It's one of the great contradictions of our time: Science has made dramatic advancements in fighting disease, but people don't seem to be much healthier. Infectious diseases have been largely conquered, deficiencies of essential nutrients have dramatically decreased, and the majority of the U.S. population can expect to live a long and productive life. However, these advancements have been counteracted by the way we eat.
"Rates of chronic diseases have increased over the years, many of which are related to poor diet and physical inactivity," said Nicole M. Coppola, registered dietitian nutritionist at Scranton's Geisinger-Community Medical Center. In fact, about half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
"The federal government's new dietary guidelines are based on research that shows that eating healthy and getting regular physical activity can reduce the risk of these chronic diseases throughout your lifespan and help you achieve and maintain good health," Coppola said.
Here are the dietary choices you can start making now to help prevent serious health conditions and live a long, healthy life.
Limit added sugars, saturated fats and sodium
You should consume less than 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugars, less than 10 percent of your calories per day from saturated fats, and consume less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day.
"Consuming added sugars, saturated fats and sodium in excess have all been linked to serious health conditions, including obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease," Coppola said.
Added sugars are just that - added to foods, not the sugar that is naturally occurring in fruit.
"If you have an average 2,000-calorie per day diet, that means only 200 calories can come from added sugars - that adds up to 12 teaspoons of sugar, or a can of regular soda or a fun-sized candy bar," Coppola said.
Processed foods and beverages other than water tend to be high in added sugars, saturated fats and sodium.
"It's not enough to watch the amount of calories you consume each day, it's essential to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages across all food groups within your daily calories limits," Coppola said. "These foods should replace less healthy choices."
Follow a healthy eating pattern
Every food and beverage choice matters, no matter your age.
"Following a healthy pattern of eating within an appropriate calorie level will help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight, ensure you're getting all of the nutrients your body needs and reduce the risk of chronic diseases," Coppola said.
A healthy pattern of eating consists of:
- A variety of vegetables, including dark green, red, orange, legumes, starchy and other subgroups of vegetables
- Grains, with at least half being whole grains
- A variety of proteins, such as poultry, seafood, lean red meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, soy products, and legumes
- Low-fat or fat-free dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy beverages