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Vegetarian Diet

How to Get the Right Nutrition without Meat, Poultry or Seafood.

Vegetarian diets don’t have to consist of all tofu, all the time, because adequate nutrition can be derived from lots of foods that don’t include animal products.  A vegetarian is defined as “a person who does not eat or does not believe in eating meat, fish, fowl, or, in some cases, any food derived from animals, as eggs or cheese, but subsists on vegetables, fruits, nuts, grain, etc.” and bases their diet on these principles.  While animals are a great source of nutrition, including essential amino acids and protein, there are many other ways to get these crucial ingredients in your diet.  Vegetarians do, however, face the biggest possible dietary loss from a lack of protein, which is usually obtained by eating animal protein, and serves as a major source of energy.

Because they cannot include the Meat, Poultry and Fish group in their Food Pyramid, the Vegetarian Food Pyramid looks slightly different than the one most of us grew up seeing.  The base of the Vegetarian Food Pyramid is grains, rather than meats, and legumes and nuts, making it slightly different than the typical Food Pyramid.  The remaining levels of both food pyramids are the same, with fats and oils having the smallest recommended number of servings per day.  Five to twelve servings of whole grains, with one to three servings of legumes and soy are the base of a good vegetarian diet.  Add to that three to four servings of fruit, six to nine servings of vegetables, one to two servings of nuts and seeds, up to three servings of dairy and eggs, with a minimum daily amount of sweets and fats, and you have a wonderfully well rounded and healthy diet providing all the same essential nutrients as a diet with meat.

Vegetarian diets offer a myriad of benefits for those who commit to giving up animal proteins.  Vegetarian diets often feature lower levels of saturated fats and cholesterol, decreasing risk for diabetes and heart disease, while offering higher levels of carbohydrates, dietary fiber, and antioxidants.  Because of these features, vegetarian diets can aid with weight loss, though it is important to remember the basis of vegetarian is vegetables.  Not junk.  Animal protein foods have to be replaced with the right types of nutrition, not French fries and cookies, to garner any of the dietary and weight loss benefits.  Being careful not to overload with fats like cheese, and using beans, lentils and rice to replace meat will all maintain proper nutrition and a healthy diet.   Without animal protein, a vegetarian must also make sure their diet includes enough Omega-3s, iron, zinc, calcium and Vitamins D and B-12 to meet daily requirements, and can often add a supplement to their daily routine.  These choices can help vegetarians and vegans live longer and healthier lives with lower body weight, better cholesterol levels and lower risk of diabetes.

If living a longer, healthier life sounds good to you, give vegetarianism a try.  Remember though, a different diet does not mean different rules.  Just like people who eat meat, vegetarians need to read labels and check the ingredients, salt, fat and vitamin content of the foods they choose.  Ensuring healthy eating is hard work no matter what your diet consists of, so take the vegetarian challenge and see how it can benefit you!

For more information, here’s a great source of tips for vegetarian dieting: http://www.choosemyplate.gov/healthy-eating-tips/tips-for-vegetarian.html.

A Balanced Diet Part VII: Fats, Oils and Sweets

We all love dessert, but we also probably eat more than we should.  Consuming fats is an important part of our diet, but the wrong amounts of the wrong types can lead to weight gain, obesity, and increased risk of heart disease.  Because of these risks, we want to consume the least amount of food in this group.  Oils and fats are different, and since sweets have lots of fats, they are included in this group.  The oils most people are familiar with include canola oil, olive oil, and corn oil, while the fats are butter, chicken fat, and stick margarine.  Sugary sweets include brownies, cookies, cakes, and soft drinks.

Oils contain essential nutrients, are liquid at room temperature, and are needed to help our bodies function.  Fats are also an essential part of the human diet, but unlike oils, they are solid at room temperature.  Fats come with more trans- or saturated fat than oils do, and it is important to be careful how much you eat.  Unsaturated fats (HDL) are healthy, but saturated fats (LDL) can lead to the weight gain, obesity and risk of heart disease mentioned earlier.  While oils and fats both contain a mixture of saturated and unsaturated fatty acids, solid fats contain more saturated and trans-fats than oils.  Saturated fats are mainly found in animal products and should make up less than 10% of daily caloric intake.  Fats as a whole should not account for more than 30% of daily caloric intake.  Respecting this guideline is important because one gram of fat contains nine calories, which is more than twice that of protein and carbohydrates (four grams each) and makes it very easy to consume too much fat.  Sugars, even though they also have four calories per gram, bring mostly empty calories into our diets.

The food we eat fulfills most of our daily needs for oil through things such as nuts, cooking oil and salad dressing.  Even though we get oils from our food, remember that they do contain calories.  That makes checking labels and looking for options with no trans-fat and little to no saturated fat a big part of maintaining a healthy diet.  By using oils sparingly when cooking, cutting down on sugary after dinner treats and ceasing to drink sodas, you can control your intake of bad fats and sugars, while helping lower your risk for weight gain and heart disease.

To learn more about Fats and Oils, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/oils.html, and start reading labels.  Next week, we’ll cover Vegetarian Diets and look at healthy ways to eat without meat, poultry and fish.

A Balanced Diet Part VI: Milk, Yogurt and Cheese

We all love ice cream, milkshakes, and cheese trays, but making the right dairy choices in the dairy group, as well as all other food groups, is the key to maintaining a healthy diet.  The dairy group includes cheese, milk, yogurt, soymilk, and all the products made from them.  Lots of important nutrients come from dairy products, but it is possible to have too much of a good thing when it comes to things like cheese and ice cream.  Getting the proper amount of dairy products may reduce the risk of osteoporosis, and has been shown to improve bone health.  Calcium is especially important during childhood, as bones are growing and mass is accruing.  Good dairy intake is also a source of reduced risk for cardiovascular diseases and type 2 diabetes, as well as having been shown to lower blood pressure in adults.

Milk, yogurt and cheese all contain calcium, protein, potassium, and vitamin D.  Calcium serves as the building blocks for bones and teeth by helping them grow and maintain their mass.  Vitamin D works with the body to help it absorb calcium, reduce inflammation and boost immune function.  Dairy protein, just like the protein found in the Meat Group, helps build muscle and provide energy, while potassium can help maintain healthy blood pressure.

Choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy products is best because they contain little to no solid, or saturated, fat.  Saturated fats contain high levels of LDL (low-density lipids), bad cholesterol, and a diet high in LDL can increase risk for coronary heart disease.  Whole milk and many cheeses are high in saturated fats, so limiting dairy choices to low- and non-fat options is important when trying to control your intake or empty calories.

Even when consuming low- and non-fat dairy products, following the suggested guidelines for daily servings, and adjusting based on increased activity, is part of maintaining a balanced diet.  For the Dairy Group, three servings are recommended each day, though dairy products should not exceed 30% of caloric intake per day.  One serving is considered one cup of milk [fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1% or 2%)], one eight ounce container of yogurt, 1½ ounces of hard cheese, one third cup of shredded cheese (cheddar), two ounces of processed cheese (American), one cup of pudding made with milk, one cup of frozen yogurt, 1½ cups ice cream or one cup of calcium-fortified soymilk.

It can be hard to make good choices, but here are some ways to make it simple.  Order lattes and cappuccinos with fat-free milk, add fat-free or low-fat milk to oatmeal instead of water, use yogurt as a dip for fruits and vegetables, and use low-fat cheese to top casseroles and soups.  Be sure to avoid raw (unpasteurized) milk, chill perishable foods promptly and keep separate raw and cooked foods.  Follow these guidelines and you’ll be sure to make good Dairy Group choices to help you maintain your balanced and healthy diet.

To learn more about the Dairy Group, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/dairy.html.  Then make sure to come back for next week’s Food Group: Fats, Oils and Sweets.

A Balanced Diet Part V: Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans, Eggs and Nuts

Is the name of this group enough to get you interested?  With so many choices out there for protein sources, it can be challenging to know what the best ones are.  Foods in this group include beef, pork, venison, chicken, duck, flounder, tuna, lima beans, pinto beans, shellfish, peanut butter, and almonds.  Wow.  Not only does this group contain a wide variety of choices, it provides a long list of healthy body benefits.

Nutrients pulled from the protein group range from, as expected, protein, which is also found in fats and carbohydrates and provides calories for energy, to iron, which carries oxygen to the blood.  The antioxidant Vitamin E, zinc that helps the immune system function and magnesium for building bones are all found in meat, poultry and fish.  Elements in each of the foods in this group are also the building blocks for muscles, cartilage, skin, blood, integral enzymes and hormones.  Omega-3 fatty acids are present in seafood, and 8 ounces of fish per week may help prevent heart disease.  The risk of potential heavy metal poisoning from consuming certain fish species frequently is greatly outweighed by the benefits of omega-3s.  Nuts and seeds are a high calorie food great for snacks.  They also aid in reducing the risk of heart disease, though it is important to limit sodium intake by eating unsalted nuts.

Making the right meat, poultry and fish choices is hard, so here are some tips for getting the best you can:  Cholesterol is only found in animal source foods, and fatty meats contains lots of low density lipids (LDL), or bad cholesterol.  LDL is a root cause of coronary heart disease risk, so choose lean meats and cut excess fat off before cooking.  Eliminate excess cooked fat by draining during cooking, limiting breading, and using low fat sauces and gravies.  Vary your lean meat choices, while mixing in fish at least twice per week.  Skip the egg yolks, take them out of hard boiled eggs, separate them from cooked eggs or purchase premade egg whites since yolks contain plenty of LDL as well.  Eating lots of fat usually leads to an excess consumption of calories, and that means extra time at the gym to maintain or lose weight.  Be sure to read labels, and know processed meats often contain excess sodium and more fat than raw foods.

After you’ve picked the right foods, you should consume between 5 and 6 ounce equivalents per day in the protein group, and the amount should be increased in proportion with activity.  One ounce of meat, poultry or fish, one egg, one tablespoon of peanut butter, ½ ounce of nuts, ¼ cup cooked beans or ¼ cup cooked peas all count as one ounce equivalents.  When preparing raw protein group foods, be sure to separate raw food from what is already cooked.  Thawing meats, poultry and seafood should occur quickly, in a microwave or by submerging in cool water.  After thawing raw meat or poultry, it should not be washed, but any and all cooking utensils, cutting boards and pans should be cleaned with hot, soapy water between each food item it touches.  A great way to avoid consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry and eggs, which can carry salmonella, E. coli and other nasty food borne illnesses, is to use a meat thermometer.  After cooking, protein group foods should be chilled or frozen promptly.

Vegetarians can get enough protein from non-meat, poultry or seafood choices in this group, but vegetarian diet will be addressed entirely in its own segment.  For more information on the Meat, Poultry, Fish, Eggs, Nuts and Seeds Group, visit http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/protein-foods.html.  Be sure to stay tuned for next week’s segment, A Balanced Diet Part VI: Milk, Yogurt and Cheese!

A Balanced Diet Part IV: Fruits

Whole grains and vegetables for every meal are great, but here’s a good way to add even more variety to your diet: eat fruit!  Fruit is colorful, flavorful and good for you.  The Fruit group is made up of berries (blueberry, raspberry, strawberry), citrus (orange, grapefruit, tangerine), melons (watermelon, honeydew, cantaloupe), tropical (banana, mango, pineapple), stones (cherry, peach, plum) and others (apple, grape, pear).  Eating a healthy amount of fruit per day can reduce the risk of heart disease, help protect against some types of cancer, reduce the risk of diabetes and obesity, lower blood pressure and decrease bone loss.  It is also low in fat and sodium while rich in potassium, dietary fiber, Vitamin C (helping with growth, healing wounds, maintains healthy teeth and gums), folic acid (reduces risk of birth defects and aids in formation of red blood cells), and Vitamin A (an antioxidant).

Fruit is classified as whole or cut fruit or 100% fruit juice that arrives on your plate (or in your glass) fresh, canned, frozen, dried or pureed.  A serving of fruit can be one large apple, one cup of natural applesauce, one cup of 100% fruit juice, one cup of grapes, one large orange, or eight big strawberries.  Two to four servings per day are recommended, the equivalent of one to three cups.  Following these recommendations allow the dietary fiber content of fruit to provide fullness without the high caloric content of many other diet choices.

Half of each plate should contain fruits and vegetables to ensure that all the nutritional value of your meal is to getting into your system.  Eating fruit raw will provide the best benefits since processing or canning can cause nutrients, vitamins and water to be lost.  A good way to get enough fruit is to keep whole fruit on the table or counter.  Pre-cut packages can be kept in the refrigerator with dip or low fat dressing, tossed on top of cereal, mixed in with waffles and pancakes, or stirred up with yogurt.  Make sure to clean fruit under running water and dry before preparing and eating, as well as keeping cleaned fruits away from raw meat, seafood and poultry.

Take an apple to work and keep sliced oranges in the refrigerator and you’ll be ready to get your proper amount of fruit per day!

For more information on the Fruit Group, check out http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/fruit.html, and come back in for our next installment, A Balanced Diet Part V: Meat, Poultry, Beans, Eggs and Nuts.

 

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.