With the start of a new year just a couple weeks away, many take this time to reflect and make resolutions.
Often these resolutions focus on improving one's health. But the new year is a not only a good time to personally set health-conscious resolutions, but to evaluate your family's health too.
"Imagine your long-term health as a road trip. Road signs and exits along the way give you countless options to navigate to your destination. These are similar to the everyday choices you make about your diet and activity," suggests Dr. Rebecca Unger, attending physician for Lurie Children's Wellness & Weight Management Program and a pediatrician at Northwestern Children's Practice.
"Wouldn't a map be a valuable tool in getting where you want to go on your trip?" she adds. "Luckily, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA) can help you find your way."
Last year, leading nutrition experts from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture jointly released nutrition guidelines for the general public. Every five years, the committee reviews the world's literature on diet and health and creates DGAs that focus on disease prevention and healthy eating patterns.
Why do we need to pay attention to making these healthy choices?
"Healthy eating patterns are tied to a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other diseases, including colon cancer and breast cancer, and obesity," says Unger.
Unger suggests following these 10 tips based on the 2015-2020 DGA to improve your health:
1. Eat your vegetables (just like your mother told you). Choose vegetables that include a rainbow of colors, from dark green to red and orange.
2. Eat fruits, especially whole fresh fruits.
3. Eat healthy grains. At least half should be whole grains (e.g., whole wheat, brown rice, oats, barley, quinoa).
4. Got milk? Drink/eat fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
5. Eat healthy protein foods. Protein intake should include a variety of sources (seafood, lean meats, eggs, milk/dairy, nuts and seeds).
6. Include oils that occur naturally in plants (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, sunflower, as well as oils in avocado, nuts, seeds and olives).
7. Limit added sugars. Less than 10 percent of total calories should come from added sugars. Generally this means less than 100-150 calories per day for most young children
8. Limit fats, especially saturated and trans-fats. Similar to sugar, less than 10 percent of total calories should come from saturated fat.
9. Watch your salt intake. Older children and adults should consume less than 2300 mg of sodium per day; the amount of sodium in 1 teaspoon of salt.
10. Be active. According to the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, adults need 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week and muscle strengthening at least two days per week. Children ages 6-17 years old need at least 60 minutes per day of physical activity, including muscle and bone strengthening activities.
Making small shifts in patterns will make a big difference in your family's health.
• Children's Health is a continuing series. This week's article is courtesy of Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. For more information, visit luriechildrens.org.