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For healthy summer eating, start with ‘MyPlate’

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The importance of healthy eating is not a new concept. In fact, it’s been on the radar with the USDA since the early 1900s, when the organization empowered Americans to be mindful of their diet by providing guidelines for healthy eating. As the science of nutrition has evolved, those guidelines have changed and been refined over the years. As recently as 2005, the “My Pyramid Food Guidance System” stressed the importance of variety, moderation, and proportion when it came to food groups. In 2011, the concept was revised to “MyPlate,” to better illustrate the five food groups that are the building blocks for healthy eating.

MyPlate is an educational tool for people to be aware of their healthy eating style and maintain it throughout their lifetime. Everything you consume has an impact on the body — and the right combination of foods can help you live a healthier life.

MyPlate is divided into four sections: 30 percent grains, 40 percent vegetables, 10 percent fruits, and 20 percent protein, accompanied by a smaller circle representing dairy, such as a glass of milk or a yogurt cup. Within that mix comes a wide variety of options to meet individual needs.

Regardless of a person’s individual food options, certain guidelines remain the same for everyone: choose foods and beverages with less saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars; use Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists to help determine how healthy a particular food or beverage may be; start with small changes to build healthier eating styles; and support healthy eating for everyone in your family by setting a consistent example.

MyPlate and summer eating

One of the pleasures of the summer season is looking forward to barbecues, picnics, parties, and open-air fun where tempting foods of all kinds are right on tap. But for mindful healthy eaters, the season can present a challenge. Take heart, there are ways to substitute healthier foods without sacrificing flavor.

For example, lean meats, such as skinless chicken breasts, are also good substitutions for barbecued hamburgers and hot dogs. Plant-based foods, like bean burgers, vegetable kabobs, and grilled corn, can also substitute foods that are high in saturated fat.

If substitutions to the traditional favorites don’t appeal, use the ‘crowding out’ strategy: rather than completely abstaining from your favorite barbeque meats, have less of them by filling your plate with vegetables and healthy salads.

Healthy eating quick tips for summer

  1. Work more veggies into your diet. Summer’s seasonal vegetables offer a bounty of good taste with minimal calories, such as eggplant, cucumbers, and zucchini. Different vegetables offer important, disease-fighting nutrients.
  2. Be careful with the fruit. Some fruits are packed with sugar, such as grapes. In excess, sugar can increase the risk of diabetes and weight gain. Choose fruits that are higher in fiber, such as berries.
  3. Minimize sweet temptations. They’re calling you — ice cream cones, slushies, iced coffees and teas, lemonade — but they’re all laden with sugar. Indulge once in a while but be mindful of portion sizes and frequency. Avoid processed and refined sugars and instead have green smoothies or Greek yogurt with berries.
  4. Beware of “low-fat” foods:  Many low fat foods have added sugars listed on their labels. Manufacturers often have to compensate for the lack of fat with more sugar in order to make the foods palatable. In fact, the fear of fat is changing and the new guidelines recognize that there are "good fats," such as walnuts, avocado, and dark chocolate that are healthy and nutritious.
  5. Drink up! It’s important to stay well hydrated during the hot summer months. Always quench thirst with water — aim for eight, 8-oz glasses (half a gallon) a day to decrease risk of dehydration in the heat.

For more nutrition tips, visit nyp.org/nutrition. To find a doctor, call 877-697-9355.

Ronda Kotelchuck

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