My Turn: Practical ways to lead a healthy life |

My Turn: Practical ways to lead a healthy life

With the release of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the gap between reality and recommendations may have just gotten a little wider.

For children over two years of age through adulthood, key messages include eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and milk products, and increasing physical activity.

The following are highlights of the recommendations and strategies for implementation.

More fruits and vegetables, the rationale: These foods are excellent sources of nutrients and fiber have low caloric density and contain many components protective against chronic illnesses, such as antioxidants.

Recommendation: Four cups per day (approximately nine servings) are recommended, with an emphasis on choosing a variety of types and colors.

Reality: National survey data indicate average daily intake of fruits and vegetables for children and adults to be about half of these recommended amounts. In practice, fruits and non-starchy vegetables often are absent in children’s diets. Practical advice: Aim for at least one fruit and vegetable at every meal.

More whole grains, rationale: Compared to refined grains, whole grains have more micronutrients and fiber, are digested more slowly, and contain many protective factors.

Recommendation: At least half of the day’s serving should be from whole grains. At least three “ounce-equivalents” (a typical slice of bread is one ounce) are recommended.

Reality: Average intakes for children and adolescents are less than one serving per day.

Practical advice: Find products that list “whole wheat” as the first ingredient on the label. Other examples include oatmeal and brown rice.

Milk products, rationale: Low-fat dairy products are excellent sources of calcium, high-quality protein and other nutrients.

Recommendation: Children 2 to 8 years of age should consume 2 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or equivalent milk products, and children 9 years and older are to consume 3 cups a day.

Reality: Less than 50 percent of adolescent boys and 20 percent of adolescent girls meet these recommended milk intakes. Over the last 50 years, children’s milk intake has declined steadily, while intake of carbonated soft drinks has risen steadily.

Practical advice: Include a 4- to 8-ounce glass of milk with every meal.

Physical Activity, rationale: The report places a strong emphasis on the benefits of vigorous physical activity to promote fitness and reduce risk of excessive weight gain as well as many chronic illnesses.

Recommendation: Children and adolescents are encouraged to engage in 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on most, and preferably all, days of the week.

Reality: Many children fall far short of these activity levels, especially as they enter adolescence.

Practical advice: The recommended activity time does not have to be in consecutive minutes. Children are more likely to be active in multiple bursts of activity throughout the day if they are given opportunities. Encourage outdoor playtime, which is a strong predictor of overall physical activity.- Limit TV and screen time to two hours a day for children over age 2, and keep TVs out of children’s bedrooms.

Implementation: When encouraging health behavior change, a few principles should be kept in mind. First, small changes are less daunting than big ones. Help your family identify changes they can make rather than telling them what to do. The recommendations are goals not absolutes; help your families set some new small goals.

Change takes place over time, not overnight. Children gradually learn healthy lifestyle choices. Repeated exposures are key to acceptance; do not give up when children refuse all things green. Increasing from zero to one serving a day is a big accomplishment.-

Parents and adults are critical role models. Your job is to provide an environment that encourages healthy choices.

Source: Source-Nutrition Perspectives, Department of Nutrition University of California, Davis, Cooperative Extension.-For more information contact Project MANA at 530-582-4079 or 775-298-0008.

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