Whether you’ve been with RGV.com from the start or you’re a new reader, there are a few things you should know about this particular blogger. I had the pleasure of working alongside the team that launched this site. From the start, our goal has been to create an interactive and user-friendly space to provide the RGV community with the best of local happenings and trends. Though, I’m now dedicated to the study of nutrition and dietetics, I enjoy writing when I can especially on the topic of health and fitness.
My current writing task is to discuss what foods we should avoid and what foods we should eat to be fit and healthy. Well, here’s my time to shine. See, my ultimate goal is to help promote healthy living practices, particularly in Hispanic communities throughout the nation. I thought, rather than write some Buzzfeed-style article on the latest food trends and diets, some of which are completely bogus, I’d incorporate a bit of what I’ve learned in the field of nutrition.
1Don’t Knock It ‘Till You Try It
Let’s not go into those bizarre diets that limit your intake to 500 calories or only let you eat grapefruits and crackers for a month. If your concern is weight management and health inside and out, you don’t have to go any further than the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. You’re probably thinking, “Ugh, the government?” If you’re skeptical of anything the government puts out, trust me, this is not a conspiracy. These guidelines are designed by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Agriculture (USDA) and based on the most current scientific and medical research available. They are required to be updated every five years according to the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act as a way to aid in maintaining the nation’s health. The most recent guidelines were released at the end of 2015, so now is as good a time as any to reform your diet.
Most people are not aware that this resource is available to help them maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. We opt for dangerous methods of weight loss based on the latest trends or recommendations from questionable sources. Calorie restriction diets, fat burning medications with severe side effects, and obscure natural remedies with potential food or drug interactions make tall promises with often dangerous outcomes. In contrast, the information found in the dietary guidelines is relatively instinctual, so you can look and feel good without sacrificing your health and all your favorite foods.
2The 5 Dietary Guidelines
The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans are evidence and research based and are designed to aid Americans in maintaining good health and in reducing the risk of chronic disease throughout the lifespan. The five guidelines are general enough for individuals to make their own healthful choices. They target areas like choosing nutrient-dense foods, maintaining a varied diet with portion control in mind, opting for healthier food choices and beverages, reducing intake of added sugars, sodium, and bad fats, and following a balanced eating pattern for all ages. Key recommendations are also provided for further guidance for those who want specifics on the types and amounts of foods to consume.
3MyPyramid versus MyPlate
To simplify the recommendations from dietary guidelines, diagrams like MyPyramid and MyPlate were made. In previous years, the dietary guidelines focused on individual dietary components rather than dietary intake as a whole. You probably remember MyPyramid posters scattered throughout your school cafeteria as a child. This model isolated food groups (grains, vegetables, fruits, oils, milk, and meats and beans) while promoting a balance between food intake and physical activity. The USDA used the food pyramid as the sole nutrition guide for 19 years prior to the implementation of the latest food model which depicts a pie chart over a plate dividing the five food groups – MyPlate.
The switch to MyPlate was made based on the 2010 dietary guideline changes which stated that finding the optimal balance or proportion of each food group in an individual’s diet is far more important. The current model includes fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy and is designed to represent people’s overall eating pattern in which foods are eaten to complement each other. It’s a great tool to teach your children about portion control and food variety or to help you design your meals. You can buy a MyPlate guide from Amazon, here.
4Foods to Limit or Avoid
We’re all too aware of the obesity epidemic that plagues our South Texas region. So much food on the shelves at grocery stores and the menus of fast food restaurants are filled with added sugars, sodium, and saturated and trans fats. The poor health effects of these food components have only recently gained negative press, and now there is a nation-wide initiative to reshape our eating patterns. Unhealthy food options still permeate our everyday lives. Unhealthy food options still permeate our everyday lives, so it’s up to us to learn how to read nutritional labels and limit our intake of unhealthy foods.
The dietary guidelines recommend:
- Less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day
- Less than 10% of calories from added sugars per day
- Less than 10% of calories from saturated fats per day
- Consume alcohol in moderation
5Foods to Splurge On
Our bodies can be crazy good warriors against environmental pollutants and chronic and acute disease when given the proper weapons for defense. Also, in combination with physical activity recommendations, a diet filled with the right nutritionally dense foods can help us reach and maintain our goal weight. MyPlate suggests at least half of your meal should be from fruit and vegetable sources. Some other key recommendations to follow include:
- Consuming whole fruits and juices without added sugars
- Including more whole grains
- Opting for fat-free or low-fat dairy (milk, yogurt, and cheese)
- Consuming a variety of vegetables of all colors and subgroups (starchy and nonstarchy)
- Choosing a variety of protein and protein alternatives (lean meats, seafood, eggs, legumes, nut, and seeds)
- Using oils with mono- and poly-unsaturated fats
6On the Topic of Diets
How many times have you said you’ll start your diet on Monday? For most of us, that Monday comes and goes and no effort is ever made to change what we eat or when we exercise. We’re bound to fail time and time again because of that dreadful word: diet. Nobody enjoys being on a diet. The term itself feels like a giant “no-no”, a restriction on life so you feel guilty for even thinking about the delicious goodies inside the panaderia you drive by on your way to work every day. The first step in changing your dietary intake pattern is by changing your perception. Choosing to eat a healthy, balanced diet is not really a diet, it’s a lifestyle.
If you eat a breakfast taco or a couple of tamales for lunch, that doesn’t mean your whole diet has gone down the drain and you should give up. For most of us, indulging our cravings in moderation won’t have any long-term effects. The path to a well-balanced lifestyle can take time to complete, but if you focus on making small compromises in your daily food intake and setting realistic goals for weight management, you’ll feel good inside and out.