Eating healthfully can sometimes seem daunting.
"Who are they kidding?" a Lean Plate Club member from Frostburg, Md., complained in an e-mail soon after the latest U.S. Dietary Guidelines were released in January. "Two cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables [daily]!"
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All the same, he went out and bought 83 plums, pears, peaches and apples, with the intention of consuming four a day. Not only did he blow a bundle at the checkout, but the produce proved disappointing. "About 80 were either rotten, mealy, tasteless, juiceless, or too unripe to eat when purchased but never actually ripened into something edible," he e-mailed. "Most were all of the above. . . . I hope you'll speak about this tomorrow online."
I'll do better. His e-mail prompted me to read the fine print in the U.S. Dietary Guidelines. Included in the 71-page document is a chart that shows what adults aged 31 to 50 consume and the adjustment needed to meet the new goals.
The surprise? In some food groups, only slight changes are required. Here's how it works out:
Fruit Both men and women manage to eat about a cup of fruit daily. But that's still only half the new recommendation. The most nutritious way to make up the shortfall? Eat reasonably priced seasonal fruit like cantaloupe (rich in vitamins A and C); apricots and mango (vitamin A); kiwi fruit and strawberries (vitamin C), oranges (folate, vitamin C and potassium), bananas, plantains and dried fruit (potassium). Frozen, canned or dried fruit are nutritionally comparable to fresh and can be easier on the wallet -- a lesson our Frostburg correspondent might appreciate. Since producers can or freeze the fruit when it's in season, it's usually more flavorful than fresh items picked too early. If you're worried about added sugar, buy fruit packed in natural juices or unsweetened products.
Grains White bread and other enriched processed grains are over-consumed by both men and women, who don't eat enough whole grains. The new guidelines call for three servings per day of whole grains, at least two more than most adults consume. To bridge the gap: Add brown rice, bulgur (or cracked) wheat; oatmeal; pearl barley; popcorn and bread, cereal or crackers made with whole-grain oats, rye or wheat. What's a serving? One slice of bread, a half-cup of cooked rice, pasta or cooked cereal, or about a cup of dry, ready-to-eat cereal. Tip: Look for the words "whole" or "whole grain" as the first ingredients on the food label.
Meat and beans Both men and women are pretty much on target for meat, but need to eat more dried beans and legumes to meet the three cups recommended weekly. Smart choices: bean tacos, bean dip (including hummus), bean soup or meat substitutes made from soybeans.
Milk and dairy foods Neither men nor women drink the three daily cups of milk advised by the guidelines. Men miss about a cup a day; women fail to drink 1.6 cups. Nonfat and low-fat milk and dairy products are the smartest choices, because they're highest in calcium and contain little or no saturated fat. To boost milk and dairy consumption: Use milk instead of water to make creamed soups. Concoct vegetable dips from low-fat yogurt. Eat pudding made with skim milk. Sip a smoothie made with fruit and yogurt. Top baked potatoes with nonfat or low-fat yogurt or sour cream. Or simply, drink a glass of milk with every meal.
Vegetables Most people need to add about another cup of veggies per day. One easy way is to have an entree-sized salad or a bowl of vegetable soup at lunch. Adding salsas and guacamole can also help. Both men and women fall short on dark-green and orange vegetables. The most nutritious choices in this category are: carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkin (good sources of vitamin A); spinach (vitamins A and C, folate); collards and turnip greens (rich in vitamin A); mustard greens (folate and vitamin C) and Romaine lettuce (vitamin C).
Oils Healthy oils -- olive, canola, safflower, flaxseed, soybean, walnut -- not only help protect the heart but also provide vitamin E. Both men and women eat too much unhealthy saturated fat such as butter and trans fatty acids, which are partially hydrogenated oils found in snack foods, baked goods, commercial salad dressing and other processed foods. Swap small amounts -- two tablespoons daily -- of healthy oils for about the same amount of unhealthy fat now consumed.
Share Your Tips or ask questions about healthy nutrition and activity when Sally Squires hosts the Lean Plate Club online chat, from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. today, on www.washingtonpost.com. Can't join live? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. To learn more, and subscribe to our free e-newsletter, visit www.leanplateclub.com