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The Importance Of Nutrition

The importance of good nutrition is nothing new. Back in 400 B.C.,

Hippocrates said, "Let food be your medicine and medicine be your food."

Today, good nutrition is more important than ever. At least four of the 10

leading causes of death in the U.S.--heart disease, cancer, stroke and

diabetes--are directly related to way we eat; diet is also implicated in scores

of other conditions. But while the wrong diet can be deadly, eating right is

among the key cornerstones of health.

Of course, food alone isn't the key to a longer and healthier life. Good

nutrition should be part of an overall healthy lifestyle, which also includes

regular exercise, not smoking or drinking alcohol excessively, stress

management, limiting exposure to environmental hazards and other factors.

And no matter how well you eat, your genes play a big part in your risk for

certain health problems. But don't underestimate the influence of how and

what you eat.

For example, atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) can begin in early

childhood, but the process can be halted--even reversed--if you make healthy

changes in your diet and lifestyle. The gradual bone thinning that results in

osteoporosis may be prevented if you consume enough calcium from dairy

products and other sources throughout your life and participate in

weight-bearing exercise. You may be genetically predisposed to diabetes, but

keep your weight within a healthy range through diet and exercise and the

disease may never strike you.

The keys to good nutrition are balance, variety and moderation. High-fat

foods are balanced with low-fat foods, and calorie intake is offset by enough

activity to maintain normal weight. To stay healthy, your body needs the right

balance of carbohydrates, fats and protein --the three main components of

nutrition. Each day, you should get:

15 to 20 percent of total calories from protein foods

15 to 30 percent of calories from fat

50 to 65 percent from carbohydrates.

You also need vitamins, minerals and other substances from many different

foods, and while some foods are better than others, no single food or food

group has it all--so eating a variety of different foods is essential.

Moderation means eating neither too much nor too little of any food or

nutrient. Too much food can result in excess weight and even too much of

certain nutrients, while eating too little can lead to numerous nutrient

deficiencies and low body mass.