Food and nutrition: Understanding our food groups
Leading a healthy lifestyle often requires self-discipline. Whether it’s getting up early for the morning walk, or pushing your body to the limits with a physical workout, eating healthy is perhaps one of the easiest ways for a person to begin the routine of staying healthy.
Sure, physical activity is extremely important when it comes to the health of your body. However, how you manage your diet in sync with that activity will yield the best results for getting in shape and staying healthy. Your food and physical activity choices you make each day affect your health – how you feel today, tomorrow, and in the future.
Kelly Fluitt, a nurse practitioner for Carson Medical Group, suggests that variety is the key when it comes to diet.
“Following the food pyramid will help to ensure healthy food choices,” says Fluitt. “The food pyramid consists of five food groups plus oils. The five food groups include grains, vegetable, fruits, milk, and meats/beans.”
Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley, or another cereal gain is considered a grain product. Grains are divided into two subgroups: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel while refined grains have been milled. While the milling process removes the bran, germ, dietary fiber, iron, and many other vitamins, they are enriched after processing. This means that certain B vitamins, such as thiamin and riboflavin, and iron are added back to the grains.
Everyone knows and understands the importance of the vegetable group when it comes to eating healthy. Any vegetable or 100 percent vegetable juice counts as a member of this group. Vegetables contain a number of antioxidants that may help to stop certain cancers from forming in the body. Vegetables also contain high levels of fiber that will keep the digestive system clear and healthy.
Just like vegetables, any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice is considered part of the fruit group. Also like the vegetable group, fruit provides antioxidants as well as dietary fiber. Compared with people who consume a diet with only small amounts of fruits and vegetables, those who eat more generous amounts as part of a healthful diet are likely to have reduced risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and perhaps other cardiovascular diseases, and certain cancers.
The milk group consists of milk and foods made of milk, such as yogurt, cheese and butter. Most choices from the milk group should be fat-free or low in fat. If sweetened milk products are chosen, such as flavored milk or desserts, be cautious of the added sugars.
As with the milk group, choose meat or beans that are low in fat. Some meats are high in cholesterol, while others, such as processed meats like deli meats, are high in sodium. It’s always important to check the nutrition facts label to be conscious of what each meat product contains.
Oils are mainly fats that are liquid at room temperature. Oils come from many different plants and fish and most are low in saturated fat, but high in monounsaturated fats. Oils that are high in saturated fat, such as butter or shortening, should be used in moderation.
With all the food groups, there are some simple guidelines that one can follow to help monitor on a daily basis. Fluitt suggests making small changes in food habits is a good place to start.
“If you get hungry between meals, don’t eat fatty or sugary snacks. Choose fresh fruits and vegetable or whole grain snacks instead,” says Fluitt. “Do not skip meals, especially breakfast. Start the day with a healthy breakfast to fuel your metabolism.”
Being responsible with your eating also has a trickle-down effect with our children.
“I would encourage adults to be good role models – we must show kids by example,” adds Fluitt. “Grocery shopping together can teach children about healthy food choices. Getting creative in the kitchen is also helpful; invent new snacks and get the kids involved with meal preparation.”
You can also get involved by monitoring what kids eat for lunch at school. Chances are some meals served in our school systems are healthier than others. However, school menus are available online and one can plan to pack healthy lunches to offset the days where school lunches are higher in fat. Keep the food pyramid in mind and be cautious when packing juices that are high in sugar. Water or milk are great alternatives to juices or soda.
Speaking of water, it should not be forgotten. Water intake is essential to good health. Every system in our body requires water to function properly. It helps flush out toxins and carries nutrients to your cells. Needs vary with each individual, but by knowing more about your body’s need for fluids, you can estimate how much water to drink each day.
This, along with other great information for children and adults on eating healthy, can be found on the US Department of Agriculture’s website at http://www.mypyramid.gov.