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Introduction to Nutrition

While most of us know that good nutrition is essential in helping us feel our best and reach our optimal health; finding time to eat a balanced diet on a daily basis seems a formidable task in this fast-paced, affluent society. Yet, though your life may be hectic, there are still many good tasting, healthy choices which can help you lose weight and improve your health. This information is designed to be a practical guide in finding those choices whether you are at home, at work, on the road, or at a friend's home. The good news is that by taking charge of your diet, you can improve your health while reducing your risk of "lifestyle" diseases such as heart disease or cancer.

A good place to start is defining what constitutes a "healthy" diet. The "Four Food Group" Plan of yesteryear implied that foods in the Meat, Dairy, Breads and Vegetable Fruit group were equal in their contribution to a healthy diet. Today, researchers show that diets rich in complex carbohydrates and low in saturated fats may reduce our risk of chronic disease. Health professionals designed the "Food Pyramid" guide to translate these recommendations into a food plan for daily living.

Complex Carbohydrates
Complex carbohydrates are present in whole grain breads, cereals, starches and fruits and vegetables. These foods are not only rich in B vitamins and trace minerals, but they also contribute dietary fiber which has been shown to reduce risk for developing certain cancers, lowering cholesterol levels and helping in weight control.

Six to twelve servings of breads, cereals and starches may sound like a lot of food, but when you consider one cup of rice is three servings of cereal, you can see that meeting these guidelines isn't that difficult.

Fruits and Vegetables
Likewise for fruits and vegetables. Most people gag at the thought of eating four to seven servings per day until they discover one medium piece of fruit is two servings. Your typical salad is at least three servings and let's not forget that lettuce and tomato in your deli sandwich, that counts as one also.

Proteins
Proteins are found in the dairy and meat group.

Foods in the dairy group not only provide protein, but they also contribute calcium, Vitamin D and other essential nutrients required for synthesizing healthy bones and teeth. They can be a significant source of saturated fat, so chose two to three servings of the low-fat (1% fat or less) milks, yogurts and/or cheeses.

The meat group includes chicken, fish, nuts and beans or legumes. A deck of cards roughly approximates a three ounce serving and you need at least two servings a day. These foods provide zinc, magnesium and iron which, along with protein, are used by the body in creating hemoglobin and lean body tissue. These foods can also contribute to a elevated intake of saturated fat, so chose lean cuts of meat like flank or round steak, pork tenderloin, ham and leg of lamb. Skip the skin on chicken or turkey and you will miss much of the fat and cholesterol. Better yet, skip animal protein altogether and try minestrone or split pea soup, chili or bean burritos.

Fats and Sugar
Fats, sugars and alcohol have the least amount of surface area on the pyramid for a reason. They contribute little more than calories to the diet and your body will squeeze them into a fat cell. Worse yet, your body will create another fat cell to harbor them until they are burned,

Many health organizations, like the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Society, agree that limiting your fat intake to less than 30% of calories goes a long way to protect you from life threatening diseases. As a gram of fat has nine calories, that isn't much fat. As there is some fat in dairy products and meat, chicken and fish; you are better off to avoid adding fat to your food. Luckily, there are many good tasting low-fat or nonfat salad and sandwich spreads which make the task of avoiding added fat a lot easier.

Yes, certain fats are essential to good nutrition (like linoleic acid), but these are found in ample amounts in whole grain breads, cereals and vegetables. Corn, for example, is where mother nature originally put corn oil. Why not skip the margarine and just eat corn?

Summary
In short, good nutrition means eating a wide variety of foods from each of the five food groups. The Food Pyramid shows us that by eating more complex carbohydrates and less total fat and saturated fat, we can become empowered by the good life and not fall victim to it.

Material © San Franisco Spine Center. Used by Permission.

Updated on: 10/22/14
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