yourself what you want from nutrition. If you decide that you’re
ready to be aware of what you eat and how it affects your health
on a day-to-day basis, then you’re almost there. When it
comes to nutrition health, the most important factor is awareness.
aware of what your body needs and what the food you eat is made
of, you’ll be able to make educated decisions—the right
Most professionals will tell you that any derivative of the trusty
food guide pyramid is the best way to build a healthy diet. The
most common food guide pyramid in the US is the one established
Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human
Services—the pyramid you see on food labels and at doctors’ offices
everywhere. This pyramid is a daily guideline based on dietary
required allowances of vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, proteins,
Some people might be surprised to see that carbohydrates still
comprise the vast majority of our caloric intake. The fact is,
are our bodies’ main source of energy. Some facts on carbohydrates
- Carbohydrates can be broken down into two types, complex
- Complex carbohydrates include breads, pastas, cereals
and even vegetables.
- Simple carbohydrates like sugar are lacking
in fiber and generally contain few, if any, nutrients.
it takes your body longer to break down the complex carbohydrates,
you’ll find them a more long-term source
of energy for your body.
- Shop for whole grain items, like whole
wheat or multi-grain breads, whole wheat pasta, fiber fortified
cereals, brown rice, millet
or flaxseed. The vitamins and nutrients these carbohydrates provide
are extremely beneficial, and you still get the satisfaction
that comes with eating breads, pastas and cereals.
Fruits and Vegetables
Most women underestimate the amount of fruits and vegetables they
get in their diets. Sometimes, fitting leafy greens or extra melon
into a busy day seems like the last thing you need to worry about.
The benefits you’ll reap just by getting 2-4 servings of
fruit and 2-4 servings of vegetables each day will be invaluable
immediate and long-term health. When in doubt, eat more fruits
and vegetables. Also, plant foods are the only natural source of
Fiber aids in elimination, can help reduce cholesterol, and may
help to prevent certain types of cancer, especially colon cancer.
The dairy group on the food guide pyramid is especially important
for women. Calcium is the key mineral you need from this food group.
So, if you don’t or can’t eat dairy, explore alternative
options for calcium in order to keep a well-balanced diet. Dairy
products such as milk, cheese and yogurt are also sources of protein
and other vitamins and minerals. By getting enough dairy, you’ll
improve your bone health and also glean other beneficial nutrients.
Remember many dairy products are high in fat and cholesterol, so
sometimes picking a low-fat option is a better choice. The recommended
serving of dairy is 3 per day. Aim for additional servings
of other rich calcium sources, such as leafy green vegetables,
when there is an increased risk of developing osteoporosis.
Meat, including poultry and fish, is a helpful source of protein
as well as iron, zinc and B vitamins. But meats can be high in
unnecessary fats and cholesterol. Other sources of protein include
beans, soybeans, peas), soy-based products like tempeh and tofu,
and protein substitutes like veggie burgers—don’t forget
nuts and eggs. Protein is an essential element of your health:
your body needs protein to build cells, bones muscles, hair, nails
skin. Tissues use protein to repair themselves, and your body even
needs protein to make hormones and other important body chemicals.
Getting enough protein will help with nearly every aspect of your
The final food group on the pyramid is the fats, oils and sweets
category. Fat is important for your body’s health—in
moderation. Your body uses fat to absorb vitamins, strengthen cell
membranes and for help with the immune system. The food guide pyramid
recommends the serving size “use sparingly” for this
group. Americans tend to get out of hand with fat consumption, serving
up large portions of fatty desserts, super-sizing fast food meals
and treating themselves with junk food. The fats found in processed
and fast foods—called saturated fat and trans fat—are
the type that you could really do without. The type of fats you should
choose include monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, avocados and
olive, peanut and canola oils. These options, particularly avocados
and nuts, are also a great source of other vitamins and minerals,
so they’re a smart alternative to empty, fat-laden calories.
Even if you know why each food group is important, it still might
be difficult to figure out how many servings you need to maintain
a healthy balance. Remember
that for every food group, food portions are often much smaller than you
think they are. The serving sizes set out by the food guide
pyramid are based on specific
amounts, measured in cups or ounces. A sandwich might have two pieces of
bread, but the serving size for grains is really one slice
of bread. So, if you eat
the whole sandwich, you might be getting two (or more) servings of grains.
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