Improve what you eat and focus on being active: Two simple ideas from the latest edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the science-based advice that helps all of us make choices that add up to better nutrition and lifelong well-being. As a mom and a pediatrician, I know that good nutrition begins with a commitment to healthier choices.
Much of our health is tied to what we eat. By refining what we eat and spending a little more time exercising, many of us can reduce our risk of diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, some cancers and obesity. Sound good? Yes. Sound simple? It can be.
Here are my top three suggestions to successfully implement the guidelines:
- Build Your Best Plate. Fill up on nutrient-dense foods first – like low-fat or fat-free dairy, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, a variety of proteins and healthy fats and oils. These foods provide nutrients you need without too many calories. A glass of milk is a powerhouse example. With just 80 calories, it provides nine essential nutrients, including three of the four nutrients that most Americans don’t get enough of – calcium, vitamin D and vitamin A. Not sure how to start? The new guidelines can help you develop eating patterns you can maintain over a lifetime. Filling up on nutrient-dense foods first helps curb cravings for sweets, treats or little extras.
- Read Your Labels. Limit foods high in added sugars, solid fats and salt. Pick up a package and read the food label. Here’s what to look for:
- Calories. Excess calories can lead to weight gain. When reviewing the calories, take serving size into account. If you double the servings you eat, you double the calories.
- Added Sugar. There are two types of sugar in your diet: added and natural sugars. Naturally occurring sugars found in fruits (fructose) and milk (lactose) are important parts of healthy eating patterns above. But less than 10% of your calories should be from added sugars. I’d recommend using that added sugar allowance for foods that provide you with a little bit of nutrition, too, like chocolate milk or flavored yogurt.
- Fats. Less than 10% of your calories should be from saturated fats, which are fats that are solid at room temperature – and often linked to heart disease. Start by limiting cakes and fried foods. Choose lean proteins like chicken and fish, and leaner cuts of beef or pork (that have “loin” or “round” in the name). Lastly, switching from whole to 1% milk can save some fat, without sacrificing nutrition.
- Salt. The guidelines recommend that Americans consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day. Start at the store by comparing the sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals. Herbs and spices can be the go-to items for seasoning your food without adding salt.
- Set an Example. Helping your family develop healthy habits starts with being a role model; kids who drink milk have parents who drink milk.
- Set the family table, serve a healthy meal and show your kids that you eat your veggies.
- A great way to get active is to get the family involved. Start small, with activities you like to do. Build your activity over time and you’ll see your health benefits build as well!
- Finally, use SuperTracker, a great tool that helps you plan, track and analyze your healthy eating habits and physical activity.