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June 14, 2005 10:52 AM
Nutritional Scorecard by Sylvia Whitefeather Energy Times, June 15, 2004
For over 50 years, the federal government has produced Recommended Daily Allowances (RDAs) as guidelines for vitamin and mineral intake. Then, in 1993, the Reference Daily Intakes (RDIs) superseded the RDAs. By applying this new designation, the government's guidelines are now supposed to represent the designated amounts that an average person should consume. With this in mind, and the fact that many experts think you should consume more than some of the RDIs, how does your nutritional Scorecard add up? Answering a few nutritional questions can point you in the right direction.
Are you trying to lose weight? If you are, the latest thinking on weight loss opines that eating more protein may be the key to keeping your weight down. Two recent studies published in the Annals of Internal Medicine (5/18/04) found that people who ate a low-carbohydrate, high-protein diet lost more weight and had better cholesterol levels than dieters who ate fewer fatty foods. Both studies found that a low-carb diet can improve your triglycerides (blood fats) and boost your HDL, or good, cholesterol.
Eating protein satisfies both tummies and taste buds. Researchers have found that the amount of protein eaten in a meal determines not only how much food you eat but also how satisfied you feel after eating (J Nutr 2004 Apr; 134(4):974S-9S). And when you feel satisfied after eating less food you improve your odds of losing weight.
We need about 50 grams of protein a day to support the body's functions. The best sources of protein are eggs, meat, milk, protein shakes and yogurt.
Does your energy level go up and down during the day? To get off the energy rollercoaster, cut down on carbohydrates, and make sure the carbs you do eat are complex.
Carbohydrates have been getting some unflattering press lately. Yes, if you want to lose weight, you may want to go on a strictly low-carb diet. But for those not concerned with weight, carbohydrates are the principle source of energy for the body.
What's more, even if you do restrict carbohydrates, you should still eat a tiny bit of them. Without some carbs in the diet your body cannot regulate protein or fat metabolism. According to Michael and Mary Eades, MD, authors of The 30-Day Low-Carb Diet Solution (Wiley), "Carbohydrates control insulin and insulin controls your metabolic health."
So, make your carbohydrates count. Indulge in complex carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits and vegetables. In those foods, carbs are accompanied by fiber and larger amounts of vitamins and phytonutrients. Other reliable sources of complex carbohydrates are whole wheat bread, brown rice and oatmeal.
Are you concerned about your heart health? Fiber from beans, oats, legumes, nuts, rice bran, fruits and vegetables helps stabilize blood sugar and reduce cholesterol. Pectins, found in apples, pears, prunes and plums, are a particularly useful form of water-soluble fiber.
Insoluble fiber, in cereals, wheat bran and vegetables, reduces the risk of colon-related problems. In addition to adding fiber to the diet, dried beans and soybeans have been shown to lower cholesterol, improve vascular health and kidney functioning, preserve bone mineral density and reduce menopausal discomforts (AJCN 1999 Sept; 70(3 suppl):464S-74S). Fiber also promotes good bowel health and encourages the growth of beneficial intestinal flora.
You need 25 to 40 grams of fiber daily. If you have cut back on your carbohydrates, be sure to take a reliable fiber supplement.
Do you have problems focusing on mentally challenging tasks? If so, you should eat more fish and get more of the omega-3 fatty acids that fish and flax contain. Higher levels of this type of fat have been linked to better concentration while performing demanding intellectual work (Lipids 2004 Feb; 39(2):117-23).
Fats add flavor to food, making meals taste better. Monounsaturated fats like plain olive oil and canola are liquid at room temperature and are suitable for use in cooking at high temperatures. Researchers have found that a diet high in monounsaturated fat has the ability to decrease LDL (bad) cholesterol (J Nutr 2001; 131:1758-63). Other fats, such as extra virgin olive oil and flaxseed oil, are best used in dishes that don't need cooking, such as salads.
Although the RDI for fat is less than 30% of the total calorie intake, some researchers believe that if you eat healthy fat, eating too much is not a concern. Omega-3 fats are available in supplement form.
Do you suffer from dry skin? You may not be drinking enough water. This precious liquid is used by every cell of our bodies and makes up 60% to 75% of our body weight. Water is important for kidney function. Researchers in Italy found that drinking adequate amounts of water can help prevent the formation of kidney stones (Urol Int 2004; 72 Suppl 1:29-33).
Your activity level, environment and diet influence how much water you need daily. Try to drink at least eight cups of fluid a day from noncaffeinated, nonalcoholic sources.
Do you exercise frequently? If you do, you need more antioxidant vitamins like natural vitamin E and vitamin C as well as a healthy supply of carotenoids. A study at the School of Applied Medical Sciences and Sports Studies, University of Ulster, found that exercisers need more antioxidants. Otherwise, their exertion may release an excess number of free radicals (caustic molecules) in their bodies and do damage to the heart arteries and other internal organs.
Vitamins, in general, are defined as micronutrients that are necessary for life. They are necessary for the production of energy, a healthy immune system and hundreds of other functions in the body.
Vitamins aren't the only substances that produce big benefits in small quantities. Phytonutrients are chemicals in plants that have health-promoting properties. These nutrients are getting more and more attention from researchers who are keeping score on our nutritional requirements.
Do your meals contain plenty of calcium? If not, you may need supplements to keep your bones strong and help keep your weight down. One study, presented at the Experimental Biology 2003 meeting in San Diego, found that young women who consumed more calcium had better luck controlling their weight. In this research, it didn't take much calcium to make a difference in waistlines. Consuming just one more serving daily (a cup of milk or a thumb-sized piece of cheese, each of which contain about 300 mg of calcium) made, on average, about a two-pound difference.
In addition, many experts recommend multimineral supplements (along with multivitamins) to promote better health. A recent study of people with immune problems, for instance, found that those kinds of supplements seem to help boost the immune system (AT News 2004 Feb 27; 398:4-5).