When my family doctor inquired about my eating habits, I told him I ''strive for five'' servings of vegetables and fruits as dietitians and local grocery stores advise, but confessed to eating one doughnut every day from the dozen stored in my freezer. He acted dismayed. I did not know why they were unhealthy. I just enjoyed eating doughnuts.
Every five years the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) in collaboration with the United States Department of Health and Human Services research and publish ''The Dietary Guidelines.'' Released in January 2011 to little fanfare, now available on an Internet search for ''USDA Dietary Guidelines,'' I read all 59 pages. In addition to suggesting healthy eating patterns, for the first time the ''Guidelines'' advise a regular moderate exercise program to promote a healthy lifestyle which together can maintain weight and reduce chronic diseases of diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the heart arteries, obesity, and some cancers.
First lady Michelle Obama has campaigned to reduce the epidemic of childhood obesity. Today, one-third of children and two-thirds of adults are overweight or obese. Forty years ago these percentages were half as high. The new guidelines are represented by a serving plate, ''MyPlate,'' filled with the four food groups - vegetables, fruits, protein and grains - in nearly equal portions. Next to the plate is a circle for dairy products. The challenge for all of us is to fill the plate with nutritious items. A portion, as described in an article in The Post-Journal on Dec. 6, is the amount of food to fill one's palm.
Selected foods recommended by the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines include vegetables in the upper left and fruits below on the left, as well as, left to right, whole grain products, proteins and healthy oils and low fat foods.
Photo by Robert M. Ungerer
Vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, fiber and carbohydrates which are a form of sugar. Fiber is important in the diet to absorb water in the intestines making bowel movements easier and soluble fiber is digested. Carrots, peppers, broccoli, spinach, squash, sweet potatoes and tomatoes are excellent choices.
Fresh and frozen fruits provide fiber, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates, and unlike vegetables, little fat. Apples, berries, oranges, melons and bananas are available all year.
Grains like wheat and oats should be ground whole, including the hull or chaff to make flour or cereal, which retains the vitamins, minerals and fiber. Refined grains have the hull removed creating a smooth, tasty flour but leaving only the carbohydrate. Cakes, pies, doughnuts (oh no) and white breads made from refined grains contain just carbohydrates and calories without the nutrients. Our best choices are whole wheat and grain bread, oatmeal, bran, whole grain cereal, buckwheat, popcorn, whole wheat pasta and bulgur (taboulle) in the Middle East grocery section.
Protein, a familiar nutrient, is needed to grow tissue like muscle. Selections should include skinless chicken to avoid the fat in the skin, seafood like salmon, tilapia, and shrimp and beef and pork with the fat trimmed. Beans such as kidney, pinto, lima and black beans as well as chickpeas (hummus), lentils, black-eyed and split peas are high in protein.
Dairy is an important source of protein, vitamin D, calcium and carbohydrate. Whole milk is loaded with fat, so fat free or 1 percent milk and low fat cheese, yogurt and ice cream are good selections. Sugar added soft drinks provide carbohydrates but have no nutritional value.
Lastly, fats, not a food group, surprisingly are needed to make cell walls in every cell of our body and absorb fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. The desirable fats to use in cooking are liquids or oils at room temperature such as olive oil, canola oil and tub margarine. Walnuts and almonds, as snacks, provide desirable fat. Solid fats like pork, beef, chicken, and butter provide high calories and contribute to hardening of the heart arteries when consumed in large quantities regularly.
Our community contributes to healthy living by providing exercise sites and restaurants and grocery stores offer appropriate food portions at affordable prices. Eating a perfect diet might be tedious. For a healthy lifestyle, one can simply increase the healthy choices and reduce the less nutritious ones. Eating should be a time of relaxation, conversation and fun. I am reluctantly reducing my doughnut habit to one-half per day.