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The Food Guide Pyramid
Important Tips for Vegetarians


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Eating for Good Health

Maintaining good health and modeling healthy behavior is an important part of planning and growing a family. Dietary guidelines are an important part of the big 'good health' picture. The objective of Dietary Guidelines is to help people maintain health through wise, safe food selections, good weight management practices and a physically active lifestyle. Recommendations are developed and updated by national governments, including the United States and Canada, based on current knowledge of chronic diseases associated with excesses, deficiencies, and imbalances. In the US, revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans were released by the US Dairy Association and Department of Health and Human Services in May, 2000. These are a combination of US and Canadian guidelines. Following them to the greatest extent possible can protect you from many diseases and support optimal well-being.

Eat a Variety of Foods
By eating a variety of foods you increase your chances of getting the maximum nutritional benefit from your diet. There are two dimensions to the concept of variety in your diet. One, you want to get variety from among all of the major food groups. Two, you want to eat a variety of foods from within each of the groups.

The Food Guide Pyramid is a tool designed to help you achieve the proper balance among the groups. Following its advice will provide you with the required balance of protein foods, fruits, vegetables, grains and calcium rich dairy products. Give yourself the benefit of obtaining the maximum range of nutrients, photochemicals, fibers and antioxidants. Eat the recommended number of servings and enjoy a wide variety of foods within each group.

Healthy Weight Maintenance and Exercise
Because fertility and a number of diseases are associated with weights outside the recommended range for height, achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is important for the good health of everyone. This is true for people of all ages, especially women of childbearing years that are planning families. Both excessive thinness and obesity can jeopardize the chances of a healthy and successful pregnancy.

It's important to understand, however, that a healthy weight is not an 'ideal' standard that is applied to everyone. There is a range of healthy weights. If you are overweight, even a relatively small weight loss can improve your health. The same is true for underweight women who gain some weight. It's best to consult with your health care provider to determine an achievable and healthy weight for you.

To achieve and maintain a healthy weight range, it is usually suggested that you exercise (not excessively) and follow a balanced diet with appropriate calories. Weight change should be gradual. If you have a health concern or are having difficulty with starting a family, it is especially important to talk to your physician before starting an exercise program.

Eat Plenty of Grains, Fruit, and Vegetables
The foods found in the grain, fruit, and vegetable groups are the foundation of a healthy diet. They are rich in fiber and the essential vitamins and minerals that have been shown to promote health. They also contain compounds called phytochemicals and antioxidants, two main components that have recently been recognized for their abilities to prevent disease. The best ways to get your antioxidants and phytochemicals is to eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

This is an especially good place to practice the recommendation for variety within a food group. Different nutrients are found in different foods within the groups. Folic acid, very important during early weeks of pregnancy, is found in legumes, green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, whole-grain cereals, and other enriched grains. Vitamin C is found in fruits (especially citrus fruits), tomatoes, peppers, and greens. Vitamin B6 can be found in potatoes, bananas and whole grain cereals. Beta carotene is plentiful in the dark green and deep yellow vegetables.

Eat Foods Low in Fat, Saturated Fat, and Cholesterol
Fat is an important nutrient in the diet used in the construction of every one of the body's cells and indispensible in the absorption of some vitamins. However, in excess fat, as well as saturated fat and cholesterol, is associated with many chronic diseases such as obesity and those caused by atherosclerosis. Obesity, atherosclerosis and chronic health conditions all impact one's fertility and increase risks associated with pregnancy.

The general recommendation is to eat no more than 30% of calories from fat. There are three types of fat in the diet, saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated. Limiting saturated fat (fat of dairy, meats, poultry, and tropical oils) to 10% or less of calories is also important since this fat is a culprit in development of atherosclerosis. Excessive intake of cholesterol found in animal products may also increase your blood cholesterol levels. While all animal products contain cholesterol, egg yolks, liver, and organ meats have an especially high cholesterol content. The general advice is to keep cholesterol intake to 300 mg or less per day.

As far as healthy fats go, those highest in monounsaturated oils (canola, olive and avocado oils) are favored. Sources of omega-3 polyunsaturated fats (fish, canola, soy) are also encouraged to support good health of the immune system and of nerve cells.

Choose a Diet Moderate in Sugar
The primary health problem associated with excess sugar is dental caries (cavities). A secondary problem, however, is its potential for contributing to unwanted weight gain. Foods that contain added sweeteners such as sodas, pies, cookies, cakes, and candies can be quite high in calories and too many calories will cause weight gain. Since keeping weight within acceptable levels is very important for people planning a family, especially for women. It's best to enjoy 'sweets' on an occasion rather than regular basis, and in moderate portions.

Eat Salt and Sodium in Moderation
For many people excess sodium or salt can lead to high blood pressure. High blood pressure increases risk of a heart attack or stroke. It is also a concern for women who wish to become pregnant, since pre-existing high blood pressure increases risks of pregnancy. Generally, the recommendation for sodium intake is approximately 2400mg per day. Did you know that just 1/4 teaspoon of salt contains of sodium?

Sodium is found in salt and in many foods that we eat. Processed, canned, and fast foods can contain very large amounts of sodium. So read labels and ask questions to find foods low in sodium. Your first step is to put your salt shaker away, or get a shaker with smaller holes. Try combinations of fresh herbs and spices to lower the sodium level in a few of your favorite recipes.

Choose a Diet High in Fiber
Dietary fiber is important to good health. It helps the digestive tract function well, may help prevent some types of cancer, helps control blood glucose levels (important for those with diabetes) and helps reduce cholesterol levels. The usual recommendation is to get 20-35 grams of fiber in your diet every day, depending on your age. If you are just beginning to increase your intake to this level, do so gradually and be sure to drink at least 8 cups of fluid.

There are two types of fiber - insoluble and soluble and both are important for good health. Insoluble fiber is found mostly in whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Soluble fiber is plentiful in dried beans and peas (legumes), oats, barley, and fruits such as apples and pears, and in vegetables such as potatoes. Foods containing fiber usually contain both types, but in different amounts.

If you Drink Alcoholic Beverages, Do So in Moderation
When planning a pregnancy, it is recommended that alcohol be strictly limited by both the man and women as alcohol may cause birth defects. Even though there may be some evidence that people who drink moderate amounts of alcohol have less heart disease than nondrinkers, this should not be a reason to start drinking if you don't already do so. Alcohol is not a nutrient; it is a drug. It contributes empty calories which can lead to weight gain and nutrient deficiencies. Excess alcohol consumption is associated with hypertension, obesity, stroke, and many other health problems.

If You Consume Caffeine, Do So in Moderation
Although no direct link between caffeine and chronic disease development has been clearly established, caffeine does have the potential to cause some negative health effects, including miscarriage. These negative effects are not usually caused by moderate consumption of caffeine. While individual tolerances to caffeine vary, most people are advised to consume no more than 500 mg of caffeine daily. This would be the equivalent of 3-4 small cups (not mugs) of coffee. Women who have a history of miscarriage should try to avoid or strictly limit caffeine to even lower daily consumption.

Caffeine effects the central nervous system. In excess it can impair the body's ability to deal with stress effectively. Stress is certainly a factor in fertility, and less stress for both men and women can improve the odds of successful and healthy pregnancy. If you need to cut down on caffeine, you should know that withdrawal symptoms of headache and fatigue can occur. Cutting back gradually over 2 to 4 weeks can help to minimize this problem.

Not all exercises or diets are suitable for everyone. Before you begin this program, you should have permission from your doctor to participate in vigorous exercise and change of diet. If you feel discomfort or pain when you exercise, do not continue. The instructions and advice presented are in no way intended as a substitute for medical counseling. The creators, producers, participants and distributors of this site disclaim any liability or loss in connection with the exercise and advice provided here.

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