At the end of the 20th century, people looked ahead to the next millennium with excitement and optimism that everyone could become healthier and happier. That enthusiasm was fueled in part by the remarkable insights that medical, nutritional and psychological research had provided us about what it takes to achieve those life-extending and life-enhancing goals. The really wonderful thing is that it wasn't hard to wrap your head around that bounty of information. It could be distilled into three simple guidelines:
1. Eat clean, lightly processed or unprocessed foods, centered around low-starch fruits and vegetables, healthy fats and lean, unsaturated fat proteins.
2. Move often; exercise consistently; combine aerobic activity with strength and flexibility training; and have fun jumping!
3. De-stress, act generously, stay connected to friends and family, and express your care for others.
Together these three guideposts reduce inflammation, promote better sleep, ease anxiety, regulate your metabolic processes, protect your brain and provide you with a younger RealAge - all essential components of your overall health and happiness.
So how have you done in your quest for improved wellbeing during the first two decades of the 21st century? Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy have looked at data from 1999 to 2016 on almost 44,000 American men and women and discovered that as far as current trends, there's good news and sit-up-and-take-notice news.
The good news
- Folks are taking in 3.24% fewer calories from low-quality (that means processed) carbohydrates and overall, eating more whole grains and less added sugar.
- There were measurable improvements in consumption of high-quality carbs, such as nonstarchy vegetables and legumes (up by 1.23% of calorie intake); plant protein, especially from whole grains and nuts (up .38% of calorie intake); and polyunsaturated fatty acids by .54%. These numbers are moving in the right direction.
The sit-up-and-take-notice news
- Low-quality carb intake accounts for almost 42% of folks' total calorie intake! (It was 45.1% in 1999; now it is 41.8%.)
- Pizza, fast food, sandwiches and burgers, snacks and desserts still account for 41% of total calories, and it goes up to 45% when you add alcohol to the mix.
- Although the Healthy Eating Index has improved, as a nation we still score only 55 to 57 out of 100!
So, what's next? We want to build on the positive trends that the study reveals, and help each of you ramp up your Healthy Eating Index so that you can reach your full potential. Here are some suggestions for improved nutrition. (Stay tuned for tips on improving your exercise and de-stress habits. New info on Americans' exercise inclinations actually shows - shocker - that you spend more time sitting than you did 10 years ago!)
1. While it's recommended that you get only 10% of your calories from added sugar (we say make it ZERO), the processed, fast and snacky foods you eat contribute at least twice that much to your diet. So today make a pledge to eliminate one frequently eaten, low-nutrition food from your plate. Permanently. For example, say good-bye to that candy bar you have several times a week, or the soda you drink daily.
2. Go to the grocery store and buy one 100% whole-grain product. That's barley, faro, brown rice and quinoa (not really grain; it's a grass, but it counts). Buy canned, low-sodium, no-added-flavor beans. Cook them up together for dinner tonight. Make sure you do that at least once a week to start.
3. When you send the kids off to school, head to the office or are just out and about, pack easy-to-carry, easy-to-eat healthy snacks: whole oranges or apples, an ounce of walnut halves or almonds, tuna in a pouch.
4. Carry plain water, hot or cold coffee or tea (black, no sugar) in a BPA-free reusable bottle.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.