fiber. Avoid avocados, olives, and vegetables packed in sauces and with added salt.

4. Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese Group. Dairy foods are major sources of calcium, protein, and riboflavin. It’s best to choose low fat or nonfat dairy products to lower the amount of fat you eat each day. Skim milk is just as nutritious as whole milk but has fewer calories, fat, and cholesterol. The best choices are 1% or nonfat (skim) milk, nonfat yogurt, low-fat cheese or no-fat cheese. Avoid heavy cream, half and half, and high-fat cheeses. Choose ice milk or no-fat frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.

5. Meat, Poultry, Fish, Dry Beans, Eggs, and Nuts Group. (high protein group) Nutrients provided include protein, iron, niacin, and thiamin. Meat, Poultry and fish are good sources of high quality protein and magnesium. Meats should be baked or broiled, not fried. A 3 ounce portion is about the size of a deck of cards. Choose white-meat poultry and lean red meats, such as round or sirloin cuts. Eat more fresh fish and dry beans. Avoid steak, hot dogs, fried chicken, and fish packed in oil. Use egg substitutes or egg whites in place of whole eggs (yolks). Nuts, seeds, and legumes are rich sources of energy, magnesium, potassium, protein and fiber. Nuts and seeds are also high in fat, so portions should be small.

Fats, oils and sweets are on the Food Pyramid, but are not a food group. Nutrients provided by this group include fat, sugar, salt, and calories. Reduced fat margarine, no-fat salad dressing, and no-fat mayonnaise are your better choices in this category. Olive oil and canola oil are the better choices, but should be used sparingly. Cut down on desserts and candy, especially ones that contain palm oil, coconut oil, butter, or cream.