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Guidelines For The Perplexed (01/25/2005)

Need a starting point to work on keeping your heart healthy?

Your timing is great. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have just updated the country’s nutritional guidelines aimed at healthy eating for weight loss, general nutrition and healthy hearts.

Need a starting point to work on keeping your heart healthy? Your timing is great. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have just updated the country’s nutritional guidelines aimed at healthy eating for weight loss, general nutrition and healthy hearts.

Susan H. Laramee, a dietitian and president of the American Dietetic Association, says that the new guidelines, which are updated every five years, provide valuable and realistic recommendations, based on the latest scientific research, to help people eat well and stay healthy.

Eating foods that protect your heart — and avoiding those that increase the risk of heart disease — can also help prevent cancer, diabetes and other conditions. This was underscored by a joint statement from the American Heart Association, the American Diabetes Association and American Cancer Society applauding the changes: “The new guidelines are consistent with the recommendations of our own organizations to help Americans lower their risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke through better diets, more physically active lifestyles and improved weight management,” it read.

Here are how the guidelines have changed since the last set was released in 2000:

CALORIES — The older guidelines simply suggested aiming for a healthy weight, based on your body mass index. These guidelines are much more specific, recommending that you balance your calories based on how much exercise you get each day. For example, for moderately active people between the ages of 31 and 50 the recommended calorie level would be 2,000 per day for women and 2,400-2,600 for men.

EXERCISE: The older guidelines recommended being physically active every day for about 30 minutes per day, cumulatively, meaning that you could do the exercise in small chunks to make up the 30 minutes. The new guidelines recommend 30 minutes per day — which can still be made up of shorter spurts of exercise — as the minimum. But then they go farther, recommending an exercise level of 60 minutes to maintain weight and prevent weight gain, and 60 to 90 minutes daily to lose weight.

NUTRITION: The old guidelines recommended making good choices from the food pyramid, especially fruits vegetables and grains. The current guidelines recommend eating foods low in saturated and trans fat, salt, sugar and cholesterol and high in nutrients.

FRUITS AND VEGETABLES: The new guidelines are much more specific about quantity. The older guidelines recommended 3-4 helpings of vegetables and 2-4 helpings of fruit per day. The new ones recommend at least 4.5 cups of fruit and vegetables per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. Adjust for a lower or higher calorie diet.

CARBOHYDRATES: No Atkins supporters here. The older guidelines suggesting moderating sugar intake from foods and drinks, eating a variety of grains and fruits and vegetables. The new guidelines urge Americans to eat whole grains and whole fruits and vegetables that are rich in fiber. In fact, it specifically says Americans should eat these foods “often.” The new guidelines are stricter on sugar intake though, telling Americans to “eat and drink little added sugar or caloric sweeteners.”

FAT: No obscurity here. Older guidelines simply recommended keeping one’s diet low in cholesterol and saturated fat and to moderate total fat consumption. The new guidelines are very specific — no more than 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, no more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day. I also recommends keeping trans fats as low as possible.

SALT: The guideline for this nutrient are very specific. Previously, Americans were recommended to eat and make foods with less salt; now the guidelines are asking us to limit salt about a level teaspoon per day — unless your doctor has advised you to consume even less.

“It’s easier than most people think,” says Keith-Thomas Ayoob, director of Nutrition Services for the Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

What does four and a half cups of fruits and veggies look like? Take two pint-sized containers of soup — think the ones that hold the wonton soup from the Chinese take-out — and fill one with cut up fruits and one with veggies. That’ll be four cups total. Add a small handful of cherry tomatoes or a few baby carrots and you’re there.

As for dairy, an easy way is to change from morning coffee to morning latte. Make it with nonfat or low-fat (1 percent) milk. You’re just replacing the water in the coffee with milk instead. It tastes richer and you’ll still have your coffee. Make lunch another dairy meal with yogurt and a salad or a few slices of cheese in a whole wheat pita stuffed with some veggies. Have another latte or yogurt for the afternoon snack and you’re there.

To add whole grains, switch over to brown rice and whole wheat breads, or whole multi-grain breads. At the very least, when you go for Chinese, ask for brown rice (most restaurants now offer the option, but you’ll have to ask). As for cereal, think Cheerios and oatmeal (even the instant packets are whole-grain oats). And, these changes don’t involve tons of calories. There will still be room left at the end of the day for an ounce of chocolate, for sure!

“Buy a rainbow array of fruits and vegetables, says Debbie Mandel, of Lawrence, L.I., who is a stress management specialist and author of “Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul.” Mandel says to aim for brown foods like brown rice, whole grain cereals and breads and to eat together as a family. “Engage in positive conversation, particularly about food. Manage your stress — many of us overeat when our hearts are empty. Schedule some exercise daily. Ten minutes here and there add up … and, if you eat out, take half home with you for tomorrow.”

And try these tips from Debra Strong, a registered dietician at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans who says we should all eat more veggies, but don’t put the pressure on yourself that everything must be fresh or organic. Frozen vegetables are as nutritious as fresh — and can be much easier to prepare. Dress them up with a little olive oil, Parmesan cheese or light salad dressing, Strong says.

For more activity, you can even break it into different time segments, says Strong — 15 minutes, several times throughout the day. “Walk to a co-worker’s office instead of calling or emailing. Take the stairs. Take a brisk walk in the morning and evening. Get your kids to ride their bikes with you. Try wearing a pedometer to challenge yourself to take more steps each day.” n


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