Will Hehemann | School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences
Establishing a healthy eating pattern may be the key factor for improving an individual’s overall health status and reducing disease risk, says Rachel Luckett, Extension specialist-nutrition leader for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff. When adopting the components that make up a healthy eating pattern, Arkansans should be focused on playing the long game in regard to dietary decisions that will improve their health.
“The foods and beverages that individuals consume over the course of a day, week or year amount to an eating pattern,” she said. “More than the individual foods and nutrients we ingest, an eating pattern represents the totality of the products we habitually consume. This broad view of the things we eat over long periods of time directly correlates to our health.”
The concept of healthy eating patterns and their food and nutrient components are at the core of the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Luckett said. Published every five years by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the guidelines help individuals adopt eating habits that promote overall health and help prevent chronic disease.
“As rates of obesity are still high in the U.S., it is clear many Americans are not consuming healthy diets,” she said. “The Dietary Guidelines aim to help Americans understand that every food choice is an opportunity to move toward a healthy eating pattern. Over time, small changes in a person’s day-to-day food choices can amount to a healthy food pattern and improved overall health and resistance to disease.”
Luckett said Arkansans can adopt a healthy eating pattern by following basic principles outlined in the Dietary Guidelines.
When planning to make the changes to their diet and lifestyle, individuals should commit to following a healthy eating pattern indefinitely and through each phase of their life, she said. Healthy eating patterns should be chosen at an appropriate calorie level to help achieve and maintain a healthy body weight, support nutrient intake and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
When choosing the correct foods to eat, Arkansans should remember that transitioning to a healthy eating pattern is a gradual process, Luckett said. Sudden and drastic alterations to a diet might inadvertently lead to an individual giving up completely on a sustained trend of healthier eating. Instead, they can focus on shifting to healthier food and beverage choices over time.
Day by day, start choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages in place of less healthy choices, she said. Select nutritious food options across all food groups in recommended amounts to meet nutrient needs within calorie limits.
“Keep in mind that the transition to preparing healthier, more nutritious food does not have to be boring,” Luckett said. “Consider cultural and personal preferences to make these shifts easier to accomplish and maintain. Shopping for a variety of healthy foods and experimenting with new, healthy recipes can help people stay committed to their improved eating style over a long period of time.”
Luckett said a healthy eating pattern includes a variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups including dark green, red and orange, starchy and legumes; whole fruits; grains, at least half of which are whole grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy products including milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy beverages; a variety of protein foods including seafood, lean meats, eggs, poultry, nuts and seeds and soy products; and oils.
“While eating foods conducive to a healthy eating pattern, it is important to limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake,” she said. “Cut back on foods and beverages higher in these components to amounts that fit within healthy eating patterns.”
Individuals should consume less than 10 percent of calories per day from added sugars or saturated fats. The recommended sodium intake is 1,500 milligrams – about 3/4 a teaspoon – daily for males and females ages 9-50. The maximum recommended level of sodium intake for people ages 2 and up is 2,300 milligrams daily or about one teaspoon of salt. For adults with hypertension or prehypertension, lowering sodium intake to 1,500 milligrams per day can result in better blood pressure reduction.
Adults of legal drinking age who consume alcohol should only do so in moderation, Luckett said. It is recommended that women only consume up to one alcoholic drink per day and men only consumer up to two drinks per day. A drink is equivalent to 2 ounces of alcohol or 1 ounce of distilled liquor, 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of beer.
Another important principle outlined in the Dietary Guidelines is supporting the healthy eating patterns of others around you, she said. Everyone can help extend healthy dietary habits to those in their household, school, workplace or neighborhood. By helping others understand the overall connection between the products they consume and overall health and wellness, individuals can work to create networks of health-conscious people in their communities.
“Adopting a long-term healthy eating pattern can lead to enduring health benefits you will be able to enjoy over the course of your life,” Luckett said. “Just remember, when starting the journey toward healthy eating, focus on the big picture by making small, positive changes over a long period of time.”
To read the complete 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and learn more about healthy eating patterns, visit www.health.gov/dietaryguidelines.
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