First, the good news.
The 2015-20 Dietary Guidelines for Americans find that we can reduce our risks of many chronic diseases by eating healthfully during the course of our lives.
The bad news is that everything we eat and drink truly does matter.
For example, moderately active female teenagers or women ages 26 to 50 will maintain a healthy weight by consuming about 2,000 calories per day. After eating the guidelines’ recommended servings of vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, protein foods and oils, there are only about 270 discretionary calories remaining for foods like desserts, sodas, alcohol and chips that are low in nutrients and high in saturated and trans fat, salt and/or sugars. For 4-year-olds, the number of discretionary calories is only about 100. Therefore, giving children candy and other “treats” on a regular basis either replaces healthy foods that their bodies need or makes them fat.
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Instead, we want to provide our children with adequate nutrition to help them grow and learn. For an example of what meets the guidelines, here’s what to feed a moderately active 4-year-old for a day.
Americans need to choose healthier food options, like foods low in sodium, baked instead of fried foods, steamed instead of creamed vegetables and cereals without added sugars.
For beverages: 1 ½ cups non-fat, 1% or soy milk; at most ½ cup of 100% fruit juice, and plenty of water. For breakfast: ½ cup oatmeal with ½ cup of blueberries. For lunch, a burrito made with ¼ cup low-salt refried beans, 1/8 cup grated cheese and 8-inch whole grain tortilla, plus ½ cup raw vegetables. For first snack: 1 cheese stick and seven saltines. For second: celery stick with 1 tablespoon peanut butter and ¼ cup raisins. For dinner: 2 ounces grilled chicken, ½ cup brown rice, ¼ cup broccoli; and salad with ½ cup greens, ¼ cup other vegetables and a tablespoon of dressing. Even with all this food, you can add about 100 additional calories, for a total of 1400 calories per day.
For older children and adults, serve the same types of foods while increasing the helpings proportionately. For more information, go to https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015.
Besides indicating what to eat, the guidelines point out that Americans need to choose healthier food options, like foods low in sodium, baked instead of fried foods, steamed instead of creamed vegetables, and cereals without added sugars. For another example, try the fruit-filled recipe above for dessert instead of ice cream.
As an adult, you may think that you feel fine no matter what you eat. However, eventually your risk of heart disease, stroke, some cancers, obesity and other chronic diseases will correlate to your food choices. Even if your great-aunt lived to be 105, odds are that you won’t be able to eat poorly and live to be as old. But choose to eat healthfully, and you just might.
Chocolate Strawberry Sorbet
Preparation time: 10 minutes. Servings: 4.
2 very ripe peeled and frozen bananas, sliced into ½” wide pieces
1 ½ cups whole small strawberries
1/3 cup pitted dates, or 4 pitted Medjool dates
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 tablespoons non-fat or soy milk
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Place all ingredients into a high-powered blender and blend until smooth but still frozen. Serve immediately with fresh fruit or freeze to serve later. Freeze leftovers.
Nutrition information per serving: 147 calories, 1 gram fat, 6 mg sodium, 516 mg potassium, 38 grams carbohydrates, 26 grams sugars, 5 grams fiber, 2 grams protein, 2 percent Vitamin A, 62 percent Vitamin C, 4 percent calcium, 6 percent iron.