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The latest research shows that the foods we choose to eat—or not to eat—may increase our life span or the quality of our lives. Not a day goes by, it seems, without feature news stories about food and its impact on health. The message that we can reduce our chances of developing cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases by maintaining a healthy weight, decreasing the fat and calories in our diets, eating more vitamin- and mineral-rich fruits and vegetables, and getting fit is becoming a familiar one. As more research is done, the link between diet and the risk of developing common diseases such as heart disease or cancer is becoming clearer and clearer. Thanks to this research, we are beginning to understand the dietary and lifestyle factors that are most likely to ensure a long, healthy life. And the good news is that we can incorporate these factors into our own lives without sacrificing taste or giving up the foods we enjoy, by discovering and eating tastier, nutritious fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Despite the well-publicized connections among diet, weight, and health, statistics show that the prevalence of overweight and obesity is increasing at an alarming rate, particularly in children and teens. So why do we cling to our unhealthful habits? For many, the nutrition and fitness guidelines published by the government and by health organizations may seem overwhelming. We may have questions about why we should eat what the experts recommend, what foods are or are not nutritious, and whether it is better to obtain some nutrients from food or from a multivitamin or nutritional supplement. Finally, for most of us, eating is pleasurable, and familiar foods are comforting. The idea of making a major change in the kinds and amounts of food that we eat is daunting.

Part I of this book provides you with an overview of the principles of good nutrition, provides you with insight as to why the experts recommend what they recommend, and then gives you some practical tips on how to change the way you eat while still enjoying good food. Chapter 1 begins by reviewing the current guidelines for nutrition and fitness. Chapter 2 provides an overview of the basics of nutrition, including a description of the known nutrients and other food components. Chapter 3 discusses the role of good nutrition in the prevention and treatment of common diseases. Chapters 4 and 5 provide suggestions for planning and preparing meals and selecting healthful foods. They give tips on eating out, shopping, reading food labels, and modifying family favorites with healthful recipe makeovers. Sample recipes are provided to show that following a well-balanced, nutritious diet can be an enjoyable undertaking, and 2 weeks of menus are given to help you get started.

In this chapter, you will be introduced to the basic principles of nutrition You will learn about the value of a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and grains as the foundation for good health and how to select nutritious foods that contribute to a healthful diet. You will then be equipped to discern the best approach for your nutritional well-being.

You will also learn about:

  • The new Dietary Reference Intakes and how they are used
  • Health Goals—The importance of nutrition
  • Dietary Guidelines—Your gateway to nutrition knowledge
  • The Food Guide Pyramid: A guide to eating well


Optimizing Health

We are surrounded by a vast array of foods to eat and activities to pursue. Every day we make choices among those foods and activities based on our cultural background, knowledge, experiences, and goals. Each choice may have an impact on our overall health and quality of life. Our ancestors' food choices were limited by what they could gather, catch, cultivate, and harvest. Physical pursuits were determined by the work that needed to be done. Today, advances in agriculture, transportation, food preservation, and storage bring nearly every type of food from every country of the world to our local supermarkets throughout the year. With such a limitless array of foods, choosing the ones that promote health is easier than ever, but making these choices requires knowledge and motivation. This chapter explains how the guidelines established by nationally recognized health and nutrition authorities can be used to help you understand the food choices that promote health, choose the foods that contain needed nutrients, and select appropriate serving sizes.

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