Monthly Archives: September 2012

A Balanced Diet Part III: Vegetables

So now you’re eating the right kind of grains, it would be great to have something to go with them.  Vegetables are an integral part of any diet, adding flavor, color and nutritional value to any meal.  They contain no cholesterol, and are low in fat and calories.  The dietary fiber present in vegetables helps lower the risk of heart disease, including heart attack and stroke, while aiding in the prevention of certain types of cancer and obesity.  This dietary fiber gives vegetables to ability to give a feeling of fullness with fewer calories than many other foods.  Found in vegetables, Vitamins A and C keep eyes and skin healthy, help heal cuts and wounds, and aid in maintaining healthy teeth and gums.

There are five types of vegetables: dark green (broccoli, romaine lettuce, spinach), starchy (corn, green peas, potatoes), beans and peas (kidney beans, split peas, black beans), red and orange (butternut squash, carrots, tomatoes), and other vegetables (beets, celery, zucchini).  It is recommended that adults (ages 9 and over) consume between two and three cups of vegetables each day.  A cup is measured using chopped vegetables, and any whole vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a serving.  Beans and peas are special because they are also a great source of plant protein, which makes them similar to meat, poultry and fish.  Vegetarians and vegans, who don’t consume animal protein, should consume larger amounts of protein filled beans and peas to make sure they are getting enough dietary protein.

There are a few keys to getting the right kind of nutrition from your vegetable selections.  The first is to buy fresh and in season.  Fresh foods contain less sodium and more flavor.  If fresh options aren’t available, choose canned or frozen vegetables that are labeled ‘reduced sodium’, ‘low sodium’ or ‘no salt added’.  To make adding vegetables to a meal easy, buy prewashed bags of salad, or be sure to rinse all vegetables with clean water and dry before cooking or preparing.  Once they’re clean and ready to go, add them to any dish for an infusion of color and flavor.  Also try using vegetables as snacks by adding a low fat dressing as a dip.  Keeping some pre-sliced vegetables in the fridge helps make eating these nutritious foods quick and simple.

So throw some green, red or orange vegetables in with your next meal and make it a nutritional success!

For more information on the Vegetables Group, check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/vegetables.html, and check back in for the next Segment, A Balanced Diet Part IV: Fruits.

A Balanced Diet Part II: Grains

At the base of the Food Pyramid is Grains, also known as the starch group.  The first, and largest, of the five major food groups contains any food made from wheat, oats, rice, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain.  Grain based foods such as pasta, bread, and cereal, are divided into two types: whole grains and refined grains.

Whole grains are made with the entire grain seed, which contains the bran, germ and endosperm.  Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, oatmeal and brown rice.  These foods contain plenty of dietary fiber, helping to manage weight and reduce the risk of coronary heart disease.  Whole grains are also rich in complex carbohydrates that take your body time to digest, providing long term energy and preventing the blood sugar spike often associated with eating refined grain products.

Refined grains, unlike whole grains, are milled to remove the bran and the germ.  This results in a loss of B vitamins, iron and dietary fiber.  Some types of refined grains are white flour, white bread, and white rice.  ‘Enriched’ products have B vitamins, folate (folic acid aids in preventing cancer and birth defects), and iron replaced after the milling process, but still contain little dietary fiber.  Because they contain little dietary fiber and lack nutrients, refined grains, or simple carbohydrates, are less filling and easy to overeat.  Your body also turns simple carbohydrates quickly into sugars, leading to a rapid increase in blood sugar and a subsequent crash when consumed.

Roughly half of daily caloric intake should come from the grain group, so six to eleven servings per day are recommended based on activity level and age.  A serving of grain is considered equivalent to one slice of bread.  This can also be half an English muffin, half cup cooked pasta, three cups of popcorn, or one cup of ready to eat cereal.  The key to making successful grain choices is reading labels and finding a way to work whole grain products into your eating schedule.  When reading labels, select products that list at least one type of whole grain as the first ingredient.

For more information on the Grain group, check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/grains.html and get ready for the next segment, A Balanced Diet Part III: Vegetables.

A Balanced Diet Part I

The human body needs six kinds of nutrients to function properly, so knowing what they are and how they work is important to having a balanced diet.  In this segment, we’ll go over each of the six nutrient types, explaining what they are and how they work.  In the upcoming weeks, we’ll learn about each food group, what to eat, how much, and how often, so by the time you’ve finished reading, you’ll be ready to hit the grocery store armed with plenty of knowledge to ensure healthy choices.

Carbohydrates.  These are the body’s energy.  Carbs supply simple glucose, and without it, your brain can’t function properly.  You need lots of carbs for day to day life but be careful not to over indulge.  Each gram of carbohydrates contains 4 calories, so if the expenditure of carbohydrates is less than the intake, weight gain is inevitable.  Carbohydrates are found in bread, beans, potatoes and corn, with the most common types being sugars, fibers and starches.

Protein.  Proteins, like carbohydrates, contain 4 calories per gram.  While protein can be used as a source of energy, the human body uses them primarily for moving nutrients through the body, keeping the immune system up and running properly.  Proteins help grow and rebuild muscle, maintain fluid balance, and catalyze the reactions essential to life.

Fats.  Fats contain 9 calories per gram, and as a result, are a great source of energy.  Fats also help the body absorb vitamins while providing insulation and cushion to internal organs.  There are two major types of naturally occurring fatty acids, saturated, with each molecule covered in hydrogen atoms, and monounsaturated, when each molecule has only one hydrogen atom.  Saturated fats, found in meat and dairy products, can lead to high cholesterol, heart disease and stroke if over-consumed.  Monounsaturated fats, found in nuts, whole grain wheat, avocados and popcorn, have been said to reduce a person’s risk for heart disease.  Both saturated and monounsaturated fats are essential to life.  Trans fats are not naturally occurring, never saturated, and are not essential for life.  Trans fats have been proven to increase bad cholesterol (LDL), lower good (HDL) and raise the risk of heart disease.  Trans fats are found mostly in junk and fast food.

Vitamins.  Vitamins are made from plants and animals, and each of the 13 (A, B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, B12, C, D, E and K) is something your body needs.  They are necessary for normal metabolism and since the human body does not produce them, vitamins must be acquired through diet or supplements.

Minerals.  Minerals, including selenium, zinc, and calcium, allow your body to get the energy out of carbohydrates and also promote good immune functioning.

Water.  Sure, water sounds simple.  You can go for weeks without eating, without eater, you’ll last only a few days.  Water is the universal solvent and provides the basis for chemical reactions to take place.  It also helps maintain body temperature and lubricate joints.

Stay tuned next week when we start learning about Food Groups with Grains.