Good nutrition can help you achieve good health without having to sacriﬁce great-tasting food. Eating healthfully can help you work more productively, per- form better athletically, maintain or reduce your weight, and dramatically lower your risk for heart disease and certain forms of cancer. A healthy diet is one that is well balanced, low in fat, high in ﬁber, and rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. To consume a healthy diet, you need to choose foods that provide all the nutrients your body needs without an excess of fat, sugar, or calories.
No matter what your lifestyle, the Food Guide Pyramid is your best guide to making healthy food choices. Developed by the US Department of Agriculture, the Food Guide Pyramid is meant to be a general outline for healthy eating, not a rigid dietary prescription. It helps you choose the most nutritious foods in the correct proportions. The Food Guide Pyramid arranges all foods into ﬁve food groups—grains; vegetables and fruits; dairy; meat, poultry, and other protein foods; and fats, oils, and sweets. The grains group is at the base of the pyramid because it is the foundation of good nutrition.
The Food Guide Pyramid conveys three concepts about healthful eating: bal- ance, variety, and moderation. To eat a balanced diet, consume more foods from the groups at the bottom of the pyramid and fewer from those near the top. Achieve variety in your diet by sampling an assortment of foods from the differ- ent pyramid groups and a variety of foods within each food group. Practice mod- eration by eating neither too much nor too little of any food.
The Food Guide Pyramid contains four levels that symbolize the importance of certain foods in your overall diet. At the bottom lies the bread, cereal, rice, and pasta group—all foods made from grains. This group is the largest of the food groups in the pyramid because grain-based foods should make up the
largest proportion of the food in your diet. You should consume six to 11 serv- ings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta each day. A serving is one slice of bread,
1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal, or half a cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta. Grain foods contain complex carbohydrates, which are an excellent source of energy, and many grain products are enriched with B vitamins and iron. Most grain foods are also low in fat and cholesterol. Whole-grain foods, such as brown rice, whole wheat or multigrain breads, and bran cereal, also supply ﬁber (see page 11), which has been shown to help lower blood cholesterol (see page 89) and which may reduce your risk for certain forms of cancer, such as colon can- cer. Try to obtain at least half of your daily grain servings (at least three servings) from whole-grain foods.
The second level (from the bottom) of the pyramid contains the vegetable and fruit groups. The Food Guide Pyramid recommends that you eat three to ﬁve servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits each day—more veg- etables than fruits because vegetables contain a wider variety of vitamins and minerals than do fruits. A serving is a cup of raw, leafy vegetables; half a cup of other vegetables, either cooked or chopped raw; one medium apple, orange, or banana; half a cup of chopped, cooked, or canned fruit; or 3⁄4 cup of vegetable or fruit juice. The nutrients in vegetables and fruits vary considerably, so it is important to include a wide variety of these foods in your diet. However, many vegetables and fruits are rich in the antioxidant vitamins, E, C, and beta carotene (which converts to vitamin A in your body). Antioxidants (see page 9) may have the potential to lower your risk for heart disease.
The milk, yogurt, and cheese group appears on the same level of the Food Guide Pyramid as the meat, poultry, ﬁsh, dry beans, eggs, and nuts group.
Two to three daily servings of both dairy products and protein foods are suggested for good health. Dairy foods are an important source of cal- cium but can be high in fat, espe- cially saturated fat, so you need to choose low-fat or fat-free varieties of milk, yogurt, and cheese. You may be surprised that dried beans and nuts are grouped together with meat and poultry, but all these foods supply protein and the same kinds of nutri- ents, such as iron, zinc, and the B vitamins. A serving is 1 cup of milk or yogurt; 11⁄2 to 2 ounces of cheese; or 2 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat,
poultry, or ﬁsh. (Half a cup of cooked dry beans, one egg, or 2 tablespoons of peanut butter count as 1 ounce of lean meat.) It is important for middle-aged or older men to become accustomed to the idea of eating a small portion (2 to 3 ounces) of meat or poultry.
At the top of the pyramid sits the smallest food group, made up of fats, oils, and sweets. It is best to consume foods high in fat and sugar only sparingly. High-fat foods contribute to the development of heart disease, and sugar con- tains many nutritionally empty calories. Overindulgence in foods from this group may lead to excess weight gain.
The bottom line is that a healthy diet can keep you healthy. But don’t worry if you eat a high-fat cheeseburger or a sugary dessert once in a while. The impor- tant thing is to balance your diet over weeks or months so your overall diet is healthy. To make sure you are consuming a wide variety of foods, be adventur- ous. Try bok choy or bulgur if you’ve never had it before. Experiment with exotic herbs and spices to enliven the ﬂavor of foods, both new and familiar. And be sure to balance what you eat with physical activity to maintain your proper body weight.
Dietary Guidelines for Americans
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services periodically publish Dietary Guidelines for Americans. These guidelines are designed to help people not only get the nutrients they need, but also lead more active lives so they can reduce their risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease and certain forms of cancer. The most current dietary guidelines provide sound, no-nonsense advice to help you build a healthy diet:
• Eat a variety of foods.
• Balance the food you eat with physical activity to maintain or improve your weight.
• Eat plenty of grain products, vegetables, and fruits.
• Limit your intake of fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
• Eat only moderate amounts of sugar.
• Limit the amount of salt (sodium) in your diet.
• If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.
It’s not difﬁcult to incorporate these guidelines into your daily life. Just try these healthy-eating tips:
• Make grains the centerpiece of your meal; let meats be the garnish.
• Select lean meats and low-fat or fat-free dairy foods.
• Increase your ﬁber intake; eat a variety of whole grains, dry beans, and ﬁber- rich vegetables and fruits such as carrots, peas, pears, and berries.
• Choose dishes that contain servings from more than one food group, such as soups and stews.
• Maintain your weight in a healthy range. The guidelines no longer allow for gaining weight as you get older.
• Become more active: walk instead of drive, use the stairs, swim, bike, or do yard work. Better yet, start a regular exercise program.
• Have fresh fruit or yogurt for dessert. Sugar contains lots of calories but few nutrients.
• Snack on reduced-fat and low-salt multigrain crackers, cut-up fresh vegeta- bles and fruits, rice cakes, raisins, low-salt pretzels, unbuttered popcorn, low- fat cheeses, and low-fat whole-grain breakfast cereal.
• Drink no more than two alcoholic beverages per day, if you drink at all.
What’s the big deal about breakfast? It’s the most important meal of the day, just as your mother probably said. Breakfast literally means breaking the overnight fast. After not eating for 12 hours or more, your blood sugar level is low and your body needs fuel. Don’t deprive your body of its ﬁrst meal of the day just because you don’t have much time. Instead, keep breakfast simple. Have a bowl of hot or cold cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, toast, a smoothie (mix equal portions of fresh or frozen fruit, fat-free milk, and low-fat ﬂavored yogurt in a blender; adding a few ice cubes will make your drink thicker), or eat leftovers from the night before. Take breakfast with you in the car or on the train. Still unconvinced about the beneﬁts of a good breakfast? Consider these facts about break- fast eaters: they control their weight better and consume fewer calories throughout the day. Their blood cholesterol levels are lower, potentially reducing heart disease risk. They also concentrate better and perform better on work tasks. So put out a bagel or a mufﬁn tonight for tomorrow morning and let breakfast help you boost your intake of grains.