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Perfect diet: tailoring lifestyle habits to fit needs

by Tiffany Ricci
Dietetic Intern
The days when research keeps reporting conflicting results of what to eat and what to avoid, it’s difficult to decipher what exactly is healthy.   Complex carb, no-carb, low-fat, no-fat, trans-fat-free, antioxidants, phyto-chemicals, low-glycemic index, Atkins, South Beach—it’s all too much to digest.
Let’s take the confusion out of good nutrition and use a little common sense.   A healthy diet is what we’re basically looking for, right? But what is a healthy diet? What does that mean? Though I can’t give you an exact meal-by-meal, calorie-for-calorie breakdown of your individual needs, I can help ease the stress of planning a healthy diet.
Six diet planning principles should be followed when tailoring a diet to your needs. And there’s an acronym to help you remember: ABCD-MV.

Adequacy: Is your diet adequately meeting your needs? Consider vitamins, minerals, and hydration; are you adequately nourished? Enough calories, but not too much? Your calorie needs depend on your basal energy expenditure (how many calories you need to survive) and physical activity level. A registered dietitian can help you find your  number.

Balance: Caloric intake and physical activity (PA) are positively correlated (research talk for closely linked). If your PA goes up, so should caloric intake. If caloric intake increases, you should balance it out with PA. Balance is also important in the types of foods you are eating. Too much of any one nutrient will throw off the others. A good balance of carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water will lead to better overall nutrition.

Calorie control: Portion control is essential to calorie control. Consider measuring out your food according to the food label serving size for a week. Are you eating too much cereal? Not enough vegetables with supper? Just exactly how big is that steak on the grill? This habit can be difficult to develop since Americans tend to over-portion everything. We want value, right? But, before you try to eat the $15 you spent on the buffet, consider the cost to your waistline and health. Portion control can help your health.

Nutrient density: When choosing foods, choose the most nutrient-dense foods; the ones that give you more bang for your calorie buck. Consume foods that provide vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fiber instead of empty-calorie foods that tend to provide ample amounts of sugar and fat. Between a Big-Mac and a grilled chicken salad with nuts, fruit, veggies, and a bit of balsamic vinaigrette, which one provides a higher density of nutrients? Your best bet would be the chicken salad.

Moderation: You’ve heard this one before: Everything in moderation. It makes sense. Forget deprivation. Enjoy your cravings with modesty. Just a bite of chocolate instead of a large candy bar. A handful of pretzels, not the entire bag.

Variety: Another cliché—variety is the spice of life — and the diet too. Expose your palate to new spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits, and pastas. The options are endless. A variety of color, texture, and tastes will enhance your diet and broaden your healthy options.

Use these guidelines to form your diet. With a healthy nutrition base and some physical activity every  day, you are on your way to better health.
So when you find those complicated, conflicting research reports at the forefront, remember ABCD-MV and find comfort in the sound diet-planning principles.

Friday, Jan. 9, 2009

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