Nutrition Column – Take Five in ’05 for Your Health

As the holiday festivities wind down and we begin to turn those reflections on the past year into resolutions for the new year, 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 may 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 in the new year.  

Get your 5-a-day! Fruits and vegetables have long been known to provide vitamins, minerals and fiber essential for the normal, everyday functioning of the human body, and they may help lower the risk for some cancers, heart disease and other chronic health problems. In recent years, it’s also 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, bulgar, 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 may help reduce the risk for heart disease and some cancers.  

Catch the catch of the day!  Diets high in fish, especially cold-water fish like 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 may 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.

To health and happiness in the new year!

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by Pat Kendall, R.D., Ph.D., Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension