April 01, 2008
Registered Dietitian, Health Education
Now is the perfect time to make sure you are meeting your nutritional needs for optimum health. Nutrition is actually the relationship between your diet and your health. If your diet is deficient in some nutrients, problems with chronic disease may arise, such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer and osteoporosis. Your diet, the foods you eat, should actually contain all the nutrients needed to maintain health. And, the more nutrient rich your food is your chances of better health and reduction of chronic disease will increase. So what nutrients do you need, what do they do, and how do you obtain them?
The best way to make sure that your diet is nutrient rich is to compare it to the Food Guide Pyramid. Every meal should contain a variety of foods from each food group. The food groups include: grains, vegetables, fruit, milk, meat and beans. Each of the food groups provides your body the many vitamins and minerals needed to maintain health. It is also important to point out that your food choices should be nutrient dense foods versus foods that offer calories but no nutrition. Nutrient dense foods (nutrient rich) provide substantial amounts of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients along with them being low in calories. Now lets turn our attention to what each food group actually provides for your body.
Grain Group: Includes any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, and barley. The grain group is divided into whole grains such as whole wheat bread and enriched refined grains such as white bread. Your diet should provide grains mostly from whole grains. The grain group provides B vitamins and fiber. Whole grains may reduce the risk of heart disease and some cancers and also help with weight management.
Vegetable Group: This group includes any vegetable whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Also, 100% vegetable juice is included in this group. Vegetables provide potassium, folate, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin E and fiber. They may help to reduce risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Fruit Group: Any fruit, fresh, frozen, canned, dried or 100% fruit juice is found in the fruit group. Fruits provide potassium, folate, vitamin C and fiber which may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Milk Group: Milk, yogurt and cheese are in this group. Also, milk based desserts such as ice cream, frozen yogurt and pudding made with milk are included. Milk, cheese, and yogurt provide calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein. These nutrients help build and maintain bone mass which may reduce risk of osteoporosis. Potassium helps regulate the body's fluid balance and maintains a healthy blood pressure. Make sure these foods are low in fat.
Meat and Beans Group: Includes meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds. This group provides protein, B vitamins, iron and zinc which boost the immune system, build and repair muscle, and help your brain function. The vitamin E and potassium provided helps maintain a healthy heart. When choosing from this group make sure you go for the lean protein.
Now, knowing that the foods you eat provide your body with nutrients to maintain or achieve optimal health, why would you put anything less in your body? So from this day forward think about whether or not your foods are nutrient rich and low calories versus high calorie and low in nutrients. Make every calorie count towards your overall health at every meal with:
- Brightly-colored fruits
- Vibrant-colored vegetables
- Whole, fortified and fiber-rich grain foods
- Fat-free and lowfat milk, cheese and yogurt
- Lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, beans and nuts