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8 Healthy Habits for Weight Loss

by Dennis Thompson Jr.

Medically reviewd by Pat F Bass III, MD, MPH

But if that’s all you do, you may find yourself ultimately regaining the weight you worked so hard to lose. The reason: Weight loss is a matter of lifestyle and, if you don’t adopt the healthy habits necessary to sustain your weight loss, you could backslide into overweight and obesity.

Here are some tips aimed at helping you create a healthy lifestyle that will improve your chances for successful weight loss. They might seem like common sense, but many people committed to losing weight neglect these healthy habits and end up struggling to succeed.

1. Watch Your Portions

Portion control is a key challenge to Americans pursuing weight loss. “The best way to control the calories is to go with portion control,” says Dr. Gerbstadt. Piling food onto your plate can make you feel pressured to eat it all. Start with small portions, and go back for (a little) more if you’re still hungry. Keep in mind that your stomach will grumble early on, until it has shrunk to adapt to the smaller meals you’re now eating.

Portion control is doubly important when eating out. “Most people are catching on to the fact that when you eat out at a restaurant, the calories are two to three times what you really need for that meal,” says Gerbstadt. “You might get a salad and an appetizer and call it a meal, rather than get a salad and an entrée.”

2. Eat Slowly

It takes a little while for your body to realize that you’ve eaten and to stop sending signals of hunger. If you slow down and savor your food, you probably will eat less before your body acknowledges that you’re full.

3. Eat Your Vegetables First

Vegetables contain plenty of fiber and bulk but few calories. By eating them first, you might eat less of any fatty or high-calorie items on your plate.

4. Don’t Skip Meals

Skipping meals sounds like a good idea, but it actually undermines your weight-loss plan. Your body thinks it is being starved and starts building body fat in an attempt to store energy away for later. On top of that, you’re likely to be even hungrier for your next meal and eat far more than you would have otherwise. The best course is to eat three small meals, with two or three small snacks in between.

5. Drink Plenty of Water

Water helps you feel full throughout your day, aiding your weight-loss efforts. Water also provides innumerable health benefits to your skin and your digestive and circulatory systems.

6. Switch to Healthy Snacks

Swap out the high-calorie or high-fat snacks in your diet for healthier alternatives. Fruits, low-fat string cheese, peanut butter, and whole-grain crackers are some good options. Create snacks that combine carbohydrates and proteins, like peanut butter on apple slices, as they will make you feel full longer.

7. Exercise as Often as You Can

Burning calories through physical activity is essential to weight loss. If you don’t burn more calories than you eat, you won’t lose weight. “People think they’re too busy to walk 20 minutes a day or do a little weight training or ride a bike, and then they wonder why they can’t lose weight,” Gerbstadt says. “If you try to diet without exercise, it just takes that much more effort.” Any physical activity, even long walks, will help.

8. Keep a Record

Food diaries are a proven aid to people pursing weight loss. Keep track of what you’ve eaten and how many calories the food contained. If you also keep a record of your exercise, you can compare how many calories you’re burning to how many calories you’re consuming.

Healthy and sustainable weight loss does not occur overnight, despite the promises of fad diets. Losing a pound or two a week is normal, and shows that you are adopting weight-loss habits as a part of your lifestyle.

          Last Updated: 08/04/2009


Weight Loss Duet: Exercise and Dieting

Dieting may get the scale to start moving, but exercise revs your metabolism. Learn why and find out how much exercise is needed.

Medically reviewed by Lindsey Marcellin, MD, MPH

It sounds like a riddle. If one person just cuts calories and someone else just increases the amount of time spent on exercise, who will lose weight first?

The answer: The person who cuts calories will lose weight more quickly, provided they cut out enough calories to get results. But that’s not to say that exercise isn’t an important part of your weight-loss efforts. Although exercise may take longer to show results on the scale, people who exercise burn more calories even when they’re at rest and tend to be able to maintain the weight loss.

Here’s why cutting calories may give you more immediate results, but exercise is vital for long-term success.

Weight Loss: A Short-Term Fix

Experts recommend that you aim to lose one to two pounds a week to reach your weight- loss goal. Because 3,500 calories equals a pound, you need to create a 500-calorie deficit each day — either by eating fewer calories, burning off the calories with exercise, or a combination of both — to lose one pound by the end of one week. People tend to choose dieting over exercise, and that may be because they see quicker weight-loss results. Here’s why:

  • Burning 500 calories a day through exercise can be a challenge for some people. Someone who weighs 170 pounds would have to walk for more than an hour — 67 minutes — at four miles per hour to burn 507 calories.
  • It may be relatively easy to cut 500 calories out of your diet. That’s equal to a large order of French fries at a fast-food restaurant. Or a chocolate-glazed doughnut and a small mocha latte. If you tend to have these types of indulgences every day, simply eliminating them from your diet should enable you lose about a pound a week.

However, dieting alone doesn’t usually help people lose weight and keep it off. When you eat less, your metabolism slows, which means you burn fewer calories throughout the day. Once you begin eating more, it’s easy to put the pounds right back on.

The solution: Keep your metabolism revved up with exercise while you cut calories.

Weight Loss: Long-Term Results

There’s a very important reason to exercise while you’re cutting calories: You could lose muscle if you don’t, says Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, wellness manager for the Lifestyle 180 program at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Ohio. Muscle — which you build by doing both cardiovascular activities, like walking, and strength training, like lifting weights — burns more calories than fat, so it’s important to build muscle as you lose weight.

Perhaps that’s why people who lose weight are better able to keep it off when exercise is part of the weight-loss plan. Among those on the National Weight Control Registry who lost weight and maintained their weight loss for at least one year, the majority — 89 percent — did it through both diet and exercise. Only 10 percent were able to do it through diet alone, and only 1 percent did it with exercise alone.

Weight Loss: How Much Exercise Is Enough?

Kirkpatrick recommends cutting about 250 calories a day from your diet, while burning 250 calories a day through exercise. For the average person, that means walking two and a half to three miles, depending on how much you weigh and how fast you’re moving, Kirkpatrick says.

“I don’t want people to lose sight of how important exercise is,” Kirkpatrick emphasizes. Research shows that getting 30 minutes a day, even if you break it into three exercise sessions that last 10 minutes each, helps you lose weight and gain all of the health benefits of weight loss.

          Last Updated: 08/05/2009


The Truth About Cholesterol

Arthur Agatston, MD: The Truth About Cholesterol

Cardiologist Dr. Arthur Agatston, creator of the South Beach Diet, separates myths from facts about cholesterol.

By Jennifer J Brown, PhD, Everyday Health Staff Writer


Dr Arthur Agatston Photo

High cholesterol is widely recognized as a risk factor for heart disease. What might come as a surprise to many people is that cholesterol is also essential to health — for every cell in the body, and for many of the processes our bodies carry out faithfully and silently each day.

Everyday Health spoke with Arthur Agatston, MD, a cardiologist, Medical Director of Wellness and Prevention for Baptist Health South Florida, and clinical professor of medicine at Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, to help us understand the role of cholesterol in health and disease.

A pioneer in cardiac prevention, Dr. Agatston worked with Warren Janowitz, MD, on development of the Agatston Score (also called the calcium score), a method of screening for coronary calcium as an indicator of atherosclerosis. The score is used at medical centers throughout the world. It is considered by most experts to be the best single predictor of future heart attacks.

Agatston is well known as the author of the best-selling book The South Beach Diet. He has a cardiology practice and research foundation in Miami Beach.

Here’s what he had to say about why cholesterol is so important.

Everyday Health: Why does the human body need cholesterol to stay in good health?

Dr. Agatston: Cholesterol is vital to human health because every cell membrane in the body, including those in the brain, nerves, muscles, skin, liver, intestines, and heart, is made from it. Furthermore, all of the steroid hormones in your body, including the sex and adrenal hormones, are synthesized from cholesterol.

EH: What processes in the body require cholesterol for normal functioning?

Dr. Agatston: As noted above, cholesterol is essential for the formation and maintenance of cell membranes. It helps regulate the fluidity of the membrane, helps the cell resist changes in temperature, and protects and insulates cell nerve fibers.

Cholesterol is also essential for the production of the steroidal sex hormones estrogen and progesterone in women and testosterone in men, and for the production of the adrenal hormones cortisol and aldosterone. Cortisol is involved in regulating blood sugar levels and in immune and inflammatory responses, and adolsterone is important for retaining salt and water in the body.

In addition, cholesterol is involved in the production of bile salts, which are produced by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. Bile salts help in the digestion and absorption of fat and the fat soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K.

On the negative side, a low cholesterol level may affect the metabolism of serotonin, a substance involved in the regulation of mood. Furthermore, if your cholesterol is very low you won’t be able generate sufficient levels of vitamin D from the sun. This problem primarily occurs in those who are malnourished due to chronic disease or famine.

Misconceptions About Healthy Cholesterol Goals

EH: In a healthy person, what are the goal levels of cholesterol in the blood?

Dr. Agatston:Optimal cholesterol — where a person doesn’t develop atherosclerosis (the buildup of plaque that can narrow blood vessels) — is different for every individual. There aren’t precise goal levels that apply to all. Thinking that there are is one of the biggest misconceptions about cholesterol.

Total cholesterol, when considered alone, is a poor predictor of heart disease and heart attack. In fact, studies show that total cholesterol levels among people who’ve had heart attacks are almost the same as those of people who haven’t, and that roughly half of heart attacks occur in people without high cholesterol.

Whether cholesterol gets into your vessel walls depends on many other cardiac risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, and yet to be discovered risk factors we can’t yet measure. A person should not be reassured by particular levels of cholesterol, especially if there is a family history of heart disease and other cardiac risk factors.

Far better tests for determining heart attack risk are imaging of the heart’s carotid arteries when a person is young (late teens or early twenties). Then, when men reach 45 and women 55, getting a CT scan of the heart to determine the person’s calcium score. A calcium score is the measure of the amount of calcium in the walls of your coronary arteries. This number reflects the total amount of atherosclerotic plaque that has built up and indicates how all of your risk factors interact with each other to cause heart disease.

The higher your calcium score for your age, the greater your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

EH: Do these goals change for a person who has cardiovascular disease or diabetes?

Dr. Agatston:There should be no generic goals. In my practice I’ve seen diabetics with total cholesterol less than 200 who still have coronary disease, and then there are those individuals with very high cholesterol who turn out to have squeaky clean arteries. That’s why doctors need to look at each patient individually. Getting a baseline calcium score and then following up every three years is important if your score is initially high. It’s also a way to see if diet, and exercise, and other healthy lifestyle measures, as well as medical therapy (such as statin drugs), are working to reduce risk.

Cholesterol and Diet

EH: Is cholesterol obtained strictly from the diet?

Dr. Agatston:No. The liver makes up to 75 percent of your cholesterol, most of it at night when you’re sleeping and fasting. Studies show that most cholesterol is synthesized when dietary intake is at its lowest. That’s why it is recommended that people take a short-acting statin, like Pravachol (pravastatin) or Mevacor (lovastatin), at night for those who require medical therapy. Longer-acting statins, such as Lipitor and Crestor, work throughout the day and night.

Statin drugs block the enzyme that synthesizes cholesterol in your liver.

EH: Does lowering the amount of cholesterol in the diet always reduce blood levels of cholesterol?

Dr. Agatston:Research has shown that it is saturated fat in the diet (found mainly in red meat and full fat dairy), not necessarily dietary cholesterol, that influences blood cholesterol levels the most, particularly LDL cholesterol. However, in about one-third of individuals, dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol, so it’s important for each individual to discuss food choices with his or her own doctor.

Many patients ask me about giving up eggs and shrimp to lower cholesterol. While it’s true that shrimp and eggs contain a fair amount of dietary cholesterol — 10 large cooked shrimp (about 2 ounces) contain 110 mg and a large egg contains about 184 mg in the yolk — both have virtually no unhealthy saturated fat (unless you cook or serve them with butter or bacon, for example), so eliminating them from your diet is unlikely to affect your blood cholesterol levels.

Heart Attacks and ‘Brain Attacks’

EH: How does high cholesterol increase the risk of stroke?

Dr. Agatston:High cholesterol can contribute to atherosclerosis, and the buildup of plaque, in the carotid arteries, which are found on both sides of the neck and lead to the brain. When a carotid artery is suddenly blocked, due to the rupture of soft plaque and the resulting blood clot, it cuts off blood supply to the brain. This leads to an ischemic stroke.

An ischemic stroke may also be caused by a clot or atherosclerotic debris that has traveled to the brain from the heart or the vessels leading to the brain. An ischemic stroke is very similar to a heart attack, which is why some people refer to this type of stroke as a “brain attack.” Therapies that reduce the risk of soft plaque rupture in the coronary arteries also reduce the risk of soft plaque rupture in the arteries leading to the brain.

EH: What are the ways that high cholesterol raises the chance of heart attack?

Dr. Agatston:The higher a person’s cholesterol, the more likely it is to get into the vessel walls. When there is inflammation or injury to the lining of a vessel wall, LDL cholesterol particles, the major carriers of cholesterol in the blood, burrow through the endothelial barrier — the inner artery lining, which is like a very thin layer of skin — and deposit cholesterol in the plaques that form underneath the endothelium. Rupture of these plaques leads to blood clots and arterial spasm, which can block the arteries leading to your heart, causing a heart attack.

While HDL is known as the good cholesterol because high levels are usually protective, this is not always the case. This is another reason why cardiac prevention must be tailored to the needs of each individual.

I see patients in my practice with high HDL levels (well over 70 mg/dL and some over 100 mg/dL) who prove to have advanced atherosclerosis when further tests are done. Conversely, some patients with very low HDL cholesterol have no atherosclerosis in their arteries.

EH: Does cholesterol play a role in atherosclerosis and heart disease?

Dr. Agatston:When you look at general populations, the higher the cholesterol the more likely it is to get into the vessel walls and cause blockages. As societies, we have much higher cholesterol levels in people living in North America than are found in those living in the countryside of China, for example, and we therefore see far more heart disease overall in this country than there. In other words, when it comes to individuals living in advanced places like North America, Europe, or South America, your cholesterol level is not a good predictor of heart disease.

As I noted above, one individual can have high cholesterol and squeaky clean vessels, while another person may have low cholesterol and advanced atherosclerosis.

EH: What other chronic disease risks are affected by high cholesterol?

Dr. Agatston:In addition to cardiovascular disease and cerebrovascular disease, high cholesterol has been linked to peripheral vascular disease (PAD), which affects the blood vessels outside the heart and brain. In PAD, fatty deposits build up along the artery walls and affect blood circulation, mainly in the arteries leading to the legs and feet. This typically causes intermittent pain, numbness, and/or weakness with exertion.

While high cholesterol does not cause diabetes or high blood pressure, these diseases can affect atherosclerosis. For example, diabetes can lower HDL levels and increase triglycerides and thus accelerate the development of plaque buildup. Because high blood pressure, or hypertension, puts added pressure on the artery walls, over time this extra pressure can damage the arteries. This makes it more likely that cholesterol gets underneath the artery lining and into the wall causing the plaque buildup and consequent narrowing that, in turn, compromises blood flow.

ARTHUR AGATSTON, MD, is the medical director of Wellness and Prevention for Baptist Health South Florida and a clinical professor of medicine at the Florida International University Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine. Creator of the bestselling South Beach Diet series, he has also authored numerous scientific articles and is frequently quoted in the media on diet and health. Dr. Agatston lives and works in Miami Beach.

PHOTO CREDIT: Andrew Duany

          Last Updated: 10/17/2013


5 foods That Help Speed Weight Loss


But fighting off those feelings of hunger could be as simple as a walk to the nearest soup and salad bar for lunch. Here’s how you can make food choices that will keep you feeling full and help prevent the hunger pangs that lead to diet-busting snacks or binges.

Food Strategies For Losing Weight

If you want to feel full all day on less food, focus on these eating strategies:

  • Get enough lean protein and fiber. A study of 22 men who changed the amount of protein in their diets for 18-day periods showed that those who ate the least protein were the most likely to report being hungry. “Protein is the number one thing to help you feel full,” says Emily Banes, RD, clinical dietitian at Houston Northwest Medical Center. “The second thing is fiber.”
  • Eat a rainbow of fruits and vegetables. Researchers tracked the weight-loss success of 71 obese women between 20 and 60 years of age on a low-fat diet. Half of the women were also told to increase their fruit and vegetable intake. At the end of one year, both groups of women had lost weight, but the women who ate the most fruits and veggies reported the greatest weight loss and were less likely to say they felt hungry on any given day. In fact, when the researchers crunched the data, they found that whether the women reported feeling hungry frequently predicted their ability to lose weight. Other studies have shown that changing your eating habits to focus on these water- and fiber-rich foods will help you maintain weight loss for up to six years.
  • Sip soup. Adding two low-calorie soups to your diet every day could stave off hunger pangs and keep you satisfied longer. Choose soups that are broth-based, not cream-based, to reduce the calorie count; also look for soups that are low in sodium. Consider chunky, pureed vegetable soups, as they have been shown to produce the most lasting full feeling. Timing your soup so that you have it before a meal also reduces the amount you eat at that meal by about 20 percent, according to a study of 53 overweight adults.
  • Eat whole grains. A serving of whole grains will stick with you longer than a serving of refined wheat bread or any other refined flour product, for that matter. Most refined flour is white and often bleached.
  • Pick “airy” snacks. If you must snack and you don’t have a piece of fruit or a veggie tray on hand, choose the snack food that has more air in it — think cheese puffs instead of potato chips, rice cakes instead of cookies. You will feel just as full as you would if you ate the same serving size of another snack, but you will consume fewer calories on average.

Another way to fight off hunger is to develop a “low-energy density” eating plan. This means that you can eat a large quantity of foods that do not have a high calorie count. Learning about portion sizes and counting calories is one way to approach this, but you can also try the plate method, which dictates that half your plate be full of veggies, one-quarter dedicated to a starch (preferably whole grain), and one-quarter to a lean protein.

And speaking of plates, it’s worth noting that a study of 45 adults demonstrated that the oft-repeated advice to eat on a smaller plate if you want to feel like you have more food in front of you actually has no effect on the amount you eat at a meal (if you are serving yourself) or your feeling of being full.

So, if you prefer, you can go back to eating on your good china — just make sure to emphasize lean proteins, fruits, and veggies.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Weight Center.

          Last Updated: 04/07/2009


6 New Healthly-Eating Rules(Without the Food Pyramid)

The government is ditching the famous food pyramid for a dinner plate as part of the latest changes to USDA dietary guidelines. Here’s what this means for you.

By Jennifer Abbasi
After nearly two decades, it’s time to say goodbye to the food pyramid. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) unveiled a new symbol — a plate — that replaces the widely recognized (and often criticized) icon that’s been advising American consumers on what to eat since 1992.

Today, First Lady Michelle Obama, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and Surgeon General Regina Benjamin unveiled the new icon: MyPlate, a plate divided into four wedges to represent the basic food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. Next to the plate is a cup standing in for the dairy group. “We’re all bombarded with so many dietary messages that it’s hard to find time to sort through all this information,” Mrs. Obama said in a press conference. “When it comes to eating, what’s more simple than a plate? This is a quick, simple reminder for all of us to be more mindful of the foods that we’re eating.”

“Parents don’t have time to measure 3 ounces of chicken or look up a serving of broccoli or rice,” Mrs. Obama continued. She said parents “have time to take a look at kids’ plates,” which, according to the new guidelines, should contain half fruits and vegetables, along with whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy. She said she plans to start using it immediately with her own daughters.

The new logo is a reminder to help consumers make healthier food choices consistent with the new USDA dietary guidelines, which are updated every five years based on the latest nutrition science and research on eating habits. The plate-shaped logo is one part of a large-scale consumer nutrition initiative by the USDA, that includes an expanded website and other tools and resources. The initiative’s online home will be, which replaces

The pyramid won’t be officially retired, but for the first time it will be targeted only to nutrition educators. “We realize the food pyramid has to exist because it’s so familiar, but it’s too complicated and has too many messages,” says Robert Post, PhD, deputy director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

The latest dietary guidelines, released earlier this year, reflect the nation’s growing obesity epidemic. “They were developed through the filter of having an obese country,” says Dr. Post.

Everyday Health asked Post to explain what else is new about the latest recommendations — and how we can use the rules to eat better, lose weight, and prevent disease.

New Food Rule 1: Eat the Most Nutrient-Dense Foods


Why the change: Americans consume far too many “empty calories” — those that lack good-for-you nutrients like whole grains, lean protein, vitamins, and minerals. “About 260 calories in a 2,000-calorie daily dietcould be from indulgences like cookies or soda,” Post says. But the typical American eats closer to 600 to 800 empty calories a day.

That’s why nutrient density is a major focus of the new food guidelines. Nutrient-dense foods, Post explains, are “foods that in their prepared state that have significantly more nutrients per calorie. They’re how consumers can get the most out of their food.” For example, for the same amount of calories as soda, fat-free or low-fat milk offers calcium, vitamins, minerals, and protein, where soda has none.

What you can do: Fill half your plate at any given meal with vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, which are naturally nutrient dense. Skip add-ons like batters, breading, and butter, and choose sauces and dressings wisely, like vinaigrettes made with healthy olive oil instead of full-fat dressings. Opt for a baked potato instead of French fries, grilled chicken instead of fried, brown rice instead of white rice, and low-fat milk instead of whole milk or soda.

Remember that nutrient-dense doesn’t always mean low-calorie. “There’s a lot to be said for higher-calorie foods with lots of nutrients, such as nuts,” says David Grotto, RD, a dietitian in Illinois and author of 101 Optimal Life Foods. “Research suggests that nuts actually prevent you from over-eating because they help you feel full.” The key is displacing empty calories with nutritious, filling calories.

New Food Rule 2: Eat Fewer Solid Fats and Added Sugars

Why the change: Plain and simple, “there are no nutrients associated with solid fats and added sugars,”Post says. Solid fats include butter, stick margarine, and meat fats. Added sugars are commonly found in packaged goods such as grain-based snacks and desserts, soda, energy drinks, and juice “drinks.”

“Consuming calories from added sugars and solid fats displaces the types of foods that give you beneficial nutrients, like potassium, calcium, fiber, and vitamin D, which Americans don’t get enough of,” he adds. “Eating more empty calories and fewer nutrients can pack on pounds, particularly when we get too little exercise.”

What you can do: Trim fat from meat, remove skin from poultry, and use less table sugar. Watch for sneaky sugar in foods (you’d be surprised how many non-sweet-tasting foods, like ketchup, contain added sugar). Read ingredient lists of packaged foods for tip-off words like corn syrup, sucrose, sugar, honey, syrup, and dextrose. If you spot them in the first few ingredients, avoid the food or eat it less frequently.

Treat desserts, sugar-sweetened sodas, and candy as treats — not as everyday foods. Or rethink your definition of dessert: “A bowl of fruit with an ice cream topping can be as satisfying as a bowl of ice cream with a fruit topping,” Grotto says.

New Food Rule 3: Eat More Seafood

Why the change:Seafood is rich in heart- and brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, which the typical American diet sorely lacks. The new food guidelines recommend consuming at least 8 ounces of fish, shellfish, and other types of seafood every week (the 2005 guidelines did not recommend a specific amount of fish).

In a recent study, people who added two 4-ounce portions of fatty fish a week to their diet had a whopping 10-fold reduction in risk for a fatal heart attack.“That’s a powerful association,” Grotto says.

What you can do: Swap out your usual meat or poultry dinner twice a week for seafood. A 4-ounce serving of fish is smaller than you might think — it looks like a deck of cards. Pick fish that’s high in omega-3s but low in mercury, such as salmon, trout, or herring.

Pregnant women should eat fish too, but it’s especially important to pick low-mercury varieties (in large amounts the heavy metal has been linked to health problems).

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, limit your intake of white tuna (albacore) to 6 ounces per week, and and don’t eat tilefish, shark, swordfish, or king mackerel, which can be high in mercury. If you’re concerned about the mercury content in tuna, use canned salmon instead for your sandwiches or casseroles.

How to get your kids to eat it? Grill salmon burgers instead of hamburgers, puree anchovies or smoked sardines and add to tomato sauce, or toss teriyaki tuna strips onto a salad.

New Food Rule 4: Show Red Veggies Some Love

Why the change: The previous food guidelines mentioned orange, but not red, vegetables. Now the two have been combined into one veggie sub-group. The guidelines recommend eating more of this group, along with dark-green veggies and beans and peas.

“Red vegetables, such as tomatoes and red peppers, are a great source of vitamin C, lycopene and other antioxidants, and other nutrients,” Post says. (Technically tomatoes are a fruit, but the USDA lumps them into the veggie category because that’s how people tend to eat them.)

What you can do: Most people should eat five-and-a-half cups cups of red and orange vegetables each week. To get the most nutritional bang for your buck, keep in mind that your body is better able to absorb lycopene, the fat-soluble antioxidant in red peppers and tomatoes, in the presence of oil. Lycopene is important because it may improve heart health and lower the risk of cancers like breast and prostate cancer. Keep a supply of jarred red peppers in oil and add them to sandwiches, salads, stir-fries, and omelets for a flavorful nutrient boost.

Tomato sauce is another easy way to boost your red veggie intake, but the ready-made stuff can be loaded with added salt. Look for jars with 300 or fewer milligrams of salt per serving. Some stores even carry no-salt-added versions.

And think beyond the usual suspects to red varieties of vegetables such as cabbage, beans, and Swiss chard. Red cabbage and beans contain anthocyanins, plant chemicals that show promise in preventing heart disease and cancer and protecting brain health. Red beans are the most fiber-rich vegetable in the world, Grotto says.

New Food Rule 5: Eat More Fruit Every Day

Why the change: Okay, we’re cheating a little bit here — this isn’t actually a new rule, but it’s an essential part of the food guidelines we couldn’t not mention. Here’s why: Only 42 percent of Americans eat the two cups of fruit per day that are recommended for someone on a 2,000-calorie diet.

Choosing fruit over less-healthy snacks will automatically make your diet more nutrient-dense and lower in calories.

All fruits are healthy, but berries are among the best – gram for gram, they’re jam-packed with nutrients for very few calories. For example, says Grotto, a whole cup of strawberries has about 50 calories and contains elagic acid that may help the lining of your arteries become more pliable, which could help prevent atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

What you can do: The best way to work more fruits into your diet is to have them on the tarmac ready to go: peeled, cut up, and mixed together in individual serving containers in your fridge.

At least half of your fruit should be in whole fruit form — fresh, frozen, or canned if it’s packed in 100 percent fruit juice — because whole fruit contains fiber that juice doesn’t. You can get the rest of your fruit from 100 percent fruit juices, such as orange juice. Eat fruit for snacks or dessert, add it to salads, and use it in place of sugar, syrups, and other sweet toppings for cereal and pancakes.

New Food Rule 6: Vegetarianism and Veganism Can Be Healthy

Why the change: For the first time, the dietary guidelines include a model for healthy vegetarian and vegan eating.

“In looking at a variety of eating patterns around the world, we now recognize that vegetarian diets that include dairy and eggs, and vegan diets, can provide enough of the nutrients we need to be healthy,” Post says. “We know that with proper planning, you can get enough protein from dairy, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and nuts and seeds, and other nutrients from vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.”

What you can do: Not surprisingly, the biggest concern with meat-free diets is getting enough protein. You’ll need to replace meat with other foods that qualify as complete proteins — which means they contain all of the essential amino acids. Complete proteins include dairy, eggs, soy (such as tofu and edamame), and certain grains, such as amaranth and quinoa.

Watch out for the salt: Veggie burgers and other frozen meat substitutes can be packed with sodium. “Frozen food is an equal opportunity employer of high sodium, whether it’s vegetarian or not,” Grotto says.

Vegans, and vegetarians who don’t get enough dairy and eggs, may also be deficient in certain nutrients, namely vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and iron, so it’s a good idea to talk to a registered dietitian, who may recommend that you take supplements or make other changes to your diet.

          Last Updated: 06/02/2011

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