Understanding Nutrition

"Over 78 million U.S. Adults and about 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese."

"Studies show men and women today are eating more calories daily than ever before, averaging 150-300 more per day than in 1971."

Click one of these links to learn more:
What is a healthy diet?
Why is diet important?
How do I change my diet?
Reading Labels
Diet resources

Future Health Videos are a great way
to learn more about this topic

Learn how to approach your diet the right way with a special guide to shopping from Dietician Carrie Taylor at Big Y supermarket.

Watch this 15 minute video segment

What is a healthy diet?

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, a healthy eating plan:
  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
  • Stays within your daily caloric needs
A healthy diet is a balanced diet, or one that gives your body the nutrients it needs from a variety of healthy sources. Every balanced diet, really everything you eat, is made up of calories.
  • Calories are a measurement tool that measures the amount of energy a food provides.
  • Different people have different daily caloric needs. Your age, sex, weight, height and activity level all affect your daily calorie limit and can range from 1200-2000 calories a day for a healthy adult.
  • Empty calories are calories from solid fats or added sugars that provide little to no nutritional value. Many of the foods Americans eat are filled with empty calories.
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Why is diet important?

According to the President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, the typical American eats more than the recommended amount in four categories:
  • calories from solid fats and added sugars;
  • refined grains;
  • sodium;
  • and saturated fat.
Americans also consume far less than the recommended amounts of vegetables, fruits, whole-grains, dairy products and healthy oils. A poor diet has real consequences. Data from the Centers for Disease Control (2009-2010) shows:
  • over 78 million U.S. adults and about 12.5 million children and adolescents are obese. Obesity is defined as having a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater. Click here to find your BMI.
  • By 2030, half of all adults in the U.S. will be obese.
  • Obesity-related illnesses, such as chronic disease, disability and death, is estimated to carry an annual cost of approximately $190 billion (from The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies).
A healthy diet is also your best protection against a range of diseases.
  • The National Alliance for Nutrition & Activity states that over 50% of newly diagnosed cases of diabetes are associated with unhealthy eating and weight.
  • Diets full of added sugars contribute directly to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, liver cirrhosis and dementia (from Journal of American Medical Association).
  • Unhealthy eating and inactivity contribute to 310,000 to 580,000 deaths each year according to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
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How do I change my diet?

"Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants." -Michael Pollan

The first step to changing your diet may be visiting your doctor or dietitian for a personalized eating plan specific to your health, lifestyle and weight management goals. Other simple changes you can make are:
  • Improve the quality of what you eat, such as fresh fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and low fat dairy products.
  • Reduce the quantity of empty calories and stay within your daily calorie limit.
  • Try to mainly shop the perimeter of the grocery store to stock up on healthier fruits, vegetables, proteins and dairy. If you do buy processed foods, choose ones with 5 ingredients or less.
  • Choose to wrap up half of your meal when you eat out. Most restaurant meals far exceed our daily caloric needs.
  • Cook at home more often using fresh, local ingredients.
  • Fill half your plate with colorful vegetables and fruits.
  • Choose whole grain carbohydrates over refined carbohydrates (e.g. whole grain spaghetti vs. regular pasta).
  • Stick to lean proteins like chicken, turkey or fish.
  • Use herbs and spices to add flavor to dishes and to reduce sodium intake.
  • Flavor water or seltzer with fresh fruit, rather than drink sugar laden juices or soft drinks.
  • Track the caloric value of the meals you prepare
A series of small changes can have a big impact on your overall health and well-being. For more information on a balanced diet, go to www.choosemyplate.gov.

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Reading Labels

It is important to read the nutrition labels on any packaged foods you buy. This quick guide can help you get started:
  • Start by looking at the serving size. Remember the nutritional information on the label is for a single serving.
  • Check the total calories per serving to see if it fits in your daily calorie limit.
  • Read the nutrient information. It is divided into two parts; nutrients to limit (fats, carbohydrates, sodium) and nutrients to get enough of (vitamins, calcium, iron). For more information on nutrient labels, go to the FDA.
  • Finally, look at the % Daily Value (DV). This tells you the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving, in terms of the daily recommended amount.
  • Don't forget to read the ingredients list. Try to avoid foods with more than five ingredients, or a long list of ingredients that end in -ose, the chemical name for added sugars.
Click here to learn more about nutrition labels

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Diet resources

Check out the resources and blogs below to learn more about managing your diet.

Learn about a balanced diet and calories
Look up a food's nutrition information
Benefits of shopping at farmers markets
Find your BMI
Cooking tips and ideas for healthy eating

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