It has gotten harder as I've gotten older to keep the weight off, and I miss the days when I could eat all I could eat at buffets and not gain a single pound. I'm still not that big, but definitely have a bit of the #DadBod and my HbA1C count suggests that I'm bordering on prediabetic even as my cholesterol levels stay within established norms. It's a sobering reminder that as we age, the body simply can't be as efficient as it used to be, and even for those folks still far from "middle age," it makes sense to set up good healthy habits that will persist throughout however much time we have left on this blue marble flying through space. Being National Nutrition Month at the time of this writing, now is as good a time as any to reset reasonable dietary goals without having to go full cold turkey.
About National Nutrition Month
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the National Nutrition Month campaign set up by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietitics, and is observed every year in March to raise awareness for nutritional education. Legend tells that the Academy was founded in the early 20th Century by a "visionary group of women" (how appropriate for Women's History Month!) in response to food shortages during World War I. With food being a critical resource across not only our nation, but across the globe, it makes sense to better understand how it can affect us physically and spiritually, which if you've seen my Pavlovian response to the delicacies showcased on the Great British Baking Show, is something we can all appreciate.
While it had its start as just a National Nutrition Week, ever since I was growing up in the United States, I have seen breakfast cereal and food commercials tout the importance of balance and "loaded with vitamins and minerals" among other catchphrases, as well as my own education where we learned about the food pyramid and how to avoid certain types of food (this Berenstain Bears book comes to mind). Through the efforts of the Academy and National Nutrition Week, education has expanded to help everyone make healthier choices for themselves and to prolong our lifespans and healthy standards of living.
The theme for 2023's awareness month is "Fuel for the Future" to educate the public on sustainable food choices in an effort to stay nourished while protecting the environment. This involves eating more plant-based foods, buying food items with minimal or recyclable packaging, and even growing your own food where possible. This also involves planning out your meals in advance and learning cooking techniques to avoid food waste while feeling more fulfilled in your nutritional goals. Feel free to check out eatright.org for more information.
The standard practice we were taught in elementary school during the ancient times was the classic food pyramid (to the left, via St. Luke's Health) where you would maximize intake of grains, fruits, and vegetables while reducing the amount of meat and dairy. The food pyramid has been updated through the years to reflect a better understanding of food portions. The most recent change, coming during the Obama administration, was MyPlate, which simplifies the graphic to show the classic food groups but also allows the individual to somewhat customize their choice of what they eat within each group, as well as personalizing a food plan based on the individual's physical parameters and physical activity level. This is probably the best way to do things anyway, because obviously everyone is different and one cookie-cutter plan won't work for all people. For example, someone who is a bodybuilder will have a vastly different diet than a distance runner or an expectant mother, and food plans have to be able to reasonably adapt to those differences.
Resources are available from the US Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers For Disease Control, and the World Health Organization to give general guidelines for healthy nutrition. While there are slight differences, most organizations recommend emphasizing fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while reducing the amounts of fats and added sugars in the daily meal plan. Proteins should also come from a variety of sources, including different meats, eggs, and high-protein plant sources such as nuts and seeds. The MyPlate planning tool is very useful in helping you determine the best diet for your lifestyle, especially if you are trying to stay within a budget given the rampant inflation we're experiencing lately. The fact that they allow a lot of variety is very attractive, since eating the same stuff every day gets bland in a hurry!
It's gotten a bit harder to fight temptation now that my wife works at a candy store, but I have made conscious decisions to reduce my intake of sweets while making sure I try to meet a step goal each day despite being mostly sedentary due to the nature of my work. I've intentionally included greens and fruits in my snacks along with my Costco-sized bag of pistachios, and we have incorporated whole grains into our sandwiches and sides of vegetables (including corn!) to go with balanced entrees. It's been difficult to avoid the sodium bombs that are used to flavor and preserve prepared food items, but there are other ways to flavor foods that don't involve salt, although I still have a visceral reaction to ginger. And I also take supplements to make sure I get plenty of my B vitamins, and minerals like zinc and selenium to keep my immune system strong. While the guidelines might have changed over the years, the basic philosophy of eating right and exercising still holds true. A healthy diet will keep you happy and help you maintain an optimal circadian rhythm so you can maximize that brain power towards your next great research or other scientific ideas.
Best wishes with your nutritional goals!