Eating Healthy

Healthy Diet & Exercise are Key Parts of a Healthy Lifestyle

You’ve probably heard the term “healthy diet” many times through the years. It is a general, often undefined phrase that leaves many consumers wondering:

  • How can I improve my diet?
  • What foods and beverages are considered healthy?
  • Which foods and beverages are not?

And, the rules keep changing.
For years we were told to eat shortening and margarine and then a few years later we find out that the partially hydrogenated vegetable oil in shortening and margarine is bad for our heart and overall health.

What Makes a Healthy Diet?
What makes up a healthy diet for you may be very different than a healthy diet for your children, spouse, friends, mom or dad. Every person’s health history, activity levels, dietary needs and medication intake varies and therefore, their food intake should vary to match his or her needs. For instance, you may need more iron-rich foods in your diet to combat anemia, but for someone with hemochromatosis, a diet high in iron can be very dangerous.

Despite individual variations in dietary needs, there are some general attributes of a healthy diet, which are identified in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans:

  • Balance calories to manage weight. Consuming enough calories from foods and beverages to meet your needs and being physically active will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, you may need to decrease your calorie intake and/or increase your physical activity to achieve a healthy weight.

Look for foods that
are “nutrient-dense,” like
broccoli and cauliflower.

  • Focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrients are compounds necessary for growth and survival. Nutrients include proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. The term “nutrient-dense” means foods that contain many nutrients. For example, an orange is a nutrient-dense food because it contains carbohydrate, vitamin C, some B vitamins, vitamin A, potassium and calcium.
  • Reduce the following dietary components:
    • Sodium – consume less than 2,300 mg per day (just over 1 tsp salt). If you are over 51, African American or have hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease, reduce your sodium intake to less than 1,500 mg per day.
    • Saturated fat – consume less than 10% of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing these with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids (found in liquid fats like vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, avocados and olives).
    • Keep trans fat intake as low as possible by limiting foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils.
    • Reduce intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars. Solid fats are those that are solid at room temperature like butter, shortening and the fat on meat.
    • Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars and sodium.
    • Limit alcohol consumption to one drink or less per day for women and two or less per day for men.
  • Increase your intake of these foods:
    • Vegetables and fruits. Eat a variety especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables, beans and peas.
    • Consume at least ½ of all grains as whole grains.
    • Fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products like cheese, yogurt and fortified soy beverages.
    • Choose a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, soy products, unsalted nuts and seeds.
    • Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
    • Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium and vitamin D.
  • Most of your nutrients should be met through food. Fortified foods and dietary supplements can be used to supplement your diet and help you consume nutrients that might otherwise be consumed in less than recommended amounts.

Extreme Dieting and Fasting
If you are trying to lose weight, extreme diets – those that contain less than 1,100 calories – and fasting are unnecessary, don’t work well and are potentially dangerous. According to the National Institutes of Health, extreme diets often do not contain enough vitamins and minerals and people on these diets may experience fatigue, feeling cold, hair loss and dizziness. Plus, these diets increase one’s risk for gallbladder stones, changes in menstrual periods and rarely, dangerous heart rhythms. And finally, extreme diets do not teach people how to eat to maintain weight loss and therefore, most people who try these diets return to overeating and gain the weight back.

Fasting can lead to similar problems as extreme diets and be even more dangerous depending on the total calorie intake per day and foods that are consumed.

The Importance of Exercise
In addition to diet, exercise is crucial for weight maintenance and chronic disease prevention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adults over the age of 18 and without any limiting health conditions should aim for:

  • 2 hours and 30 minutes (150 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity such as brisk walking or 1 hour and 15 minutes (75 minutes) of vigorous intensity aerobic activity such as jogging or running, every week and muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days per week that work the major muscle groups (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms).

There is no such thing as a “perfect” diet and, you don’t have to give up all of your favorite treats in order to maintain a healthy weight and prevent disease. However, maintaining a healthy diet and engaging in regular physical activity are both important steps for maintaining a healthy weight, preventing chronic disease and leading a healthy life. You’ll look better, feel better and have confidence knowing that you are doing the right thing.

1 U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010. 7th Edition, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, December 2010.

2Obesity. PubMed health, National Institutes of Health http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004552/. Accessed February 27, 2011.

3Physical Activity for Everyone. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
Accessed February 25, 2011.

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