by Lisa Ellis
How can you incorporate the recommendations of the Healthy Eating Pyramid into your life? Walter C. Willett, M.D., author of "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" offers the following suggestions.
Watch calories, and get exercise.
Remember that your body turns all excess calories into fat, so if you change your diet be sure to keep the level of calories under control. Exercise helps to prevent many chronic diseases, and builds muscle that helps your body to burn calories more efficiently.
Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats.
Avoid saturated fats such as those in red meat, butter and many dairy products. Cook and bake with vegetable oils such as canola, olive, sunflower and corn oil.
Replace refined grains and potatoes with whole-grain foods.
Try eating whole-grain cereal, hot or cold, for breakfast. When you bake, substitute whole-wheat flour for part of the white flour.
"Almost everybody can buy brown rice instead of white rice and there's very little difference in cost," Dr. Willett says. "Everybody has access to whole-wheat bread instead of white bread, so that's also easy to do. More and more whole-grain pasta is becoming available. Cutting back on potatoes is one of the important things to do." Intact or coarsely ground grains are especially good, and many sandwich breads now include them.
Other whole grains including barley, bulgur, kasha, wheat berries and corn products can add variety to meals and may be available in health-food stores if not grocery stores. "In many communities there are ways to get them but you need to take that extra effort," Dr. Willett says. If you can't find what you want, ask the store manager.
Eat many different kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Make five a day your minimum, and aim higher. Start with fruit at breakfast. Look for deep colors. The most nutrients tend to be in dark-green, leafy vegetables; yellow, orange and red fruits and vegetables; legumes such as beans; and citrus fruits. "Prepare them in a way you enjoy or you won't eat them," Dr. Willett says.
Eat processed tomatoes, such as tomato sauce and paste, because the cancer-fighting component lycopene enters the bloodstream more easily if cooked. Otherwise, fresh is best, so take advantage of what is available in season. "Cost and availability can be a huge problem for low-income groups," Dr. Willett says. "There's no simple solution, but frozen is a good option if you can't buy fresh."
Eat moderate amounts of protein, from a mixture of sources.
Poultry, fish and eggs are better sources than red meat. Nuts, seeds, beans and legumes, including soy products, contain many nutrients and often can substitute for meat. Soybeans, nuts and seeds also provide healthy fats.
Depend on calcium to prevent fractures.
One or two servings a day of low-fat dairy products should be enough for most adults. Beans, many grains, and green, leafy vegetables are good nondairy sources of calcium, and supplements are a cheap, calorie-free alternative. Regular exercise and adequate vitamin D provide more important fracture prevention.
Drink alcohol in moderation.
Certainly, some people should not drink, and excess is bad for everyone. Research shows, however, that alcohol can help to prevent heart disease. A moderate amount is an average of two drinks a day for men or one drink a day for women.