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A Nutritious New Year: Resolutions From A to Z

Nancy Clark, MS, RD


The arrival of every new year prompts many of us to resolve to eat more wisely. These healthful eating tips can help you feel great, perform well, and invest in your well-being for many new years to come.

A ging can be (in part) the accumulation of a lifetime of poor nutrition and inactivity. You're less likely to become tomorrow's health problem if you eat wisely and enjoy regular physical activity. People who burn 1,500 calories per week with exercise tend to be healthier and live longer.

Breakfast is the most important meal. Active people who eat breakfast not only gain fuel for a high-energy day, but also tend to be wiser in their food choices the rest of the day. Eating cereal at 8 am beats dunking doughnuts 2 hours later.

Cereal is a breakfast of champions. Fiber-rich choicess like bran flakes, oat bran, all-bran, and raisin bran are among the best. A bowlful of cereal with a banana, low-fat milk, and glass of orange juice is an A-plus meal: It's high in carbohydrates, calcium, fiber, and many other nutrients, low in fat, and easy to prepare.

Dinner, not breakfast, should be the focus of any weight-loss plan. If you're dieting you need to eat a substantial breakfast and lunch—then you'll have the energy to enjoy exercise, and at dinnertime you'll be better able to act on the resolution "I'd rather be thinner than eat more." A modest dinner creates the calorie deficit needed for weight loss.

Eat before you get too hungry! Otherwise, you'll crave sweets and will likely succumb to poor choices.

Fat-free foods in excess are fattening. Small amounts of fat can help balance your diet, satisfy hunger, and reduce your desire to eat too much frozen yogurt or jelly beans.

Good nutrition starts at the supermarket. Post a shopping list where family members can easily add to it. Then use it! Shop when you are well fed—otherwise, too many treats may jump into the shopping cart.

Honor your hunger—it's your body's request for fuel—and stop eating when you're content. You'll maintain an appropriate weight, and you'll have lots of energy.

Ice cream is a popular treat, but it tends to be high in calories and fat. Try low-fat frozen yogurt or light ice cream, or check the labels on non-premium ice creams.

Junk food, in moderation, can fit into your diet after you have eaten wholesome meals. There's little wrong with enjoying a small brownie after a healthful lunch. Ten percent of a healthy, active person's calories (or about 180 to 250) can appropriately come from refined sugar, and 20% to 30% (or about 360 to 750) can come from fat.

Keep to a regular eating schedule, and don't put off eating until later if you're hungry. Active people tend to get hungry at least every 4 hours, so pace your meals and afternoon snack accordingly. If you go for an extended period without eating, you'll not only lack energy for exercise, but you'll probably overcompensate with a huge dinner.

L entils, kidney beans, dried peas, and other types of beans (as in chili or split pea soup) are excellent sources of protein and carbohydrate. These foods are digested slowly for a steady release of energy that can enhance stamina.

M eats have about as much cholesterol as chicken and fish. The saturated fat in red meat—not the cholesterol—is the major health culprit. Because red meats are an excellent source not only of protein but also of iron and zinc, eating two to four lean-meat meals per week can be a healthful addition to a sports diet.

N ibble on your favorite foods—you don't need to eliminate them completely even if they're high in fat. Excluding foods from your diet because you think they're "bad" or fattening easily leads to binge eating. For example, it's far better to enjoy 5 chips every day than to gobble 500 chips at a party.

O ranges, grapefruit, and other citrus fruits are among the best fruits. They're rich in vitamin C and potassium. Eat citrus fruit daily, drink citrus juices, or both. A 6-ounce glass of orange juice provides 100% of the daily value for vitamin C (60 mg).

Potatoes offer more nutritional value than rice or plain pasta. By baking several, you can enjoy the extras with breakfast, lunch, or even postworkout snacks. Be sure to eat the skin; most of the vitamin C is stored right underneath it!

Q uick meals should include wholesome foods from at least three food groups. Some examples: cereal, milk, and a banana; bagel, peanut butter, and yogurt; crackers, low-fat cheese, and an apple; spaghetti, tomato sauce, and ground turkey; a baked potato, low-fat cottage cheese, and salsa. In contrast, a single-food meal lacks the variety of nutrients needed for optimal health.

R eal" foods in small portions may be better choices than fat-free cheeses and other fat-free products that bore your taste buds. Given that 20% to 30% of your calories can come from fat (at least 40 to 80 grams of fat per day for most active people), you can budget a little fat into each meal—preferably healthful fats such as olive oil or nuts.

S upplements are meant to supplement healthy eating, not compensate for poor eating habits. For example, a calcium pill cannot replace milk, yogurt, or other calcium-rich foods in your diet. Trust food first, then take a supplement if necessary.

Tofu (soybean curd) may reduce cholesterol and the risk of both heart disease and cancer. Add tofu cubes to soups, casseroles, and pasta dishes. Tofu is sold in the produce section of the grocery store.

Use it or lose it—that's the rule for muscle strength. Unless you want to become frail and lose your independence, you should strength-train all your life. Muscles boost your metabolism, making it possible either to eat more calories (and take in more healthful nutrients) or to lose fat.

Vegetables are the best source of "all natural" vitamins. Colorful veggies such as broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, peppers, and tomatoes are vitamin powerhouses. The deeper and darker the color, the richer the nutritional value.

Water can come plain from a glass, but it's also in oranges, soups, yogurt, salads, and many other foods. You are taking in enough water if you urinate every 2 to 4 hours. Dark, strong-smelling urine is a sign of dehydration; pale yellow is best.

X-tra vitamin E may protect against heart disease and cancer. Because people cannot easily get enough vitamin E in common foods, a supplement of 200 to 400 international units (IUs) per day is unlikely to harm you, and it may be a wise health investment.

Yes, you can take time to eat well. Many active people, particularly those who are weight conscious, inappropriately live by the motto, "I'm too busy too eat, and food is fattening anyway." Not only is food essential for fuel, but good food is one of life's pleasures.

Zippy and zingy. That's how you'll feel in 1998 when you eat well. Bon appetit!

Remember, you, your physician, and your nutritionist need to work together to discuss nutrition concerns. The above information is not intended as a substitute for appropriate medical treatment.

Ms Clark is director of Nutrition Services at SportsMedicine Brookline in the Boston area. She is a fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, a fellow of the American Dietetic Association, and a member of its practice group, Sports and Cardiovascular Nutritionists (SCAN).

Illustration: Mary Schill; Photos: © 1998. Photodisc




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