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Good Nutrition for Good Health

Pam Koenig, FNP

EHC Post Date: Fri, Sep 13th, 2013

A recently released national study cited Maine as the 23rd most obese state in the country and the fattest state in New England with nearly 30% of adults identified as obese.  The percentage of adults in Maine needing to lose weight swells to nearly 60% when considering those identified  as overweight.  These numbers do not include the growing number of overweight and obese children in Maine.  At the current rate of increasing girth, half of all Mainers are predicted to be obese by 2030.

One's weight status is determined by calculating the Body Mass Index (BMI) which is a measure of weight relative to height.  An adult is considered overweight by a BMI of 25 or higher, obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher and extreme obesity is defined by a BMI of 40 or above.

Many factors contribute to obesity such as poor dietary choices and eating habits, physical inactivity, family lifestyle, sleeping habits, genetics and certain medications.  Poor diet and sedentary lifestyles are the most impor­tant factors contributing to the obesity and overweight epidemic in this country.  Obesity related illnesses such as diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obstructive sleep apnea, joint and back pain are rapidly rising.  This translates into greater healthcare needs over one's lifetime and a cost crisis for the health care system.

Healthy eating helps to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, promote health, and prevent disease.  Dietary guidelines which provide short- and long-term health benefits are published by the US government.   Dietary Guidelines for Americans is based on food and nutrition research and the 'My Plate' guidelines integrate nutritional needs with dietary recommendations as a healthy way to eat.  A basic understanding of the macronutrients contained in all foods – carbohydrates, proteins and fats – helps individuals make healthy dietary choices.

Carbohydrates provide fuel needed for energy and proper functioning.  Carbohydrate is found in fruits, vegetables, breads, cereals, grains, milk and dairy products, and foods with added sugars (cake, cookies, candy, sugar-sweetened beverages) or thickeners which stabilize foods.   Healthy carbohydrates provide dietary fiber.  Unhealthy carbohydrates contain added sugar which adds calories with few dietary nutrients.  Most obese and overweight Americans consume far too many carbohydrates in the form of too much sugar and refined grains and not enough fiber.

Proteins are the 'building blocks of life' and contain amino acids which help build and preserve body muscle and tissues. Protein is important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy.  It is found in meats, milk, fish, eggs, soy, beans, legumes, nuts and some grains. It is rare for Americans to have inadequate intake of proteins.

There are various types of fats - saturated, trans, monounsaturated, and poly­unsaturated fatty acids. Some fat is found naturally in foods, and many foods have added fat during preparation. Most Americans consume too much saturated and trans fatty acids (hydrogenated oils, solid fats) and not enough unsaturated fatty acids.

Not to be forgotten, alcoholic beverages are a source of calories but provide few nutrients. Alcohol is a top calorie contributor in the diets of many American adults.

Caloric imbalance is a major contributor to obesity and overweight.  When calories consumed equal calories expended a person will maintain the same body weight. Consuming more calories than expended results in weight gain, and consuming fewer calories than expended results in weight loss. Obese and overweight individuals can achieve caloric balance by eating fewer calories and being more physically active. The total number of calories a person needs each day varies depending on a number of factors, includ­ing the person's age, gender, height, weight, and level of physical activity.

To achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, adults should engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week (1/2 hour 5 days per week).  Inactive adults should start slow and gradually increase physical activity over time while decreasing calorie intake to achieve calorie balance and a healthy weight.  All adults should avoid inactivity. Some physical activity is better than none, and adults who participate in any amount of physical activity gain some health benefits.

Tips to improve dietary health include: consume fewer foods containing solid fats and added sugars; replace foods that contain refined grains with whole grains; increase vegetable and fruit servings, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables; consume fat-free or reduced fat dairy foods; eat a variety of proteins including seafood, lean meat/poultry, eggs, beans, soy products and unsalted nuts/seeds.  Alcohol consumption should be limited to 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day.  Finally, choose foods rich in potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets.

It is never too late to adopt a healthy lifestyle.  Adults are role models for their children - good nutrition, healthy food choices, and physical activity will help instill life-long patterns for good health and disease prevention in their children as well as themselves.  Numerous resources and tools to achieve a healthy weight and improve eating patterns are available at http://www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines/ and http://www.choosemyplate.gov/.

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