Filed under: Nutrition
In a recent Healthy Tip, we briefly described a notable article in the June 2011 New England Journal of Medicine about long-term weight gain. The 20-year study involved more than 120,000 healthy men and woman of normal weight. All were examined at four-year intervals and were found to have gained an average of almost a pound a year. That doesn’t seem like much—unless you consider that if you’re a fit 160 pounds at age 30, you’ll have put on 20 pounds by age 50. At that point your extra weight may be compounded by diabetes, bad joints, heart disease, and perhaps even cancer—all of which are associated with obesity. So now you’re forced to find ways to lose weight.
Wouldn’t it have been better to maintain a healthy weight all along? Some of the study’s observations regarding food choices and exercise might prove helpful in maintaining your weight as you age.
The study found that some foods were significantly associated with weight gain: potato products such as potato chips and French fries, sugary beverages (sodas, for example), red meat, processed meat products, and refined grains. On the other hand, foods associated with no weight gain were vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt.
Other factors found to be associated with weight were physical activity (increase = no gain in weight); alcohol consumption (increase = weight gain); sleep habits (less than six or more than eight hours per night = weight gain); and TV habits (more TV = weight gain), a correlation that seemed partly due to more snacking (Superbowl, anyone?) and less activity.
A single change in diet or lifestyle had less effect than several together. It makes sense that if you exercise less and eat more foods associated with weight gain, you’ll gain weight more easily than if you exercise less but still eat well.
Why some foods seem to contribute to weight gain more than others is still not fully understood, but it probably has a lot to do with what makes us feel satisfied when we eat. High-calorie food and drink that go down fast and easy and quickly enter our bloodstream may not make us feel full when we consume them, so we tend to eat more of them. High-fiber foods like fruits and vegetables fill us up and are low in calories. Even high-fiber nuts, which tend to have a lot of calories, are associated with no weight gain, perhaps because they satisfy us and keep us from eating candy and cake that do cause weight gain. Yogurt is an interesting case, since there has been a lot of interest lately in probiotics (bacteria felt to contribute positively to our health). Perhaps yogurt changes the bacterial flora in a way that contributes to weight stability and loss.
The reason we discuss this study in more depth is twofold. First, it highlights the fact that Americans have a tendency to gain weight as they get older. Knowing that, we can be vigilant of what we eat and how active we are in order to help prevent this weight gain. Second, it warns us of the most common food offenders to avoid—and those to embrace—and underscores the concept that weight is a balance between the calories we consume (foods and beverages we eat) and the calories we expend (physical activity). Make sure you find the proper balance when you’re young, so you won’t be overweight—and perhaps sick—when you’re older.
The USDA announced on June 2, 2011, that its classic food guide Pyramid is being replaced with the easy-to-understand and interactive MyPlate. Using a “familiar mealtime visual,” MyPlate is intended to remind Americans about balancing meals with the five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, notable changes to the new guide are the inclusion of more fruits and vegetables, less grains, and the re-categorization of oils as providing “essential nutrients” but not appearing on the plate.
The result is a simple visual graphic of a balanced meal that families can use as a tool to make sure the portions of the major food groups are covered in meals. The simplicity of the graphic helps ALL family members, especially children, become more engaged in what and how much they should be eating. An interactive plate on the MyPlate website allows users to click on each section of the plate, which then displays a page for the selected food group with description, key message, and a list with pictures of single-serving sizes of some common foods in that group. These changes allow families to easily identify what a healthy, balanced meal looks like. Also featured is an Interactive Tools section that enables users to develop personalized plans and learn about specific healthy food choices. When all family members know the basics of healthy eating, mealtime can truly be a shared event.
MyPlate can also encourage family discussions about healthy foods, which can help develop good eating habits by all members of a family. For example, you can find out if there are any particular foods that family members like or dislike, and then find and offer alternatives in the specific food group of a disliked item. This will help eliminate the likelihood that someone will skip the essential healthy components of a meal. Get everyone excited and involved during mealtime! Fun meals shared as a family can promote healthy eating habits for children that they can carry into adulthood and can reinforce family bonding.
Keep in mind that MyPlate isn’t designed as strict rule to be followed—it’s perfectly fine to have dairy products directly on the plate instead of in a cup. Desserts, which are currently placed in the “Empty Calories” section, are okay when consumed in moderation in appropriate portions. You may still have to seek out other sources for how to prepare foods in healthy ways and to determine for the nutrition content of many food items. The information on MyPlate should be used as a tool to build a foundation of knowledge about food choices and help set healthy eating goals for your family. Families should take this change as an opportunity to get the entire family involved in healthy eating.
Fruits & Veggies — More Matters™ is a health initiative led by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH), to increase daily consumption of fruits and vegetables. Visit the CDC and PBH websites for helpful tips, recipes, and interactive tools to help you increase your intake of fruits and vegetables.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released MyPlate as the new Dietary Guidance graphic. MyPlate replaces the Food Guide Pyramid and is split into five sections for fruit, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein. The new recommendations focus on the importance of eating fruits and vegetables (half a “plate”). Go to www.ChooseMyPlate.gov for the new graphic and recommendations. For the USDA press release issued about MyPlate,
The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) new cooking guidelines for meats include a reduced “safe” cooking temperature for whole cuts of pork to 145ºF (down from 160ºF). They recommend using a food thermometer and allowing a three-minute rest time before serving. For whole cuts of beef, veal, and lamb, the safe temperature is the same—145ºF—but the new guidelines add a three-minute rest time after these meats, too, are removed from a heat source. For additional information, including the recommendations for cooking ground meats and poultry, read the new cooking guidelines.
WIC is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children. It provides food, nutrition counseling, and access to health services for low-income women, infants, and children. Eligibility to receive services is based on income, state residency, and “nutrition risk.” WIC is available for military families who qualify based on income. For more information, including eligibility and program services, see the Nutrition Program Facts.
Childhood obesity has become a significant health problem, putting children and adolescents at risk for developing asthma, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, as well as other serious health risks. The American Academy of Pediatrics website has a parenting corner, helpful links, and resources on this topic. See their “Overweight and Obesity” section.
Soldier 360° is a resilience program being implemented by the Army for Warfighters who have combat experience and their families. In fact, Warfighters take the second half of the two-week class with their spouses, while childcare is provided for those who need it. It’s aimed at non-commissioned officers who are nominated by their commanders. The course provides Warfighters with information and strategies on stress management, anger management, relaxation, health, communication, conflict resolution, nutrition, sleep, combat stress, and management of non-optimal behaviors. It also teaches physical fitness, yoga, meditation, conditioning, injury prevention, and pain management. The program combines financial counseling with Military and Family Life Consultant Program counselors, acupuncturists, physicians, and a myriad of others. Read another article from Army.mil for more information.
Vitamin B12 is one of the eight B vitamins and is water-soluble. Our bodies do not store vitamin B12 so we must consume it daily. It is an important nutrient that helps make DNA, the genetic material in cells, and is essential for normal functioning of the brain and nervous system. Good food choices for vitamin B12 are beef liver, clams, fish, meat, poultry, eggs, and other dairy products. Read the Office of Dietary Supplement’s Vitamin B12 Fact Sheet for additional information.
The marketing and selling of dietary supplement products has become a 20-billion-plus industry. Consumers are bombarded with ads, and some people turn to them as “healthier” choices to prescription and over-the-counter medications. Consumers should seek products that have been properly manufactured and should be aware of potential interactions with medications. For other important tips, read the article “Prepared Patient: Vitamins & Supplements, Before You Dive In”.