You’ve probably heard many tips on how to maintain a healthy diet, but where do they come from? Why are these things recommended?
With all this conflicting information, what should we really be eating to stay healthy?
Working in a healthcare team, specifically in nutrition, we’re here to explain exactly why dietitians may recommend the following nutrition tips and how these five common tips can improve your health.
Eat five fruits or vegetables a day.
We’ve all heard that you need to eat five servings (which is half a cup fresh, frozen or canned) of fruits and veggies a day. But why five? Where did this number come from? Surely it can’t be the same for everyone?
These are all valid questions you may have wondered at some point. And you’re right — the recommended number of servings of fruits and vegetables changes slightly depending on certain factors, such as age, height and gender.
However, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, about 75 percent of the population has a diet low in fruits and vegetables. So, even though eating five fruits and vegetables a day might not be the optimal recommendation for every individual, specifically, it’s most likely better than what they are already consuming and is still a good goal for the average person.
Eat as many different colored fruits and vegetables in a day as possible.
Along with consuming five servings, we’re sure you’ve heard the follow-up — try to make each of those five servings a different color. It may not seem like it, but this is a recommendation backed by science.
The different colors in fruits and vegetables aren’t just pretty, they are pigmented molecules that each have their own benefits to the human body.
These are collectively known as phytochemicals. For example, the pigment responsible for the red color in cranberries, proanthocyanidins, may have a protective effect against urinary tract infections in women. Or perhaps more famously known, beta-Carotene, which gives carrots their orange pigment, makes vitamin A and helps maintain healthy vision.
Therefore, the greater the variety in the colors of the fruits and vegetables you can eat, the greater your chances are of reaping both the known and unknown benefits of phytochemicals for our bodies.
Make sure you get regular physical activity.
What does “regular physical activity” mean? Is physical activity different from exercise? You’ve come to the right place for answers.
Physical activity is different from exercise.
Physical activity is essentially any movement that isn’t exercise, such as gardening, vacuuming, chores or walking. The difference is that exercise is planned. You don’t accidentally alternate between several sets of squats and pushups, but you could accidentally burn a lot of calories moving boxes of holiday decorations down from the attic.
Several healthcare organizations have released guidelines on physical activity, but the basic consensus is that regular physical activity consists of 30 minutes a day, at least five days of the week. Physical activity makes your heart, bones and muscles stronger, which has strong scientific evidence for reducing the risk of Type 2 diabetes, cancer, stroke, heart disease, depression, falls and weight gain.
So, the next time you have a long walk from your car to a building, think of all the health benefits you’re getting!
Cook your meals at home.
When asked the question, “Which is healthier: eating out at a restaurant or cooking dinner at home?”, most people would likely say cooking is healthier. Would this be your answer? Well, you’d be right. Most dietitians would recommend cooking at home to be the baseline while reserving eating out at restaurants for rare occasions.
There are several lines of reasoning behind this suggestion. For one, as the chef, you have all the control. You can control portion size, the ratio of ingredients and use of fresh ingredients. Whereas if you go to a restaurant, they may use more processed ingredients which could have increased calories and less vitamin and mineral content.
By cooking your own meals with fresh ingredients, you’re increasing the amount of phytochemicals and other beneficial nutrients flowing into your body — not to mention fitting in more physical activity.
Drink 64 ounces of water a day.
We’ve all heard it’s important to drink 64 ounces of water or eight 8-ounce glasses of water day, but surely everyone needs a unique amount of water based on body size and activity level? You’d be absolutely right with this intuitive assumption. But the truth is, you’re going to get different answers depending on which branch of science you talk to.
According to the Institute of Medicine, women need an average of 9 cups of water a day, while men need 12.5 cups of water a day — with increases based on level of physical exertion and climate. Therefore, maybe eight 8-ounce glasses a day isn’t far off for women. However, an expert in the field of exercise science may simply tell you to drink when you’re thirsty.
Simple as it seems, many people mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger. Hence, another nutrition tidbit you may have heard of: if you’re hungry, try drinking some water first.
Now, the next time you hear one of these five nutrition tips, you’ll have a better understanding as to why dietitians recommend these suggestions and how you can make simple and healthy lifestyle changes through nutrition.
This blog post was contributed by Brittney Taylor, a dietetic intern at Baylor Scott & White Health.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at http://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/.
McGuire M, Beerman KA. Nutritional sciences: from fundamentals to food. 2nd ed. Australia: Cengage Learning; 2011.
Hew-Butler, Tamara. “Research Refutes Current Hydration Guidelines for Exercise.” Oakland University, 12 Feb. 2015, oakland.edu/shs/news/2015/Research-refutes-current-hydration-guidelines-for-exercise.