By Lorie Swaydan, Huntsman World Senior Games
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention obesity in the United States is over 42%. That means that over 100 million Americans are considered to have obesity. In 2008 the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion. Furthermore, obesity is related to several leading causes of preventable, premature death including, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Obesity is a complicated issue, and there are no easy solutions. There are steps,however, that can be taken to move this trend in a different direction, like developing healthier eating habits. This seems pretty basic, but figuring out what healthy eating really is can be confusing. There have been numerous fads, trends and diets over the years, but short-term dietary changes don’t lead to lasting results. Healthy eating needs to be a sustained lifestyle change that can begin with this one simple rule: Fill up on the good stuff.
Good food is real food - as close to the way nature made it as possible.Processed food is more likely to contain added sugar, salt, unhealthy fats and additional calories that don’t add any nutritional value. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, “Individuals should aim to meet their nutrient needs through healthy eating patterns that include nutrient-dense foods. Foods in nutrient-dense forms contain essential vitamins and minerals and also dietary fiber and other naturally occurring substances that may have positive health effects.”
Fruits and vegetables are at the top of the list when it comes to good, nutrient-rich foods. The USDA recommends that half of what we eat should come from these two food groups. They are low in calories and high in nutrition. Because they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, they help with everything from circulation to digestion.
When choosing fruits, aim for whole fruits. They provide essential vitamins and minerals, support for the immune system by way of antioxidants, and also fiber which is vital to healthy digestion. Loading up on vegetables is also important to a healthy diet. Vicky Newman, Director of Nutrition Services, Cancer Prevention and Control Program, Moores UC San Diego Cancer Center reminds us to, “Look for big color and big flavor.” Try to choose vegetables that are colored all the way through, like carrots or broccoli. Zucchini is great, but it’s not dark green all the way through. Furthermore, a variety of vegetables from all five subgroups - dark green, orange and red, legumes, starchy and other vegetables will ensure the vital nutrients from each of these groups. These can be fresh, frozen, canned or dried - cooked or raw, just watch out for added sodium or sauces that add too much fat.
Along with fruits and vegetables, grains contribute to a healthy diet. Each of these groups provide essential vitamins and minerals. They also provide fiber which can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Fiber keeps the digestive system clean. It flushes out cholesterol and harmful carcinogens and also helps to control blood sugar levels. A high fiber diet not only keeps you regular but makes you feel full faster and so may help you eat less. Keep in mind that whole grains, like brown rice, oats and quinoa - the kind that keep the whole kernel, provide a better source of fiber and nutrition than those that have been refined. The USDA food guidelines recommend that half of the grains in a healthy diet should be whole grains.
Protein is essential to good health, especially as we age. It provides energy, supports cognitive function and is essential for building and repairing tissues, cells and organs. It also helps you to feel full longer. Sources of protein can be animal or plant based. A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products should be a daily part of a healthy eating pattern. The recommendation for protein foods in the Healthy U.S.-Style Eating Pattern at the 2,000-calorie level is 5½ ounce-equivalents of protein foods per day.
Like fruits and vegetables, whole grains and protein, dairy foods are another essential component of a healthy diet. Milk, yogurt and cheese provide calcium, which is a nutrient all living organisms need. It is the most abundant mineral in the human body and 99% is in the bones and teeth. A lack of calcium can lead to osteoporosis, a condition in which the bones become weak and brittle. When the body doesn’t take in enough calcium, it takes it from the bones. This becomes more common as we age. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, approximately one in two women and one in four men aged 50 and older will break a bone due to osteoporosis. Besides dairy products, other good sources of calcium include sardines, salmon, tofu and dark green leafy vegetables.
A healthy diet does not include a lot of fatty foods, but according to the American Heart Association, our bodies need healthy fats for energy, the absorption of nutrients, the production of hormones and to protect our organs. There are four major types of fat: monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are considered healthier fats. They are found in fish, vegetables, avocados, nuts and seeds. Saturated fats are found in whole milk, red meat cheese and coconut oil. Many trans fats are artificial fats found in highly processed foods. A healthy diet should aim to avoid saturated and trans fats, which have been linked to heart disease and stroke.
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, protein, dairy and good fats. These are the good foods needed for a healthy diet. Fill up on these and there won’t be room for foods full of empty calories and little nutritional value. Sounds easy enough, but in today’s world convenience and slick advertising produce stumbling blocks to developing the healthy eating habits we need. Here are a few ideas that can help us move in a healthier direction:
- Start with small changes, like eating a salad each day.
- Remember, half of what you eat should be fruits and vegetables.
- Keep healthy snacks on hand: fresh fruit, sliced veggies or nuts
- Drink lots of water. Sometimes we think we are hungry when really we are dehydrated.
- Shop on the perimeter of the grocery store. Most fresh foods are found on the outside aisles while the center aisles have more processed, packaged and refined foods.
“Adult Obesity Facts”, Center for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html February 27, 2020
“Grocery Store Tour: Shopping the Perimeter.” https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/grocery-store-tour-shopping-the-perimeter March 22, 2018.
Newman, Vicky. “Living For Longevity: The Nutrition Connection - Research on Aging” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsLnPRUUGhQ April 4, 2013.
Robinson, Lawrence, Jeanne Seagal Ph.D., and Robert Segal, M.A. “Healthy Eating.” https://www.helpguide.org/articles/healthy-eating/healthy-eating.htm Last updated: April 2020.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at https://health.gov/our-work/food-and-nutrition/2015-2020-dietary-guidelines/.