September – Whole Grains, Fruits and Veggies Awareness

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As I have said so often in the past, obesity in our country is almost a national health crisis. More than 60% of all adults and one in every three children are either overweight or truly obese. In fact, over the past three decades, childhood obesity rates in our country have tripled. We now lead and nurture a different lifestyle than we once did. For example, many of us walked to school. We went outside afterward and were active jumping rope or playing touch football. Now parents drive their children to school or have them take a bus. With after school activities cut for financial reasons across the country and because almost every home has multiple computers and televisions, our children return home from school to sit in front of the television, surf the net, or play computer games until dinner time. This simply isn’t healthy but is a lifestyle we have created and even grown to accept. So, how do we fight this epidemic of obesity? Well, it may be more simple than we might ever expect and the choices are many.

We think about fruits, vegetables and whole grains when we plan our daily or weekly meals but likely don’t purchase a sufficient quantity of the right foods when we shop. Personally, I prefer fresh produce whenever possible but whether fresh from the market, home-grown, frozen, dried, or canned, the right choices can help keep us and our children healthy and also keep our weight down all year long.

We’ve all seen a typical food pyramid at one time or another. In 2011, My Pyramid was replaced with My Plate which was intended to make recommendations easier to understand. Essentially, the plate is divided into sections comprising fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy.

Fruits can be 100% juice, canned, fresh, frozen, or dried. Generally speaking, 1 cup of fruit or 100% fruit juice or a half cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup. Two cups are the daily recommendation for this category.

Vegetables are actually divided into 5 sub-groups and include those that are dark green such as mustard greens, spinach and broccoli to name a few; beans and peas such as split peas, black beans and lentils; starchy vegetables such as corn, potatoes and green peas; red and orange vegetables such as tomatoes, acorn squash and sweet potatoes; and ‘others’ such as cucumbers, green beans and iceberg lettuce. The amount of vegetables to be consumed depends on a person’s age, gender and level of activity. The average woman should have 2 ½ cups daily up to the age of 51, at which time the recommendation is reduced to 2 cups. The average man should consume 3 cups until the age of 51 and 2 ½ cups thereafter. It is recommended individuals of both sexes vary their vegetable consumption from all five subgroups daily but select from them over the period of a week.

Protein comprises foods made from eggs, nuts, processed soy products, meat, poultry, seafood, and even peas and beans. The recommendation for women between the ages of 31 and 50 is 5 ounces daily. If they are physically active for more than 30 minutes per day, they may be able to consume more and still remain within their needs calorie wise. For men from the ages 31 to 50, 6 ounce equivalents are recommended that drops to 5 ½ ounces once they become 51 or older. Again, those men more active may be allowed more each day.

It is recommended that 8 ounces of seafood be included in a person’s diet each week unless a vegetarian diet is being recognized. In that case, processed soy products, beans and peas should be substituted.

Finally, let’s consider grains, specifically whole wheat flour, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, cracked wheat and brown rice. Most refined grains are enriched, meaning that specific B vitamins are added to the preparation process. While some controversy remains and some people are consuming gluten-free products, it is generally recommended that at least half a person’s grain consumption come from whole grain sources. The USDA’s recommendation in this category is 6 ounce equivalents for women between the ages of 31 and 50 and 5 ounces from age 51 on. For men, the recommendation is 7 ounces between the ages of 31 and 50 and 6 ounces from 51 years of age and up.

This all sounds rather complex but is meant to remind readers that we simply must make healthier choices if we are to protect ourselves from obesity, heart trouble, hypertension, high cholesterol levels, diabetes, and other medical conditions too numerous to mention. We can literally save millions of dollars annually by beginning now to make better choices in our lives that will benefit us all. Even more important than the wasted money is our good health. Join me in sidestepping potential medical issues and expenses. Begin today to shop healthy!

You can learn more about these recommendations at My Plate, Whole Grains Month and Fruits and Veggies – More Matters Month.

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