Saturday, April 3, 2010

Nutritious Notes

Nutritious Notes

March is National Nutrition Month. Eating well can help reduce the risk of chronic diseases like cancer, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Eating well means eating a variety of healthy foods in the right amounts so your body gets the nutrients needed to maintain good health and work properly.

What exactly are the nutrients that come from food? Different foods provide different kinds of nutrients:

-- Proteins (lean meats, eggs, beans, nuts) help build muscle and a strong immune system.

-- Carbohydrates (starches, sugar and whole grains that also provide fiber) give you energy.

-- Fats provide essential fatty acids and extra energy.

-- Vitamins and minerals (commonly available in fruits, vegetables and whole grains) regulate body processes, enhance cell function and growth and help build a strong immune system.

-- Water gives cells shape and acts as a medium where body processes can occur.

Including a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins into each meal will help ensure that your body gets the right amount of the essential nutrients. Eating too many saturated fats and sugars can lead to excess weight gain and chronic disease. A recent study from the San Francisco VA Medical Center showed that Omega 6 fatty acid can promote prostate tumor cell growth in human prostrate cancer tissue cultures.1 Corn oil is a major source of omega 6 fatty acids, used extensively in the United States' food processing, frying and baked goods. A healthy balance for your fat intake should include higher daily intakes of monounsaturated fats (olive, canola and peanut oils) along with omega 3 fatty acids, which one can get by consuming fish at least twice a week. Avoid trans-fatty acids found in many processed foods.

In general, processed foods tend to lose many of their vitamins during the manufacturing process and often have other less healthy ingredients added such as corn syrup and trans fats. Thus, the term empty calories is often used to describe foods like soda and potato chips. Replacing processed foods in your diet with more fresh foods like fruits, vegetables and plain water helps promote a healthy diet. Additionally, a St. Louis VA Medical Center study in 2004 found that reducing the amount of fat and empty calories in your diet may help improve memory2.

The following are tips on how to practice good nutrition this month and every month:

-- Eat smaller meals including a vegetable as the center of the plate, with smaller meat and starch servings. Include at least one serving of fruit and vegetable with every meal.

-- Drink more water between meals; try veggies or a handful of nuts for a snack and fresh fruit for something sweet.

-- Reduce your intake of deep fried foods and cancer-causing trans fats found in processed foods and baked goods.

-- Read food labels and reduce the amount of added sugar, corn syrup and salt in the diet. Use fresh herbs and spices to season food instead.

VA offers veterans an online tool to help them track their food intake and manage their nutrition. The MyHealtheVet Web site has an online food journal to help veterans monitor what they eat. It also offers tips and information on health and wellness. Veterans (as well as their families and advocates) can log on to and begin tracking their food intake today. The journal may be used as a tool for follow-up nutrition counseling with a local registered dietitian. VA provides nutrition counseling as a health care benefit to enrolled veterans. For more information on nutrition, veterans may contact their local VA Medical Center.

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