Eat the rainbow, recommends Kailey Roberts, Burnet County AgriLife extension agent for Family and Community Health. And adopt a new physical activity of only 10 minutes a day to start the new year with an achievable plan for better health.
“My first tip or tool is to start small,” she said. “Do not try to tackle all things at once.”
New Year’s resolutions to cut out all sugar or run 3 miles a day starting Jan. 1 have little chance of success, according to Roberts, who has been helping people improve their diets and physical routines for the past eight years. She has been the Burnet County agent for Family and Community Health for the past two years.
“If you are not already a runner, pledging to run three miles a day is not going to work,” Roberts continued. “Walk one mile a day. You can do that. Build up to that bigger goal as you go on.”
Texas A&M AgriLife bases all its nutrition programs on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate, which replaced the food pyramid in 2011. The color-coded plate is cut into different-size quadrants to represent four of the five food groups: fruits, veggies, grains, and protein. The fifth, dairy, is a circle outside of the plate.
“A good place to start is by adding more fruits and vegetables,” Roberts said. “I like to call it ‘eating the rainbow.’ The more colors you put on your plate, the more nutrients and vitamins you take into your diet.”
Nutrients and minerals give fruits and veggies their color.
“If you’re only eating red and green, you are only getting those nutrients,” she said. “Eat the rainbow and you get a wide variety of nutrients.”
As for the sweet stuff, “Everything in moderation!”
“It’s a cliche, but it works,” Roberts said. “Don’t deprive yourself of sweets, but try to choose them less often.”
She recommends avoiding foods with added sugar, saturated fats, and sodium — nutrients that provide little to no value to a healthy life and can lead to chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines obesity as a complex disease that occurs when an individual’s weight is higher than what is considered healthy for their height.)
“What I talk about most is reducing the added sugars, sodium, and saturated fat in the foods you eat,” Roberts said. “There are people who are working with their doctors and nutritionists and dietitians who are targeting certain nutrients for their own health, but as a general rule for most Americans, reducing those three nutrients is a good start.”
Increasing fruits and vegetables naturally reduces non-beneficial ingredients, and, Roberts added, they don’t always have to be fresh.
“I think people feel guilty about buying canned products, but canned fruits or vegetables have as much nutrition as frozen or fresh,” she said. “You have to look at the sodium or sugars added to them.”
Roberts teaches classes on how to read the labels on cans and frozen foods to make good eating decisions. Look for “zero added” sugar or sodium on the labels.
“That’s as good as getting it from the produce section,” she said. “And it doesn’t go bad as fast.”
Roberts called physical activity the “unsung hero” of health and wellness. She recommends 150 minutes of physical activity per week for adults in at least 10-minute increments, but the optimum level of exercise is different for everyone.
“For a sedentary person, getting 30 minutes a week is a win,” she said. “Take a 10-minute walk around the neighborhood, anything for 10 minutes. Once you have built up your endurance, then try for 12 or 15 minutes. Start where you can achieve your goal.”
Not everything about healthy living comes naturally. Roberts also teaches cooking classes year-round, including the four-session Cooking Well With Friends that offers lessons on preparing foods to prevent diabetes and promote heart health. Although she plans to hold public classes on certain nights, she will also schedule classes for groups at times convenient for them. The Cooking Well classes are fee-based (usually around $30 per person) and include all ingredients. Everyone takes home a casserole that can be frozen and eaten later.
Classes are usually held at the AgriLife building, 607 N. Vanderveer in Burnet, but groups can plan their classes in other facilities, such as a church kitchen.
“I feel like people tend to make it more complicated than it needs to be,” Roberts said of making a plan for improved nutrition and exercise. “Choose a goal for physical activity that you can meet and build on. And eat more colors. You want a good mix of eating that rainbow.”
Build a rainbow on your plate
Make nutritious choices from the five major food groups with the help of MyPlate, a visual guide to healthy eating developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2011. To build the perfect MyPlate meal, be sure your plate is half fruits and vegetables, a quarter grains, and under a quarter of protein with a dab of dairy on the side.
FRUITS: Fruits don’t have fat, sodium, or many calories, but they do have essential nutrients such as potassium, vitamin C, and folate. Different colors provide different nutrients.
VEGETABLES: Veggies can be eaten raw or cooked and fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. Cut them up, eat them whole, mash them up, or juice and drink them.
GRAINS: The best choices are whole grains, which still have iron, fiber, and B vitamins, rather than refined grains, which have had all of that removed in the refining process. At least half of the grains we eat should be whole grains.
PROTEIN: Protein includes seafood, meat, poultry, eggs, beans, peas, lentils, nuts, seeds, and soy products. If eating meat and poultry, choose lean cuts. Plenty of protein can be found in food without mothers.
DAIRY: This group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, lactose-free milk, and fortified soy milk and yogurt. It does NOT include cream cheese, sour cream, cream, or butter, as these foods made from milk have little calcium and a high fat content.
Note: Specific needs depend on a person’s age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity. For more information, visit myplate.gov.