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Test Your Nutrition Know How

Test Your Nutrition Know How

The quiz that follows will update you on the seven most important pieces of dietary advice that have recently been revised.

  1. If you consume the recommended six to eleven servings of grains a day, it does not matter which grains you choose. True or False
  2. If you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and consume the recommended five to nine daily servings, it does not matter much which fruits you choose. True or False
  3. Cutting back on fat and limiting your intake of dietary cholesterol are the most effective dietary steps you an take to reduce your "bad" LDL cholesterol. True or False
  4. Eating too much fat is the primary dietary cause of obesity. True or False
  5. Many people need to cut back on carbohydrates, even if they do not have diabetes. True or False
  6. Post-menopausal women should get all the calcium they can. True or False
  7. High-protein diets increase the risk of heart disease, cancer or both. True or False

Correct Answers

1. False. Whole grains are better for you than refined ones. The Department of Agriculture recently modified the base of its familiar food pyramid by advising that at least three of the daily six to eleven servings should be whole grains because they offer more nutritional bang for the caloric buck.

Whole grains have been linked with a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. They are also more filling and thus may help with weight control. Some of those benefits come from the higher fiber content of whole grains. Moreover, whole grains likely contain a host of other still-unidentified phytochemicals that are lost in the refining process and are likely to offer additional protection.

2. True. Nearly all fruits and vegetables contain a host of vitamins, minerals or less-well-known nutrients, including antioxidants, flavonoids, sulfur compounds and a variety of fibers, each of which protects health in unique and complementary ways. Researchers suspect there are hundreds of other protective substances that have not yet been identified.

While some studies focus on linking particular foods to protection against certain diseases - such as tomatoes warding off prostate cancer - there is far stronger evidence that a diet rich in a variety of produce protects against a wide range of diseases. Having a choice of appetizing foods to select from can also help you stay motivated to eat the recommended five to nine daily servings produce.

3. False. Cutting total fat without also reducing saturated fat or trans fat intake will have no effect on your "bad" LDL cholesterol level. What is important is to replace some bad fat in your diet with some good fat. That means limiting intake of saturated fat (found mainly in animal foods) and trans fat (found in foods made with partially hydrogenated oil, such as most margarine's and many commercially prepared foods) while boosting your intake of unsaturated fats, such as those in olive, peanut, canola, corn and soybean oils.

And while limiting dietary cholesterol -- found especially in egg yolks and meat - to under 200 milligrams a day can lower LDL cholesterol by an estimated five percent, the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recently identified two other measures that can each be just as effective: Consuming five to ten grams a day of soluble fiber (found in fruits, vegetables, and legumes) and two grams a day of plant sterols (contained in products such as Benecol and Take Control margarine). A third step -- consuming 25 grams a day of soy protein, from various soy foods, including soy milk and tofu -- may also provide comparable coronary protection and my also help ward off certain cancers.

4. False. Fat consumption is not the primary cause of weight gain. Over the past two decades the percentage of calories from fat in the average American's diet has actually declined slightly while the rate of obesity has nearly doubled. Why? People have cut back on whole milk, butter, margarine and certain cuts of red meat -- but eating a whole lot more of almost everything else, including many low fat foods compensates them. Unfortunately, such foods often contain as many calories as regular versions, since manufacturers often adjust for the loss of tasty fat by adding extra sugar. The net result: an increase in total calories consumed. And it is total calories that count most when it comes to weight gain.

5. True. Nutrition experts have long preached that carbohydrates should form the basis of the American diet. But last year the NCEP said that roughly a quarter of American adults may need to cut back on carbohydrates. Those are people with the metabolic syndrome -- a condition marked by marginally elevated blood glucose levels, excess abdominal fat, high blood pressure, a low level of the "good" HDL cholesterol and a high triglyceride level. Those individuals should get roughly 50 percent of their calories from carbohydrates instead of the usually recommended 60 percent. That is because carbohydrates can worsen insulin resistance -- prediabetics condition that is the underlying problem behind the metabolic syndrome. People who have the syndrome should cut back on carbohydrates but not reduce their intake of whole grains. In fact, whole grains are especially important for them, since the high fiber content may help prevent diabetes.

6. False. Most post-menopausal women - like most people in general - do fail to get enough calcium. But in recent years food manufacturers have started adding calcium to everything from orange juice to candy and SpaghettiO's. People who stock up on such foods could get too much calcium, especially if they also pop a daily calcium supplement. The National Academy of Sciences has identified 2,500 milligrams as the safe upper limit for daily calcium consumption. Regularly consuming more than that may cause kidney stones and kidney damage and block the absorption of other nutrients. By all means, make sure you get enough calcium -- generally 1,000 milligrams a day for adults under age 50 and 1,500 milligrams for post-menopausal women and everyone over age 65 -- just don't go overboard.

7. False. Protein consumption itself is not the problem. Heavy meat eaters are more likely than others to develop coronary disease, but that increased risk almost certainly comes from the saturated fat in most meats, not the protein. And while some research does suggest that protein from red meat may increase the risk of certain cancers, that evidence is inconsistent.

But the lack of a strong connection between animal protein and heart disease or cancer does not mean you can safely load up on it. Not only is animal protein often inextricably linked to artery-clogging saturated fat, but also recent evidence does link protein from animal sources, particularly red meat, to an increased risk of osteoporosis. The effect of protein from dairy foods is still unclear, though the risk seems greatest with hard cheeses. So, it is best to get as much of your protein as you can from plant foods such as soy products, beans and whole-wheat bread, as well as low fat dairy products, especially fluid ones like milk, cottage cheese and yogurt.

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