Proactively taking care of your health

The American diet is associated with increasing obesity, heart disease, and stroke. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the American Heart Association have made recommendations for altering what we eat.

The most recent recommendations have simplified the information to encourage adoption of a diet that would decrease weight, saturated fat, cholesterol, and portion amounts.

Eat a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes (beans), fish, lean meat, and poultry. Each day eat five servings of vegetables and fruits and six servings of grain products (including whole grains). Eat two servings of a fatty fish per week. Use fat-free and low-fat dairy products.

Weight loss and maintaining a normal weight
Weight loss helps protect the weight-bearing joints from deterioration, but it is also important for a healthy lifestyle. To lose weight you must eat fewer calories than you burn. So, you can increase activities that increase calorie demands—aerobic exercise and strengthening (resistance training) exercises—or decrease your calorie intake.

Additional recommendations for healthy eating and weight loss include:

  • Reducing or eliminating sweet soft drinks and commercially prepared baked goods
  • Increasing exercise to 30 minutes a day of brisk walking or similar activity, or at least 180 minutes per week of combined activity/exercise.
  • Resistance training has been shown to be a most beneficial way of increasing metabolism. This can be accomplished by doing up to 3 sets of 12 repetitions each with 5 to 6 muscles groups using 3- to 5-pound weights every other day.

Plan on gradual weight loss or 1 to 2 pounds per week. Although this may seem slow, it will result in a more sustained weight loss. Preventing obesity is easier than losing weight; therefore, following the recommendations for healthy diet, activity, and portion size will all be helpful before a weight problem occurs.

Food Group Nutrients
The four basic food groups are:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Whole grain products, cereals, and breads
  • Low-fat products
  • Lean meat, poultry, fish, and other meat substitutes (beans or legumes, soybean curd, or tofu, and eggs)

They provide us with the following nutrients:

  • Carbohydrates
  • Proteins
  • Fats
  • Vitamins and minerals

Carbohydrates are divided into either “simple” or “complex.” Simple carbohydrates are sugars like table sugar, honey, and syrups. It is recommended that simple sugars be used in small amounts. Although sugar has a bad reputation in American culture, the main problem for adults is the company it keeps, such as the fat in pastries and ice cream. Eating fresh fruit can satisfy a sweet tooth and is a healthier choice. An example of a complex carbohydrate is starch.

Vegetables and grains are excellent sources of complex carbohydrates, as well as of fiber, vitamins and iron.

Proteins are made up of amino acid units. The amino acid units are used by the body after being broken down in digestion. Amino acid units are either metabolized for energy or reassembled into new proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of enzymes, hormones, and muscle tissue. The meat/meat substitutes group is a good source of proteins. Meat substitutes include legumes (dried beans and peas), tofu (soybean curd), fish, shellfish, eggs, and nuts.

Meat as a food source is inherently good, but it has fallen into disgrace because:

  • It can contain a lot of hormones and antibiotics (given to animals while they are alive)
  • It is a source of saturated fat and cholesterol
  • It has been associated with diets of little nutritional variety (“meat and potatoes”)

In addition, for a variety of reasons (religious convictions, the rising financial and ecological costs of meat, and growing sensitivity to animal rights), increasing numbers of people are choosing to use meat substitutes.

Fats are made up of substances called “fatty acids” and “glycerol.” Fatty acids can be saturated, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated. The less they are saturated, the healthier they are. Certain fatty acids called omega-6 linoleic acids found in corn and safflower oils are associated with causing inflammation. Omega-3 linoleic fatty acids found in fish oils, flaxseed, and soybeans contain EPA and DHA that help reduce inflammation.

If your chronic pain includes inflammation, you may find it helpful to eat more foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Even if your pain is not due to inflammation, there is evidence that changing the type of fatty acids you consume can help your heart health and may help prevent some cancers (colon). The best source of fish oils is cold-water fish (sardines, trout, and salmon). Capsules are available to supplement the diet, but large numbers of capsules a day are required to alter the fatty acid balance, and the expense may be prohibitive. As with any dietary recommendations, it may be better to alter what you eat to include the recommendations made here for healthy eating then to depend on supplements in an unhealthy diet.

Vitamins and minerals
Vitamins and minerals are necessary in very small amounts for the normal functioning of many body processes. They are essential because the body is either unable to make them or makes them in insufficient amounts.

Vegetables and grains are good sources of vitamins. For a normal healthy adult, eating a variety of foods should provide the essential nutrients from which the body can choose what is needed when it is needed. What are the needs of a stressed or ill body? This has not been completely defined; more research into this topic is needed. You’ll find more information on nutritional guidelines throughout this section of the Patient Resource Guide.

Picture a dinner plate that is divided in half. One half of the plate holds the amount of fruits and vegetables you should eat. One fourth of the remaining plate is the portion of meat or meat substitute (such as beans or legumes, soybean curd, or tofu, and eggs), and the other one fourth is the whole grains/starch portion.

Cholesterol is not a fat. It is present in some foods, such as eggs, dairy products, and animal fats (always animal products). The intake of fat and cholesterol in the diet contributes to the body’s production of cholesterol. This is the reason you hear the terms “cholesterol” and “fat” together so often. There are several types of cholesterol, and too much cholesterol of one type (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL) can contribute to diseases such as atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) or gallstones.