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Learning to understand the healthy food pyramid

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A Healthy Weight: Tools for Change

If you have been struggling with your weight, you may have developed some poor eating habits. You may have negative ideas about food. Many people classify foods as “good” and “bad” based on their calorie content and, sometimes, their nutrient content. However, individual foods are not “good” or “bad.” Only a person’s diet as a whole can be evaluated as healthy or unhealthy. All kinds of foods can fit into a healthy diet. However, the balance of those foods in the person’s diet is important.

If you are overweight because you overeat and/or get too little exercise, then improving your diet and increasing your activity level may reduce your weight. However, when weight loss is the only goal, failure to maintain weight loss is usually the result.

The goal of treatment programs for people who are overweight should be weight management that helps maintain good health and a stable weight. This includes eating and activity habits that reduce your risk for certain diseases. A good weight-management program is one that you can continue throughout your life. Goals should include:

Establishing enjoyable and regular eating habits.

Establishing sustainable exercise patterns.

Stabilizing your weight.

Reducing your health risks.

To improve your diet and your health, follow the food guide pyramid. The recommendations presented on the food guide pyramid are designed to provide all the nutrients you need and reduce your intake of fat to help prevent disease.

A low-fat diet (25-30 percent of calories from fat) is also helpful in controlling your weight. If you have been eating a very high-fat diet, you may be getting too many calories. Fat is a concentrated source of calories.

Eating regular meals is an important part of a healthy diet.

People who eat regular meals usually plan their meals. Planned meals tend to be more balanced than food grabbed on the run. Learn how to plan meals. Eating three meals a day and planning your snacks can improve your nutrition, especially if you are using the food guide pyramid. Skipping meals makes you more likely to overeat when you get food. It can begin the cycle of deprivation followed by overeating.

Eating a satisfying meal also lets you forget about food until the next meal, instead of thinking about what to eat or not eat.

A low-fat diet helps you control your weight and reduces your risk for disease (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and cancer). Don’t forget, though, that the total calories you eat are still an important part of controlling your weight. However, fat is a concentrated source of calories and it is tasty, making it easy to eat too many calories. Save high-fat food for a special treat.

Use the food guide pyramid as a basis for planning your low-fat diet. The recommended number of servings from each food group stays the same. You just need to make low-fat choices within each food group.

Breads, cereals, pasta, and rice group. Choose whole-grain breads, cold and cooked cereals and grains, pasta (without creamy sauces), hard rolls, low-fat or fat-free crackers. Limit your intake of foods that contain added fats, such as croissants, pastries, granola, commercial muffins, snack crackers, and chips.

Vegetables. Eat plenty of these! They contain little if any fat and lots of nutrients that help protect against heart disease. Try to eat five servings a day.

Fruits. Eat plenty of these! They also contain very little fat and lots of protective nutrients. They make a sweet ending to a meal. Try to eat four servings a day.

Meat and meat alternatives. You need only two servings a day of two to three ounces each. This totals four to six ounces a day. A three-ounce serving is the size and thickness of a deck of cards. For many people, cutting back on meat serving sizes has the biggest impact on their fat intake. Choose lean meats or low-fat meat alternatives.

Milk and milk products. Use only low-fat or fat-free products from this food group.

Fats and oils. Limit fats and oils, including those used in cooking, to five to eight teaspoons a day, depending on your calorie needs. Choose oils that are liquid at room temperature (unsaturated fats), including canola, olive, safflower, sunflower, corn, sesame, soybean, peanut, and cottonseed oils. Avoid oils that have been hydrogenated. Choose margarines that come in a soft tub or squeeze bottle.

Sweets and high-fat snacks. Most of these foods are high in fat and should be limited to occasional use. Some acceptable low-fat foods include angel food cake, fig bars, ginger snaps, sorbet, low-fat frozen yogurt and sherbert, Popsicles, and hard candy.

Remember that these foods still can be quite high in calories, even if they don’t have fat.

Choose fruit instead of sweets as often as you can.

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