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Let’s Beat the Odds

Nutrition: Let's Beat the Odds
By Charlyn Fargo

A new report finds that less than 7% of adults in the U.S. practice all five of the healthy behaviors recommended by public health organizations, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Cancer Society.

So, what are those behaviors?

  • Exercising regularly (150 minutes per week)
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Avoiding smoking
  • Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption

Researchers looked at data from a national survey of over 26,000 adults ages 20 to 79. Only 1 in 5 surveyed adopt four or more of the healthy behaviors, and nearly half participate in fewer than three. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine in April 2020.

Why do these behaviors matter? The better your habits (and the more of these five habits you accomplish), the more your quality of life can be improved and the less likely you will be to develop a chronic disease.

Just what does a healthy diet entail? Let’s go back to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate. It’s an easy-to-understand plan that doesn’t require counting calories. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, a fourth of your plate with lean protein (it can be from plants or lean meats) and a fourth of your plate with whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, teff, whole-wheat pasta or bread). Have a side of low-fat dairy.

That plan can be more challenging at breakfast, but think of a whole-grain, high-protein cereal with skim milk and berries, or whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and a banana. Add a glass of low-sodium vegetable juice for a balanced meal. You could also add spinach, onions and mushrooms to an omelet or scrambled eggs with a side of fruit or a smoothie with protein powder and spinach or kale.

The bottom line? It would be good for all of us to add as many of these healthy habits to our daily routines as we can.

Healthy Eating Checkup

Every so often, we need a checkup. When you visit the doctor for almost any appointment, it’s common to answer some questions about your health. They can range from the medications you’re taking to whether or not you’re feeling sad or depressed.

As 2021 approaches, it’s a good time to have a healthy eating checkup. There are two questions that can help assess how you’re doing.

  • No. 1: How often do you eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day?
  • No. 2: How often do you consume sugary foods and drinks?

It seems too simple that healthy eating can be assessed with those two questions. But they tell a lot about where you’re at on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate and Food Guide Pyramid. That’s because if your daily plate is filled with cookies and soda, it often means you aren’t consuming more nutrient-dense foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and water or milk. And on the flip side, if you’re consistently eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, you aren’t hungry for other empty-calorie foods.

Many of us plan our meals beginning with the meat or protein. Try instead planning around a salad, vegetable or fruit. MyPlate recommends that half your plate is filled with fruits and vegetables. Five a day means at least two meals need a fruit and vegetable, or you can have a fruit or vegetable for a snack. Fruit can offer a great ending to a meal as well, to replace that sugary dessert.

Why focus on fruits and vegetables? They, along with whole grains, contain many of the nutrients your body needs.

When it comes to sugary foods, think about having a glass of water before you reach for a soda or energy drink (yep, most of them have sugar). Try a baked apple or grilled peach for dessert instead of a cookie or cupcake.

You’ll be surprised at how you can turn unhealthy eating into healthy eating with just these two goals.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian with SIU Med School in Springfield, Illinois. For comments or questions, contact her at



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