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Steps to a healthier you in 2009

January 14, 2009|By LYNN LITTLE

MyPyramid: Steps to a Healthier You is a food guidance system reflecting the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. See it at www.mypyramid.gov.

MyPyramid offers personalized eating plans, interactive tools to help you plan and assess your food choices. In addition, MyPyramid provides nutrition and fitness advice to help you make smart choices from every food group; find your balance between food and physical activity; get the most nutrition out of your calories; and stay within your daily calorie needs.

MyPyramid shows that most of your daily calories should come from the grain group (the widest band), followed by vegetables, milk, fruit, meat and beans, and oils.

Basic recommendations from MyPyramid include:

o Make half your grains whole

o Vary your veggies

o Focus on fruits

o Eat calcium-rich foods

o Go lean with protein

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel - bran, germ and endosperm. This group includes whole-wheat flour, bulgur, oatmeal and brown rice. Grains provide B vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

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Vegetables are cholesterol-free, and most are low in fat and calories. They provide fiber, potassium and vitamins A, E and C and folate, a B vitamin.

Fruits provide some of the same nutrients as vegetables and some grain products. But certain fruits and vegetables contain phytochemicals, which help protect the body against heart disease and certain cancers.

Calcium, provided by dairy products and some green leafy vegetables, helps build bones and teeth and maintains bone mass. Vitamin D helps improve the body's absorption of calcium.

Protein foods are a two-edged sword. The body needs protein to repair and maintain itself. But proteins can also be high in saturated fats and cholesterol and can raise the level of LDL cholesterol (so-called "bad" cholesterol). High LDL levels increase the risk of coronary heart disease. So proteins should be lean or low in fat.

Use MyPyramid (found at www.mypyramid.gov) as a guide to choosing food and activities. Refer to MyPyramid regularly, and select foods from each group to meet your nutritional needs. Gradually improve your food choices and your physical activity levels. Start with small goals and add new ones as you progress.

Bottom line: Stay within your daily calorie needs, and plan physical activity for 30 minutes most days of the week.

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

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