The word diet has come to mean in common parlance, the act of deprivation. It is used as a verb. Usually the word is used in the context of removing some of those pounds and adipose tissue that one has accumulated over time and that do nothing to improve one's looks, stamina or general health. Going on a diet is usually a short-lived decision to try and reduce unwanted weight and usually involves the latest fad with foods.
Diet actually has another meaning, it is the noun which describes what we eat. One of my fellow physicians often says "we are what we eat" and there is truth to that. In remaining health and fit we have to pay attention to our diet - that is, what we eat every meal. There recommendations that we have all heard about from the first time we can remember our parents directions at the dinner table to the constant bombardment in the media. The facts are that what our parents told us is true: "eat a balanced diet."
What is a Balanced Diet?
As the name implies, a balanced diet includes eating foods from a variety of "groups" which when properly combined are nutritious, healthy and appropriate for almost all people, especially older ones. The food groups are: Grains (breads, cereal, rice, and pasta), Vegetables, Fruits, Dairy, Meats (Animal and fish), and Fats, Oils, and Sweets. The table shows the recommended servings of these groups. The United States Department of Agriculture suggests that consumption of these groups be thought of as a pyramid with the grains serving as the base which means we should base our diet on the grains and top it with fats, oils and sweets which we should eat only sparingly. The other groups are sprinkled in to make the final balance.
What are Servings?
Servings are appropriate portions of each food. Moderation is always the byword, and the recommended servings are given with three major goals: 1) provide caloric requirement for active people, 2) accomplish required nutrition and 3) promote overall health of the mind and body. Examples of desirable servings are: Grains - 1 slice of bread, 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta, 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, 1 ounce of ready-to-eat cereal; Fruits - 1 piece of fruit, 1 melon wedge, 3/4 cup fruit juice, 1/2 cup canned fruit, 1/4 cup dried fruit; Vegetables - 1/2 cup of chopped raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables; Dairy - 1 cup of low-fat or skim milk or yogurt, 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese (low fat); Meats - 2.5 to 3 ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry, or fish (a slice of cooked, lean meat or poultry about 1/4inche weights about 2 ounces) and Fats, Oils, and Sweets - the less you eat of these the better - they add calories and saturated fats which are unhealthy (oils from vegetables and olives is healthful).
There is abundant evidence that eating a balanced diet provides for present health and prevents future illness. Rather than embarking on the latest fad diet, try the balanced diet approach to maintaining your health: it works and you can stick with it.
Daily* Dietary Requirements
*Eat this amount in three meals to achieve a balanced diet. See text for serving portions.
How Much Should I Eat?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has developed the Food Guide Pyramid to help you make healthy food choices. There are five major food groups. Every day you should try to eat the suggested number of servings from each group. If you can’t do that, at least try to eat something from each group each day. Lower fat choices are best.
Make sure you eat vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain foods.