Creating a lifestyle of sustainable health involves putting into practice some tried and true habits. We will be working through a few of those healthy habits over the next few weeks here on the blog and, by the end of the series, will be providing a "Healthy Habits Tracker" that we've designed so that you'll have a tangible resource to put all we've discussed to work. Today's Wellness Wednesday dives into the in's and out's of creating and sustaining those habits surrounding food intake and has to do with the fuel we take into our body.
Many of us as we were growing up encountered the "Food Pyramid." Nutritionists have since moved away from this form of nutrition guidelines and have adapted a new guideline to aid Americans in making healthy eating choice. The Food and Nutrition Service, a branch of the USDA, has developed a helpful tool called MyPlate. A diagram from the government's nutrition website is below demonstrating this tool.
It is important to eat a healthy and balanced meal. This tool aids Americans in picturing portions based on what their plate should contain during a meal. Half of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables. The types of fruits and vegetables you consume can be varied from meal to meal and day to day. A general rule for fresh fruits is to eat roughly one cup of fruit per meal. Fruits are great sources of nutrition, being naturally low in sodium, calories, and fat while containing essential nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, folate, and fiber. These nutrients can be helpful in lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing risk of heart disease, as well as other health benefits.
Veggies should also measure about a cup per plate if you're eating raw or cooked vegetables. If you are eating leafy greens, the measurement should generally move up to two cups. Like fruits, vegetables contain many essential nutrients. They are naturally low in fat and calories and contain such nutrients as dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamins A and C. Just like with the nutrients found in fruits, these nutrients help lower blood pressure and cholesterol and also can keep your eyes and skin healthy. It is important to note that when considering the varied types of vegetables to eat, there is a subgroup of vegetables that act a bit differently. This subgroup consists of beans, peas, and lentils. These foods contain the nutrients found in vegetables, but also are a good source of protein. For those persons who get most if not all of their protein from plant sources, this subgroup is important as a protein component; whereas for those who get their protein from other dietary sources, beans, peas, and lentils can be considered more often as a vegetable component.
The protein portion of your plate will include foods such as meats, poultry, eggs, and seafood. For those who are vegan and vegetarian, this will not apply. As mentioned above, this is when the subgroup of beans, peas, and lentils are vital as a protein source. Additionally, vegans and vegetarians can focus on eating soy products, nuts, and seeds as other ways of getting their needed protein. Protein sources contain nutrients such as B and E vitamins, magnesium, zinc, and iron. Some protein sources are higher in saturated fats, however, and these foods should be limited. These foods include fatty pieces of meat, ground beef that is less than 90% lean, some poultry (such as duck), and regular sausages, hot dogs, and bacon. When it comes to seafood, it is suggested to eat foods higher in healthy fatty acids (omega-3). Salmon, trout, and anchovies are examples.
Foods in the grains portion of your plate include foods made from wheat, barley, oats, cornmeal, rice, and other cereal grains. This includes foods such as bread, pasta, and tortillas. Additionally, foods such as popcorn and oatmeal are included in the grains group. Just like in the veggies group, the grains group can be broken down into subgroups. For grains, these subgroups are "whole grains" and "refined grains." You've probably heard of whole grain products, but you may not have looked into what that actually means. Whole grain foods have been made with the entire grain kernel, so foods such as whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and brown rice fall in this category. When it comes to the refined grains, this indicates that the grains have been milled, which is a process that removes the bran and the germ from the kernel. The refining process for grains gives it a finer texture and improves shelf life, but at the same time the process removes nutrients found in naturally in grains such as dietary fiber, iron, and several B vitamins. If you add refined grains to your plate, these should be enriched. Enriched grains are supplemented with certain B vitamins that were lost in the refining process. It should be noted, however, that the dietary fiber lost in the refining process is not supplemented back into enriched products. Fiber is an important component of grain nutrients, as fiber helps ensure healthy bowel function and can also aid in reducing cholesterol levels. If you are curious if your refined grain products are considered enriched, you can check the ingredient list where the word "enriched" will appear in the grain name.
Lastly, we'll look at the dairy group. This group is comprised of milk, yogurt, and cheeses, as well as lactose-free milk and fortified soy milk and yogurt. It is important to note that the dairy group does not actually include foods made from milk and that have little calcium while also having a high fat content. For example, foods such as cream cheese, sour cream, and butter should not be considered additions to the dairy portion of your plate. Proper dairy items include quite a few nutrients needed for the human body, such as calcium, phosphorus, vitamins A, D, and B12, protein, potassium, zinc, and magnesium among others. It's commonly known that "milk makes strong bones." Dairy products are a wonderful source of calcium, which is very effective building strong bones and teeth. This is especially important for adults as they age, because dairy products are often the main source of calcium in many American diets. Vitamin D, also found in dairy products, can aid calcium in both building and maintaining bones. For those who stick to a vegan diet, the dairy portion of your plate will look different. Calcium is still extremely important and can be found by other avenues even if they aren't traditionally considered members of the dairy group due to other nutritional content. These products include "milks" made from plants such as almonds, rice, coconut, or oats. You can also find calcium in some leafy greens such as collard and turnip greens, spinach, kale, and bok choy. Tahini, tofu made with calcium sulfate, and calcium-fortified juices can also be a good substitute for those on a vegan diet.
As mentioned at the beginning of this post, over the next few weeks we will continue looking at healthy habits we can incorporate into daily life to help create and sustain a life of wellness. This week has been our diet. Next week we will be taking a look at the role water plays in our bodies and what proper water intake should look like. Diet and water intake together play important roles in how we provide our bodies with the necessary resources for proper function on a base level, and ultimately sets us up for the best possible operation of the many systems that make up the human body. Be on the lookout for these future posts in the coming weeks on Wellness Wednesday, and as always, if you have particular questions for concerning your health and wellness give any of our three offices a call! Our staff will get you set up with an opportunity for you to discuss your questions or concerns with our capable and caring providers.
We wish you all the best for your diet as well as every aspect of your health on this Wellness Wednesday and thank you for following along with us!