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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

The ABC's of Good Nutrition
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Philip G. Reeves

Recently the United States Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services published their most up-to-date Dietary Guidelines for Americans*. They are calling them the ABC’s for good health. "A" stands for Aim for Fitness; "B" for Build a Healthy Base; and "C" for Choose sensibly.

In this 40 page document under Aim for Fitness, the guidelines suggest that you maintain a healthy weight and be physically active each day. The Build a Healthy Base chapter urges you to let the Food Pyramid guide your food choices, and choose a variety of grains, especially whole grains, as well as a variety of fruits and vegetables daily, and keep food safe to eat. The Choose Sensibly section advises, you to select a diet low in saturated fats and cholesterol, and moderate in total fat. You should choose beverages and foods to moderate your intake of sugars, choose and prepare foods with less salt, and if you drink alcoholic beverages, you should do so in moderation.

One of the interesting points in the "A" chapter is how to evaluate your weight based on your Body Mass Index (BMI). This is an index that relates your adult body weight to your height. It is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms (kg) (without clothes) by your height in meters squared (m2) (without shoes). 2.2 lbs = 1 kg and 39.37 in = 1 m. You can use your personal calculator to find your BMI, or you can search the Internet for one of the several online BMI calculators.

For example, if your weight is 160 lbs (72.7 kg) and your height is 5' 2" (1.57 m), your BMI = 72.7/1.572 = 29; a little above the ideal range. The ideal range of the BMI for an adult person is between 18.5 and 25. However, you have to be careful because this may not tell the whole story. What if you have a lot of fat and little muscle, but your BMI is in the "healthy" range? This could mean that you do not have a healthy weight. On the other hand, if your BMI is above the "healthy" range and you have a lot of muscle and little fat, your weight might be just fine. However, for most people, a high BMI is not considered a healthy situation.

The "A" chapter also tells you how to manage your weight by selecting the proper foods and getting the right kinds and amounts of exercise for you and your family.

Much of the "B" chapter is devoted to how the Food Pyramid can help you choose different types of healthy foods, and what is considered a serving size. This chapter also tells you which foods can give you the recommended amount of nutrients such as calcium, iron and folic acid. In addition, it shows you how to read a nutrition facts label that is seen on almost every food item in the grocery store these days. The "B" chapter also talks about how to safely prepare food so that bacterial contamination is kept under control.

The "C" chapter describes the different types of fat, how you can tell a saturated fat from an unsaturated fat, and which foods might contribute to your dietary intake of each. This chapter also discusses the consequences of consuming too much sugar and salt, and suggests ways to moderate your intake of alcoholic beverages. Exactly what do we mean by drinking in moderation? This usually means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two per day for men. This difference is because men usually weigh more and they metabolize the alcohol differently than women. Consuming alcohol in any amount during pregnancy is highly discouraged.

In my opinion, The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is an excellent source of up-to-date nutrition information. Much of this information has been derived from research conducted at the various USDA Nutrition Research Centers, including the one here in Grand Forks. Without individuals like you who volunteer to help us test the nutritional quality of food, our work would be impossible. We are indeed grateful.

The entire set of guidelines can be downloaded or printed from the USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion Web site.

*Home and Garden Bulletin No. 232, Fifth Edition, 2000.

Last Modified: 10/23/2006
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