National Nutrition Month is a time to take stock of what you eat

Now's the time to become smarter consumers of food.

Posted on March 10, 2014 at 7:55 a.m.

March is National Nutrition Month and springtime is a grand time to work at getting back to healthier eating. Sometimes when I am presenting programs I ask questions like, “Why do you eat,” or “Do you know what you should eat?” Surveys show that at least 64 percent of Americans are overweight or obese and unfortunately that number is growing. Many of the experts are debating and thinking that certain kinds of foods are adding on the pounds. Just about all of us know this but the fact is our health greatly depends on moderation in food and exercise. They are the best ways to manage our weight and prevent heart disease and cancer.

A popular question that is being asked is, “What’s making Americans overweight, the fat or the carbohydrates?” There have been many diets that eliminate whole food groups, like carbohydrates. The problem is that when one goes off the diet and returns to old eating habits the weight comes back on. You have read it before and know it: If you want to lose weight and stay healthy, you have to eat fewer calories and exercise more. The idea or practice of simply cutting out whole categories of foods from your eating does not work long term and it is not healthy.

We all need to learn and practice how to choose the healthful fats and carbohydrates. The health experts recommend reducing overall fat intake for heart health and reducing weight. The research shows that some fats, used in moderation, may have health benefits. Highly monounsaturated fats like canola and olive oil are considered to be “heart healthy.”

Similarly, omega-3 fatty acids found in fatty fish, flaxseed, walnuts, canola and soybean oils may help protect against cancer. The questionable fats that some cancer research studies show to be unhealthy are the saturated fats from animal proteins. These would be red meat, whole milk and whole milk products like cheese and butter.

Fat moderation also means that you limit the use of products that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil which contain trans fatty acids. At one time most margarine contained trans fats, but some companies have created versions that do not; you need to read the labels.

Many of us are eating too many refined carbohydrates like white sugar, white rice and processed cereals. These foods raise your insulin levels and in turn encourages you to overeat. Then your body stores the excess fat at the waist and hips.

What we need to eat more of is unrefined carbohydrates such as whole wheat, brown rice and bran cereals. These foods are digested more slowly and contain dietary fiber that solid research evidence shows is linked to lower colon cancer risks.

You also need to eat cancer-fighting vitamins and phytochemicals in fiber-rich foods such as beans, vegetables, fruits and whole grains. You would never want to dismiss these foods because they are carbohydrates and are very good for you. Abandoning fruits and vegetables because they also contain carbohydrates would prove disastrous to your health. A much wiser course is to eat moderate portions of the types of carbohydrates and fats that are good for your long-term health.

Purdue Extension Elkhart County is offering two programs targeted towards healthy eating and cooking.

On Thursday, March 13, join us at the Extension Office for “Smart Cooking.” This free, educational program is being offered at two times: 1 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. If you would like to attend, please call the Extension Office to register at 574-533-0554.

The second program offered by Purdue Extension Elkhart County is a four-week series titled “Dining with Diabetes.” This program is targeted towards those with type II diabetes and their caretakers. This series is being offered Tuesdays on April 8, 15, 22 and 29. Participants are encouraged to attend all four sessions at either the 1 p.m. time or 6:30 p.m. Registration information can be found on our office website at www.ces.purdue.edu/elkhart or by calling the Extension Office at the above mentioned number.

Mary Ann Lienhart Cross is county extension director and an extension educator in health and human sciences at Purdue Extension Elkhart County, 17746 C.R. 34, Suite E, Goshen, IN 46528-6898. You can reach her at 574-533-0554 or lienhart@purdue.edu.


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