Nutrition: Healthy Eating (cont.)

Control Calories and Get the Most Nutrients

You want to stay within your daily calorie needs, especially if you're trying to lose weight, says Eric Hentges, Ph.D., director of the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion. "But you also want to get the most nutrients out of the calories, which means picking nutritionally rich foods," he says. Children and adults should pay particular attention to getting adequate calcium, potassium, fiber, magnesium, and vitamins A, C, and E.

According to the Dietary Guidelines, there is room for what's known as a discretionary calorie allowance. This is for when people meet their recommended nutrient intake without using all their calories. Hentges compares the idea to a household budget. "You know you have to pay all the bills and then you can use the leftover money for other things," he says. "The discretionary calorie allowance gives you some flexibility to have foods and beverages with added fats and sugars, but you still want to make sure you're getting the nutrients you need."

For example, a 2,000-calorie diet has about 250 discretionary calories, according to the Dietary Guidelines.

 

Know Your Fats

Fat provides flavor and makes you feel full. It also provides energy, and essential fatty acids for healthy skin, and helps the body absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K. But fat also has nine calories per gram, compared to four calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. If you eat too much fat every day, you may get more calories than your body needs, and too many calories can contribute to weight gain.

Too much saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol in the diet increases the risk of unhealthy blood cholesterol levels, which may increase the risk of heart disease. "Consumers should lower all three, not just one or the other," says Schneeman. Saturated fat is found mainly in foods from animals. Major sources of saturated fats are cheese, beef, and milk. Trans fat results when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil to increase the food's shelf life and flavor. Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, cookies, and other snack foods. Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in foods from animal sources such as meat, poultry, egg yolks, milk, and milk products.

Most of your fats should come from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fatty acids, such as those that occur in fish, nuts, soybean, corn, canola, olive, and other vegetable oils. This type of fat does not raise the risk of heart disease and may be beneficial when consumed in moderation.



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