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Frequently Asked Questions


What is considered "healthy eating?"
Healthy eating is defined by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the US Department of Agriculture. They include these points:

Aim for fitness:
- Aim for a healthy weight
- Be physically active each day

Build a healthy base:
- Let the Food Pyramid guide your food choices
- Choose a variety of grains daily, especially whole grains
- Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables daily
- Keep food safe to eat

Choose sensibly:
- Choose a diet that is low in saturated fat and cholesterol and moderate in total fat
- Choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars
- Choose and prepare foods with less salt
- If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2000 (USDA)

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What are macronutrients? How much of each one do I need?
Protein, fat, carbohydrates and water are considered macronutrients:
Protein is present in meats, poultry, fish, eggs, cheese, milk, legumes. It should make up 15% of your daily caloric intake.
Fat is present in oils, butter, margarine, mayonnaise. It should make up 30 percent or less of your daily caloric intake.
Carbohydrates are present in grains, potatoes, breads, cereals, fruits and vegetables. They should make up 55% or more of your daily caloric intake.

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Should I eat a variety of foods?
Absolutely! By eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid, you can get all the nutrients your body needs. Selecting a variety of foods not only increases the likelihood that you'll get the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need but also adds pleasure to eating by offering new taste experiences.

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What are the benefits of eating at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day?
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, more is better. By eating five servings of fruits and vegetables each day, you'll be helping your body stay healthy. Fruits and vegetables are low in fat and calories and are cholesterol-free. They provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber -- all of which help prevent disease and maintain good health.

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How can food labels help me eat well?
Food labels can help health-conscious consumers compare products and purchase items that offer the nutrition they are looking for. Because health claims on labels have standard meanings, it's easy to compare products and feel confident about the information youíre getting. Here are some common definitions:

- "Fat free"- less than one half gram of fat per serving
- "Low fat"- 3 grams or less fat in a serving
- "Sugar-free"- less than one half gram of sugars per serving

The terms "lite," "reduced," "high," "more" and "rich in" also have universal definitions.

Reading food labels in itself may also have an impact on your food intake. A study in the January 1999 Journal of the American Dietetics Association found that people who read Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods tend to eat up to 6% less fat than those who don't. Even a small reductions are enough to decrease your risk for diet-related chronic conditions such as obesity and cancer.

Should I pay attention to serving sizes and portions?
Yes! Choosing the right serving size is almost more important than what you choose to eat. It's the quantity you eat that racks up the calories. You need to keep your portion sizes in check to meet your nutritional needs.

Also, health claims on food labels are based on a standard serving size, so if your portion is a different size, the fat, calories, sugar and other nutrients will also be different. Here are some standard servings:
Grains
1 slice of bread
1/2 bun, bagel or English muffin (size of a hockey puck)
1/2 cup rice or cooked cereal (equal to a cupcake wrapper)
1/2 cup pasta (an ice cream scoop)
1 small roll, biscuit or muffin

Fruits
1 medium piece (tennis ball size)
1/2 cup (size of a light bulb)
XX cup fruit juice

Vegetables
1 cup of raw leafy vegetables
1/2 cup of other vegetables, cooked or raw

Meat
2-3 ounces cooked meat, fish or poultry (this measures up to a deck of cards)
1 egg or 2 tablespoons peanut butter equals 1 ounce of meat.

Dairy products (milk, yogurt, cheese)
1 cup of milk
1 1/2 ounces natural cheese (1 ounce of cheese is about the size of 4 dice)

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Do I need to eat breakfast every day?
Yes. Breakfast is an important start to your day. Studies of school children show that students have better attention spans and are better able to learn new information when they've eaten breakfast. Also, eating three meals a day can help you stick to your healthy eating goals. It's been found that if you go long periods -- greater than 8 to 12 hours -- without food, your body prepares itself to starve. In this situation, people are physiologically attracted to higher calorie, sugar and fat foods and less able to control the impulse to indulge.

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How much water do I need every day?
Most healthy people need 2 to 2 1/2 liters of fluid per day. And many people don't get enough.

The Nationwide Food Consumption Surveys indicate that a portion of the population may be chronically mildly dehydrated. Factors that may increase the likelihood of dehydration include, poor thirst mechanism, dissatisfaction with the taste of water, common consumption of natural diuretics like caffeine and alcohol, participation in exercise and environmental conditions. Losing as little as 2% body weight from dehydration can result in impaired physiological performance and response.

A good rule of thumb is to try to consume eight 8 oz glasses of water per day to be adequately hydrated. Fruits and vegetables also contain substantial amount of water. In addition, people who are dieting find that drinking plenty of water helps curb appetite.

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Do you recommend a daily multivitamin?
Good food choices can provide the variety and balance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients you need for good health. However, sometimes making healthful selections is a challenge. At times a multivitamin and mineral supplement may be beneficial. A supplement might help if you frequently are not able to eat the recommended number of servings from the food Guide Pyramid, if you are on a very low calorie weight loss diet (though be sure to talk to a doctor before dieting), or if you are a strict vegetarian.

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How important is exercise for overall health?
Very important! Appropriate exercise helps to improve and maintain health in many ways. Exercise is often prescribed as the first line of treatment for many diseases and helps to keep blood pressure and stress under control and reduces your risk of heart disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis. Exercise can improve your mental outlook. And it increases metabolism because, as you exercise, you gain muscle, which uses more calories than fat tissue but takes up less space. Also, your leaner body uses extra energy both while you are exercising and for 24 hours afterwards. Studies have shown that people who lose weight by restricting calorie intake and increasing activity are able to maintain that weight loss longer than those who lose weight by dieting alone.

Energy from exercise comes either from food or body fat. Even if burning body fat is your goal, your muscles still need energy from carbohydrates to get moving, as your body can only store small amounts of carbohydrates. So be sure your body has the carbohydrates it needs for exercise by eating plenty of grain products, legumes, vegetables and fruits.

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If you are under stress, do you need extra vitamins or nutrients?
It is a myth that our bodies use more nutrients when we are under mental or emotional stress. Many people under stress donít eat well, but our bodies do not use any more or less essential nutrients when under stress. This is not say, however, that physiological stress such as surgery, certain disease conditions or infection does not affect nutritional needs. Physiological stress can cause us to require more protein, calories or micronutrients.

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I keep hearing about diets in the news. How can I tell if they're OK or not?
Before starting on a diet, be sure to talk to your health care provider. Also, avoid fad diets or plans that eliminate entire categories of foods. By avoiding groups of foods you may be cheating yourself of important disease fighting nutrients such as antioxidants. "Everything in moderation" are words to eat by!

Finally, if you are looking for sound nutrition advice, contact a registered dietitian (RD).

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Written by:
Lauren M. Hudson, MS, RD, Clinical Manager
Carolyn T. Spencer, RD, CNSD, Clinical Dietitian
Elizabeth Gordon, MS, Dietetic Technician
Last updated on June 7, 2000

 


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