Nutrition Column – Step Up to Good Nutrition and Health

"Step Up, America, to Nutrition and Health" is the message that the American Dietetic Association is emphasizing this March during National Nutrition Month. The campaign is designed to reinforce the importance of nutrition and physical activity as important components of good health. This year’s campaign reinforces the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans with the following five key messages.

– The food and physical activity choices you make every day affect your health and how you feel today and in the future. It may sound trite, but you really are what you eat. Even if you are eating plenty of food, if you’re not eating the right kinds of foods to give your body the nutrients it needs to be healthy, you may be losing out on health.

– Make smart choices from every food group. The best diet plan is not one that eliminates whole food groups like grains, but includes a variety of foods from all food groups in moderation. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends following an eating plan that emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products; includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars. This is not a diet you’ll find at the vending machine or even one that will be easy to follow at your favorite fast-food outlet. Rather, it’s one you’ll need to shop for in the produce isle, dairy case and meat counter of your favorite grocery store. And when you do eat out, choose a restaurant that offers steamed, grilled or broiled entrees as well as breaded or fried ones.

– Get the most nutrition for your calories. Each one of us has a "calorie salary." That’s the number of calories you can consume each day without gaining or losing weight. This number varies depending on life stage, size and activity level. The more inactive you are, the fewer calories you have available to spend without gaining weight.

– Find your balance between food and physical activity. Being healthier isn’t just about eating right. It’s also about engaging in physical activity. Regular physical activity can help you feel better and control your body weight. Recognizing that Americans, especially kids, are spending more time than ever in a sitting position, working at their desks, watching television or playing video games, the 2005 update of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans places more emphasis than ever on planned physical activity. For children and teens, at least 60 minutes of physical activity is recommended on most days. For adults, 30 minutes per day of moderately intense physical activity above usual activity is considered baseline; twice this amount (60 minutes per day) is actually recommended to help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy weight gain in adulthood. And for those adults who have lost weight, up to 90 minutes of exercise per day is often needed to sustain weight loss.

– Play it safe with foods. We’re not talking about avoiding food fights, but avoiding foodborn illness. One in four Americans suffers a bout of foodborne illness each year. Most recover with few consequences, but some end up with long-term complications such as arthritis or meningitis. The key words to remember when handling food are clean, separate, cook and chill. Clean not only your hands, but also food preparation surfaces and fresh fruits and vegetables. Separate raw foods from ready-to-eat foods to avoid cross-contamination. Cook to safe internal temperatures, and chill food rapidly after serving.

– 30 –

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