March 16, 2010
10-048

Kate Elliot
Communications Specialist

Got Nutrition?

VALDOSTA -- The Georgia Department of Health reports that 63 percent of Georgians are overweight and less than one in four people eat enough fruits and vegetables each day. The annual cost of obesity in Georgia is estimated at $2.1 billion, which comes to about $250 per Georgian each year.

March is National Nutrition Month, and many dietitians are scratching their heads as to why -- with a surplus of education and low-calorie options -- society is still topping the scales. Dr. Melissa Benton, assistant professor of nursing, heads the nutrition minor at VSU. She said that although obesity continues to plague industrialized nations, she is hopeful that society seems to be replacing its propensity for quick-fix diets with a more holistic and balanced approach to eating.

“Our dietary standards are moving away from ‘low fat’ to ‘healthy fat’ because fats actually seem to be protective of health,” said Benton, who studies how older women can maintain muscle mass through weight training and high-protein diets. “So rather than focusing on eliminating fats (frequently by substituting carbohydrates), it may be better to increase our intake of plant oils, nuts, seeds and fish.”

The American Diabetes Association sponsors the month-long nutrition and education movement titled “Nutrition from the Ground Up.” The campaign, at www.eatright.org/nnm/ , encourages people to make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits. A significant barrier to healthy eating, the association states, is that people do not often understand or recognize the relation between obesity and major health problems. Heart disease, stroke, various forms of cancer and arthritis are among the plethora of health issues tied to unhealthy eating and obesity.

“It’s anybody’s guess as to whether we’re really more aware (of the importance of healthy eating) and just don’t care, or we aren’t any more aware than we were years ago,” Benton said. “We have a lot more information out there, but my impression is that it’s not being used. For example, nutrition labels are required, but either people don’t know how to read them or know but don’t bother.”

Benton and other nutrition experts break down recommendations into three categories:

Physical activity
Set aside at least 30 minutes a day for some type of cardiovascular exercise -- from a brisk walk to riding your bike around the neighborhood. Benton said that being fit is more beneficial than weight loss alone. Physical activity reduces fatigue, activates your immune system, and reduces the risk of chronic health problems like osteoporosis to certain cancers. Being active also increases your mood by releasing endorphins that promote relaxation and reduce tension associated with anxiety and depression.

Check with your doctor before starting an exercise routine, and make sure to find a routine that fits with your lifestyle and interests. From ballroom dancing and swimming to yoga and even belly dancing, there is an activity for everyone.

The American Heart Association offers practical suggestions for daily exercise at home, at work and at play. Check out www.americanheart.org/presenter.jhtml?identifier=2155

Nutrition
A healthy diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It also includes lean meats, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. Small changes in your diet can make a big impact on your nutrition.

Try brown rice or whole-wheat pasta instead of white or sneak wheat germ or barley to soups, stews and casseroles. Keep a bowl of whole fruit and/or vegetables on the table to remind you to incorporate them into your daily diet. Pre-cut fruits and veggies (or keep dried, frozen or canned fruits on hand) for quick snack/meal options. Quick and easy changes can greatly enrich your dietary intake.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture offers user-friendly resources for you to analyze your diet, create personalized meal plans, and learn about healthy eating habits. Read more at www.mypyramid.gov/ .

Weight Management
How can the simple mantra, “take in the same of fewer calories than your expend,” be so difficult for us to practice? Well, it just is with food-centered holidays, emotional eating and gigantic portion sizes. Benton said the first step to healthy weight management is knowing and understanding the significance of your waist circumference and Body Mass Index (BMI) -- an indicator of body fat based on height and weight.

“Health risk increases as BMI increases; but even if your BMI is low, if your waist circumference is too large, then you are at a higher than normal risk of health problems,” Benton said. “Alternately, if your BMI is high and your waist circumference is within normal limits, then you really aren’t at risk.”

When choosing a weight-loss plan, keep in mind that you want to develop lifestyle habits that you can maintain throughout your life. To lose about 1 pound per week, subtract 500 calories each day from the daily amount you intake. To lose about 2 pounds per week, subtract 1000 calories each day.

Calculate your BMI and learn more about healthy weight maintenance at http://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/assessing/bmi/index.html .