Weight and Obesity
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Healthy Eating

Eight Tips for Eating Well

If you're one of those people who finds the food pyramid too simplistic, you can at least take heart in the fact that simple things are easy to master. That's why, no matter what best-selling diet book or weight-loss guru it comes from, most "eating right" advice tends to sound so similar — and familiar.

These eight steps involved in a healthy nutritional strategy are reassuringly simple, but they will do much to help you establish good lifelong habits and avoid creeping weight gain over the years to come Move meat off the center of your plate Americans have a tendency to turn the food pyramid upside-down, eating more meat and fewer grains than they should. That's a big mistake, according to Kathleen Zelman, a spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association with a private practice in Atlanta. "The bottom of the food guide pyramid is abundant with phytochemicals, antioxidants, and fiber," she explains, "things that fill you up with very little fat and provide all kinds of other health benefits." Know what serving sizes really mean You know you're supposed to eat six to 11 servings of grains a day. But you might not realize that one slice of bread counts as one serving, which means eating one sandwich gives you two servings of grains. Makes putting the food pyramid into practice sound easier — and less fattening — doesn't it? (Also, when you look at food labels and recipes, be sure to pay attention to the number of servings in addition to calorie content and other nutritional information.) Don't obsess over cravings Dietitians believe that there are no such things as good and bad foods, just good and bad diets. "If I crave something, I eat it and get over it instead of spending my whole day thinking about it," says Sheah Rarback, director of nutrition at the University of Miami School of Medicine's Mailman Center. Your lifestyle should be active enough and your diet well-balanced enough to treat yourself every once in a while and not get stuck focusing on one forbidden snack, she adds. Eat breakfast Although it has become a cliche, breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day. When you go to sleep, your metabolism slows down, conserving fuel until morning. If you don't break that nightly fast with a morning meal, your metabolism continues to operate in slow motion, which means you burn fewer calories. "Think of your metabolism as a fire that burns calories," suggests Regan Miller Jones, R.D., assistant food editor at Cooking Light magazine. "If you don't stoke that fire by eating in the morning, it won't start burning again."

Eating breakfast is also a great opportunity to get more fiber (think whole-grain cereal topped with sliced strawberries, or a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with chopped pecans). Fiber will make you feel fuller longer, and can help you avoid the siren song of the office vending machine come coffee-break time. Stay away from sugary items — like sweet rolls and the fruit juice — they'll give you a quick boost, but you'll crash later. Drink moderately — if at all Ethanol, the kind of alcohol found in beer, wine, and liquor, is often used to illustrate the concept of empty calories. Although empty calories provide energy, they don't provide vitamins, minerals, or any other vital dietary components. Drinking alcohol can also lower your inhibitions, causing you to overeat. If you're going to drink alcohol, limit yourself to one drink a day if you're a woman, two if you're a man. Fat is not a foe Fat provides calories (which provide energy) and helps your body absorb vitamins A, D, E, and K. Fat also helps you feel full, which explains how you can end up eating even more calories when you fill up on low-fat, high-carb foods that don't satisfy your hunger the way fat can.

Too much fat, however, is a bad thing, especially if it's saturated fat (the kind found mainly in animal products such as meat, butter, and whole milk) which can raise your cholesterol levels. Aim to keep your total fat intake below 30% of your day's total calories and saturated fat below 10%. And remember, excess calories from any source — whether protein, carbohydrates, alcohol, or fat — can cause weight gain. Snack smart Snacks have a bad reputation they don't deserve. To understand how they're actually good for you, recall the "metabolism as fire" metaphor above. "Think of snacking as throwing another log on the fire," says Jones. "If you let the fire go out, your metabolism slows down because your body thinks it needs to conserve energy." In other words, your body will try to save fuel by burning fewer calories.

In addition to causing your metabolism to smolder, denying yourself a between-meal snack when hunger strikes can actually cause you to overindulge when you finally do settle down to eat. Jones explains: "When you are hungry and you delay feeding yourself, you're setting yourself up for an overeating spell."

However, snacking is controversial; some experts believe reducing or eliminating snacks is essential for some people. Ask your doctor or dietitian for his or her perspective. Liquid calories count, too In addition to counting the calories you eat, be mindful of the calories you drink, including that can of cola you grab before a Monday morning meeting and the sports drink you guzzle after a basketball game. The problem with beverages is they contain little or no fiber and don't make you feel full the way solid foods do. So, unlike when you eat extra calories, when you drink them, you aren't likely to compensate by cutting back elsewhere.

Healthy Eating

Learning to eat healthy is an adventure. And like the best travel adventures, getting there is half the fun. Let yourself discover the variety of delicious and healthy options available, and learn how your choices affect your weight — and your health for the rest of your life.

The articles in this section describe just what's wrong with the old way of dieting, and give you practical, easy-to-follow tips on the best way to eat healthy. You'll learn about popular approaches that are all the rage, and find out how to bring better nutrition home to your family.

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