A Little of Everything The Key to Nutrition Is a Diversified Portfolio

Are you concerned about obesity? Have you ever thought of using that emotional energy to do something about good nutrition? Perhaps if you did, the weight would simply take care of itself.

Good nutrition is not about starving yourself or pleasure-free dieting, but about balance and wholesome eating that includes all food groups.

“Research clearly shows that a variety of foods is the key to getting all the necessary nutrients,” said Katherin Tallmadge, a registered dietitian in Washington, D.C. and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA).

It seems good nutrition works like a good investment: a diversified portfolio is the key, and that means “a diet rich in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, fish, nuts, and vegetable oils, and that includes low-fat dairy and lean poultry and meat,” said Tallmadge, also author of the book Diet Simple.

March is National Nutrition Month, a nutrition-education and information campaign, sponsored annually by the ADA, that calls attention to the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.

“Obesity is caused by taking in too many calories, or overnutrition,” explained Tallmadge, “so if people learn a healthy way of eating, they’ll control their weight.”

According to Tallmadge, the research shows that the overweight problem in the U.S. is caused by an imbalance of just 13 calories per day, on average. Really! This extra 13 calories a day causes a weight gain of about a pound a year.

“We know that if people add more vegetables to a meal, they’ll be eating 100 less calories; if you add that to lunch and dinner, you are cutting 200 calories per day. That alone will lead you to a weight loss of 20 pounds in a year,” she said. “If you add physical activity to the mix, certainly the obesity epidemic would become a thing of the past. Just walking an extra 2,000 steps per day would amount to losing 10 pounds in a year.

“We believe in people making small healthy changes they can stick to,” she added, “instead of a total overhaul in diet, only to gain back all those pounds, and then some.”

Ethnic Differences

Racial and ethnic minorities have a higher risk of almost all diet-related diseases compared to whites, including heart disease, high blood pressure, type II diabetes, obesity, and cancer. However, the good news is that the risk can be controlled.

Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables as part of an active lifestyle can help lower the risk for all of these diseases. Yet, African-Americans have the lowest fruit and vegetable consumption among all ethnic groups.

Eating six or more servings of whole-grain foods like brown rice or whole-wheat toast every week is associated with slower buildup of artery-narrowing plaque in women already diagnosed with certain heart conditions, according to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Current USDA guidelines recommend eating at least three servings of whole-grain foods every day, but most of us eat less than a single daily serving. Good sources of whole grains include breakfast cereals made with these grains. Other options include oatmeal, barley, popcorn, whole-grain bread, and bran muffins.

Also, have you heard about ‘good fats’? Recent news about low-fat diets seem to be conflicting. The results of a Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study that involved nearly 50,000 postmenopausal women across the U.S. indicated that eating less fat may lower breast-cancer risk, but has little impact on colon-cancer and heart-disease risk.

“This study shows that just reducing total fat intake does not go far enough to have an impact on heart disease risk. While the participants’ overall change in LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol was small, we saw trends towards greater reductions in cholesterol and heart-disease risk in women eating less saturated and trans fat,” said Dr. Jacques Rossouw, WHI project officer.

The key words? Saturated and trans fat.

“This was not a particularly revolutionary study,” said Tallmadge. “We have known for a very long time that low-fat doesn’t mean much.”

Again, she said, the importance of any element of the diet has to be considered in the context of the whole picture. “Some women who were eating a low-fat diet were not actually having a good overall nutrition, and they might even have eliminated the good fats, which are essential.”

Good fats come from vegetable oils, nuts, fatty fish, and all sources of the essential fatty acid Omega 3. Unhealthy fats include animal fats, and you can avoid them by consuming non-fat or low-fat dairy products and lean meat and poultry.

The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults keep total fat intake between 20{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} and 35{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of calories, and saturated fats less than 10{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of calories, with most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. For people with heart disease or at high risk for heart disease, targets for saturated fats may be further lowered.

Breakfast Is Key

“I always recommend people to eat a big breakfast,” said Tallmadge. “And eat it at home, so you can pick healthier things. When you eat a big breakfast, it will save you from the temptation to grab one of those donuts at the staff meeting.

“Try to get an oat-based cereal,” she added, “because it’s important to diversify your grains. I eat an oat-based cereal, some fruits, nuts, milk, and orange juice. So I’ve got my whole grains, protein, healthy fats, fiber, and protein.”

Soy is a wonderful food, Tallmadge added. “Soy foods are great. The soybean is the only complete protein from a vegetable source, with all the amino acids, similar to meat.” People should also remember that deep-colored foods are the richest in nutrients, and they should choose vegetables often.

This article was prepared by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health.