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A good diet is key to healthy living

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The newly released food guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture address our current American health situation and make some important recommendations.

An increasing percentage of our population suffers from overweight, poor diet, obesity, forms of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other serious illnesses. The USDA’s revised guidelines should raise awareness of the inherent risks prevalent in American lifestyle choices, characterized by an over-consumption of non-nutrient-dense highly processed foods and a sedentary lifestyle.

Health is the fourth “H” in 4-H youth development. The Healthy Living Mission engages youth and families to achieve optimal physical and social-emotional well-being. It is our mission that by 2014, 4-H—a recognized leader in providing hands-on, non-formal learning experiences—will expand participation from 2.5 million to 2.75 million youth and their families and promote healthy living opportunities so our youth are physically, socially and emotionally prepared to meet challenges they face in the 21st Century.

The USDA acknowledges the sweeping epidemic of overweight and obesity in our country and says quite bluntly: Cut calories and exercise more. Eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight is important for overall health at every age.

The USDA new Food Guidelines recommends that Americans:

• Balance calories to reduce weight. Weight can be reduced by reducing caloric intake, by increasing physical activity or by combining both for the most favorable outcome.

• Reduce nutrient-poor foods such as refined/processed foods, trans fats, high sodium foods, “junk” foods and sugary beverages.

• Eat more nutrient-rich foods and beverages. Specific USDA recommendations include: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, and nuts and seeds.

• Develop healthy eating patterns, especially in children, as research shows kids are at risk for developing chronic diseases due to poor diet and inactivity.

• Make healthy eating choices.

Children benefit tremendously from learning accurate food, nutrition, and fitness information and learning how to use this knowledge in their daily lives. Work with your children to improve their health and fitness levels as this can help reduce the risks of developing life-threatening illnesses later in life. Kentucky 4-H Youth Development encourages all Kentucky youth to increase daily physical activity and to develop healthy eating habits, such as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

We all can use this encouragement. So, even though I am writing this to our 4-H audience, this is a reminder for us all to think through these guidelines in relation to your own diet and that of your family. Working on these can help us all maintain a healthier life.

For more information on dietary policy, visit www.cnpp.usda.gov/Publications/DietaryGuidelines/2010/PolicyDoc/PolicyDo....

Preventing cancer

Vitamin D is known to be crucial for the formation, growth and repair of bones because it regulates calcium absorption in the body. Severe deficiency can lead to rickets in children and osteomalacia, or bone softening, in adults. Additionally, emerging evidence is supporting the link between vitamin D and cancer. Vitamin D is thought to fight cancer in many ways. It helps prevent the creation of new cancer cells, and promotes the death of these cells, while also suppressing inflammation, tumor creation, and spreading of cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Vitamin D is known as the ‘sunshine vitamin’ because our body makes it when the skin is exposed to sunlight. Twenty to 30 minutes of exposure two to three times a week provides enough UV rays to make the amount of vitamin D needed. For people who do not get enough sun exposure, vitamin D is found in some foods, most notably in milk.

Check the Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list to see if vitamin D is included in the foods you eat. Much of the population in the United States is vitamin D deficient, especially adults and the elderly. Adequate blood levels of vitamin D can be obtained through sunshine exposure, consumption of fortified foods or taking supplements. Always consult your doctor before taking supplements, because too much vitamin D may be harmful to your health.

Source: Extension Specialists for Food and Nutrition, University of Kentucky, College of Agriculture

Grace Angotti is Carroll Co. Extension agent for family and consumer sciences. Call her at (502) 732-7030 or send e-mail to gangotti@uky.edu.