Changes in dietary plan lead to good health

January 19, 2005|by Lynn Little

January is the month when millions of Americans resolve to get into shape. Gyms and fitness centers are crowded with exercisers - and diet ads flood the media. It's easy to create grandiose resolutions that too often are fleeting. For long-term success, slowly phasing moderate changes into one's current lifestyle might be more beneficial.

Here are five suggestions that can easily be incorporated into your dietary plan and are sure to get you started on the road to good health:

· Get your five-a-day. Fruits and vegetables long have been known to provide vitamins, minerals and fiber essential for the normal, everyday functioning of the human body, and they might help lower the risk for some cancers, heart disease and other chronic health problems. In recent years, it also has been discovered that fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals. While the exact role phytochemicals play in the body is still under investigation, they are thought to aid in the prevention of cancer and heart disease.


· Enjoy a little whole-grain goodness. Whole-grain foods (brown rice, bulgur, oatmeal, quinoa, barley and whole wheat) pack an extra nutrition punch because they are good sources of several vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and dietary fiber, all of which are essential for good health and might help reduce the risk for heart disease and some cancers.

· Catch the catch of the day. Diets high in fish, especially cold-water fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel and whitefish, have been linked to a reduced risk for heart disease, stroke and some cancers. People who eat large amounts of fish tend to have lower blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels. The high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish are believed to be the reason. Omega-3 fatty acids also are being investigated for a possible role in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and depression.

· Bone up on calcium-rich foods. No bones about it, your body needs calcium, and a fair amount of it. Unfortunately, less than half of Americans meet the current recommendations for calcium intake. Calcium has long been known to help prevent the bone-crippling disease osteoporosis, and recent research indicates that it might help reduce the risk for colon cancer and high blood pressure. Most doctors and nutritionists recommend that people look first to food for their calcium because food sources of calcium tend to supply other nutrients such as phosphorus, vitamin D and lactose, which help the body absorb and use calcium. Milk, yogurt and cheese products are our most concentrated sources of calcium. Other sources include dry beans, dark-green leafy vegetables, canned fish with tiny bones, tofu made with calcium sulfate and calcium-fortified orange juice.

· Get moving. Good nutrition and regular physical activity go hand in hand. Research studies have repeatedly demonstrated that regular physical activity helps prevent heart disease, helps control cholesterol levels and diabetes, slows bone loss associated with advancing age, lowers the risk of certain cancers, and helps reduce anxiety and depression. It also helps improve one's appearance by firming up muscles, and is a great stress reliever. As you fill out your calendar for the coming year, be sure to include time for daily exercise.

Study after study has confirmed the benefits of keeping track of the food you eat and the activity you do. That's why every successful weight-management program suggests that you keep a food diary and/or an activity log. Your personal nutrition and fitness record can be simple, or detailed - whatever works for you. The simplest record is to keep track of one or two things on a regular calendar. For example, you could keep track of what you eat for breakfast and the number of minutes you walk. Eating breakfast and 30 minutes of walking per day are habits that help adults and kids maintain healthy weights.

Some people like to keep more detailed food and activity records. Several different formats can be downloaded from the Web, such as from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's Healthy Weight Program at

Sometimes just writing things down helps people eat better. It is also a great way to identify problems areas - and see which habits you need to starting working on first.

Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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