Take the stairs, and load up on the fruits and vegetables.
Plenty of whole grains and low-fat or fat-free milk won't hurt, either, according to the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans released last week by a joint committee from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The recommendations, which are revised every five years, mirror growing nutritional research, said Rebecca Seifried, the president of Augusta District Dietetic Association.
"They (the guidelines) are telling everyone what we've been trying to tell everyone for quite a while now," she said. "The fact that 50 percent of the carbohydrate intake should be whole-grain; eat more fruits and vegetables, maybe not 13 but at least the five to nine we've been talking about; and telling you to watch trans-fat and saturated fat found in snack foods."
The list, which raises the recommended amount of daily fruit servings to two cups and increases the daily vegetable intake to 2 cups, also suggests that many Americans, a lot of whom are calcium-deficient, should include three cups of low-fat or fat-free dairy products each day.
Perhaps the biggest recommendation the guidelines make isn't about food at all, said Christina Pearson, the director of media affairs with the Department of Health and Human Services. There also is mention of working out.
"The most notable thing about this current set of guidelines is their emphasis on life-balance. It really emphasizes both calorie consumption and physical activity," Ms. Pearson said.
In a departure from just urging more healthful foods and balanced meals, the guidelines recommend that adults get at least 30 minutes of "moderate-intensity" physical activity, classified as activity above the usual exertion, each day to not develop chronic disease. It suggests 60 to 90 minutes for those adults hoping to maintain weight, lose weight or sustain weight loss.
Regular physical activity and physical fitness, the report says, make important contributions to health and sense of well-being.
Of course, that's not news, but the mention of such by the committee, which has studied what health improvements are needed among Americans, solidifies the claim that good health is attained by more than just eating right, Ms. Pearson said.
"It really says to be healthy that you have to make the right food choices but you also have to get physically active," she said.
The dietary guidelines, however, are not suggesting that every American join a gym (although that's not being discouraged), Ms. Pearson explained. Instead, the mandate is for most people to get active starting in small ways in order to change sedentary routines.
"These are very achievable goals, such as taking the stairs at work, parking farther away and walking around the block," Ms. Pearson said. "It doesn't have to be aerobics or running or biking."
It also doesn't have to be at the same time.
"If it takes you five minutes to walk up the stairs each morning and five coming down, then you've already got 10 minutes," Ms. Pearson said. "Maybe when you're at home watching TV you can do push-ups during the commercials or take a walk after dinner instead of dessert to get the rest."
The guidelines, not to be confused with the food pyramid, are aimed at policymakers, nutrition educators and health providers who will shape the standards that Americans measure their eating habits against.
In a world of drive-throughs and snack machines, the guidelines, which pave the way for a new food pyramid in a few months, seem far from reality, yet there is hope.
"They are optimistic but realistic," Ms. Seifried said. "We as Americans like the quick fix, but the guidelines are just asking us to look at what we're eating. Your bagel is fine in the morning, but why not try a whole-grain bagel. Replacing that glass of juice with a piece of fruit. An apple you can toss in your bag just as easily. We realize it is a change. But it's something to work toward."
The new dietary guidelines suggest Americans consume a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups. Visit www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines/ for more information:
• Fruits and vegetables: Two cups of fruit and 2 cups of vegetables per day. Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables each week. In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark-green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables and other vegetables).
• Grains: Consume three or more ounce-equivalents of whole-grain products per day, with the rest of the recommended grains coming from enriched or whole-grain products. At least half the grains should come from whole grains.
• Dairy: Consume three cups a day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products.
The new guidelines recommend regular physical activity and reduced sedentary activities to promote health, psychological well-being and a healthful body weight:
• To reduce the risk of chronic disease in adulthood, include at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, above usual activity, at work or home on most days of the week. Activities such as taking the stairs, walking, doing push-ups or sit-ups, using light weights or even jumping rope can help
. • To help manage body weight and prevent gradual, unhealthy weight gain in adulthood include about 60 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity on most days of the week while not exceeding caloric intake requirements.
• To sustain weight loss in adulthood, include at least 60 to 90 minutes of daily moderate-intensity physical activity while not exceeding caloric intake requirements
Consult with a health-care provider before participating in this level of activity.
Little has changed about the foods the dietary guidelines suggest Americans should limit. They include:
• Sodium: Consume less than a teaspoon of salt each day. Choose foods that have low or no sodium.
• Alcohol: Those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages should do so sensibly and in moderation - defined as the consumption of up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.
• Fats and oils: Avoid foods high in saturated or trans-fats, and choose products low in such fats and oils.
Sources: U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Reach Kamille Bostick at (706) 823-3223 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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