Question of the Week
January 17, 2005


The new dietary guidelines have been released.

"Aiming straight at the nation's paunch, the U.S. government Wednesday told Americans what nutritionists have been saying for years: Count your calories, get a lot more exercise and make every mouthful pack a nutritional punch. Those three recommendations are the guts of the 2005 revision of dietary guidelines that try to steer a gluttonous nation toward healthier eating habits. The goal is to reduce dangerously bulging waistlines and prevent heart disease, diabetes and some cancers."

"Count your calories, get a lot more exercise and make every mouthful pack a nutritional punch."

"...make every mouthful pack a nutritional punch."

A general guideline is a variety of colors in the food on your plate will equal a variety of nutrients your body needs. The more color the more nutrients. This is just a guideline, and "color" refers to those that grow naturally into the plants you will be eating. "Color" does not mean a bowl of cereal full of marshmallows that include Yellows 5&6, Blue 1, and Red 40.

"Nutrition research shows that colorful vegetables and fruit contain essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, and phytochemicals that your body needs to promote health and help you feel great. Here are the specifics...

".. .Lycopene is found in tomatoes, red and pink grapefruit, watermelon, papaya and guava. Diets rich in lycopene are being studied for their ability to fight heart disease and some cancers.

"... green vegetables ... are rich in the phytochemicals that keep you healthy. For example, the carotenoids lutein and zeaxanthin that are found in spinach, collards, kale and broccoli have antioxidant properties and are being studied for their ability to protect your eyes by keeping your retina strong.

"... Orange vegetables and fruits like sweet potatoes, mangos, carrots, and apricots, contain beta-carotene. This carotenoid is a natural antioxidant that is being studied for its role in enhancing the immune system.

"... Bright yellows have many of the same perks as the orange groups: high in essential vitamins and carotenoids.

"... Blues and purples not only add beautiful shades of tranquility and richness to your plate, they add health-enhancing flavonoids, phytochemicals, and antioxidants.

"...Vegetables from the onion family, which include garlic, chives, scallions, leeks, and any variety of onion, contain the phytochemical allicin. Research is being conducted on Allicin to learn how it may help lower cholesterol and blood pressure and increase the body's ability to fight infections."

Colorful meals make nutritious meals, but how about colorful snacks?

"The vending machine industry, taking heavy criticism as kids and other Americans get fatter, is launching an anti-obesity marketing campaign to improve its image and fend off efforts to remove machines from schools. ... [S]oftware evaluates the nutrition content of food based on calories, fat, sugar, protein, fiber, calcium, iron and vitamins A and C. A snack is assigned a point value, which is translated into a color. Green is 'best choice,' yellow 'choose occasionally' and red 'choose rarely.' For example, a 1.25-ounce package of cinnamon-flavored Teddy Grahams is a 'green' snack, while a package of Grandma‚s Chocolate Chip Big Cookies is a 'red' snack. Critics of the food industry say marketing to children is a major cause of obesity.",1043574

The vending machine industry is fighting to stay in schools. If food is color coded, then it will be easier for children (and adults) to make educated choices about what they are getting. With this in mind, one may think that "Teddy Grahams" is the "best choice" for a snack. While I have no doubt that it may be one of the better choices offered in the vending machine, it is still not the best choice. There are bright orange baby carrots that can be snacked quite easily. A bag of blueberries? A container of cantaloupe? Or, there is always the original red, yellow, or green snack choice:

"New research suggests we can all breathe easier -- literally -- by eating an apple a day. Researchers at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom report that persons eating more than five apples a week -- the proverbial 'apple a day' -- had better lung function and lower risk of respiratory disease such as asthma than non-apple eaters."

As for adding healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks and key elements of meals:

"Remember that any amount is better than none, and always be on the lookout for ways to include more. Focus on lots of different vegetables and fruit, not the amounts."

So, in order to get -- and stay -- healthy, it all comes down to: "...make every mouthful pack a nutritional punch?" What about "Count your calories, get a lot more exercise..."?

For more information about "Count your calories," please visit our Question of the Week (archived from August of 2003) that addresses the topic of Serving Size.

The Questions for that week include:
"When was the last time you checked the serving size on your favorite snack food? How many servings do you usually consume in one sitting? Do the math. What does it mean? How can an awareness of serving size help you to continue to enjoy the food you like with balance and moderation?"

And next week, the Question of the Week will: "...get a lot more exercise..."

For now, one final quote about the new 2005 revision of dietary guidelines.

"... 'The real problem is that they totally focus on personal responsibility and don't say anything about how you change the environment to make it easier to do this -- there's nothing on food marketing, TV ads, or after-school activities and safe places for kids to play,' Nestle added."

Vending machine companies are keeping the red choices in the machines -- but it looks like they may be labeling them to assist you with your choices. The new guidelines are to the point. Eat the right amount, get lots of exercise, and make sure the calories you do choose are packed with the nutrients you body needs. With that said, it is up to people to make choices for themselves.

Questions of the Week:
Why do you think some people are -- while others are not -- willing to take personal responsibility for their own health? Do you think the tools are enough, or do you think tighter regulations need to be in place so that people have less opportunities to make unhealthy choices -- and more opportunities to make healthy ones? How do ads and availability influence the foods (snacks and/or meals) bought by you, your peers, and your family? How can you be responsible for making sure that the calories you do consume are filled with the nutrients your body needs? What are some quick and easy ways to replace some of the unhealthy foods in your diet with nutritious ones?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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