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Dietary Components

Food contains proteins, fats, carbohydrates, water, vitamins, and minerals. Nutrition is the way our bodies take in and use food to maintain proper functioning, and is the foundation of good health. Eating right is critical for the proper growth and functioning of our bodies, and there is strong evidence that eating right can prevent several chronic illnesses or diseases, as well.

The first principle to good nutrition is to eat a wide variety of foods, because different foods make different nutritional contributions to our diets. Keep a balance between calorie intake and calorie usage; in other words, don't eat more food than your body can use or you'll gain weight. The more active you are, the more you can eat and still maintain the balance.

Also, foods high in complex carbohydrates and fiber, low in fat, and cholesterol-free (fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes) should make up more than 50 percent of the calories you eat. The rest should come from lean meats and poultry, fish, and low-fat dairy products. This will ensure that you get the proper amounts of vitamins and minerals and help keep your fat and cholesterol intake relatively low.

There are several steps to be followed for a healthy diet. Carbohydrates should represent at least 50 percent, with protein about 20 percent, of total caloric intake. Keep your total fat intake at or below 30 percent of your total daily calories. Limit intake of saturated fat to less than 10 percent of your fat calories. If you need to lower your cholesterol level, keep cholesterol intake at 300 milligrams per day or less.

Eat a diet high in complex carbohydrates. Maintain a moderate protein intake. Eat a variety of foods. Avoid too much sugar. Limit sodium intake to no more than 3,000 milligrams per day. Maintain an adequate calcium intake. Get vitamins and minerals from foods, not from supplements. Maintain a desirable weight. Drink alcohol in moderation.

The Food Guide Pyramid shows the new standard for balancing your daily diet. The lower number of suggested servings in the range are for a 1,600 calorie-a-day diet. The upper end reflects a 2,800 calorie-a-day diet. Notice there is no recommendation for the top group on the pyramid, the fats, oils and sweets. These foods should be eaten sparingly.

Throughout the pyramid, you'll see tiny circles, which symbolize fat, and tiny triangles, which symbolize sugar. These indicate that foods in these groups can provide fat and added sugar, too. The USDA recommends you eat at least the lowest number of suggested servings from each of the lower five food groups every day. Become familiar with what makes up a serving size.

Understand how serving sizes vary for children and adults. Choose from low-fat options when available. Balance your diet over time, compensating for daily deviations. Serving sizes are important. Please remember these hints: If you eat a significantly larger portion than the suggested amount, count it as more than 1 serving. For children ages 2-5, their serving sizes are 2/3 that of the adult size, except for dairy foods, for which the serving sizes are the same. Consult your pediatrician for advice on feeding children under the age of two. And for children age 6 and older, use the same serving size as for an adult.

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