Vermont has long been among the U.S. states with the lowest rates of obesity and the greatest commitment to local food, which is known to be higher in nutrients. However, the rate of obesity among adults in the Green Mountain State continues to rise. In fact, the Trust for America’s Health and Robert Wood Johnson 15th annual State of Obesity report shows that Vermont’s adult obesity rate rose from 10.7% in 1990 to 27.6% in 2018. So while a lot Vermonters are doing right when it comes to healthy eating, there’s still work to be done.

What are the risks of eating an unhealthy diet and being overweight?

Excess weight can increase a person’s risk for a host of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, joint problems, and some cancers. Studies show that an unhealthy diet can still increase the risk of these health problems even in those who maintain a healthy weight through exercise—or just the luck of genetics. Some specific unhealthy foods, like processed and red meats, have been linked directly to diseases like colorectal cancer.

What does a healthy diet look like?

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and of Agriculture (USDA), a healthy diet consists of a variety of foods. These include vegetables (including dark leafy greens, red and orange veggies, beans, and peas), protein-rich foods (like fish, lean meats, nuts, seeds, eggs, and soy), whole fruits, whole grains, fat-free or low fat dairy (including milk, yogurt, and cheese), and healthy oils (like olive oil).  

In addition, a healthy diet limits certain components, with less than 10% of calories from sugar and less than 10% from saturated fats each day. The guidelines also recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg of sodium daily and drinking alcohol only in moderation (up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men of legal drinking age).

Recommendations for total calorie intake per day depend on one’s age, gender, height, weight, and activity level. For example, a woman aged 31 to 50 should consume between 1,800 calories per day if she’s sedentary and up to 2,200 calories per day if she’s active. A man of the same age should consume between 2,200 and 3,000 calories per day, depending on activity level.

What if a person is trying to lose weight?

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the average person needs to eat 500 to 750 fewer calories a day to lose approximately 1 to 1 1/2 pounds a week. The NHLBI recommends a 1,200 to 1,500 calorie diet for women looking to lose weight at a safe and steady pace. Men, as well as women at the higher end of the weight chart or who exercise regularly, may be able to lose weight while eating 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day.

Can small changes make a difference?

Yes! The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate initiative recommends making small, practical changes to build healthier eating patterns. Over time, this can help to create better eating habits that last.

While it’s always good to strive to be as healthy as possible, it’s also important to remember that even small changes can make a big difference when it comes to health. In fact, the National Institutes for Health’s Diabetes Prevention Program study showed that people who were overweight with prediabetes significantly reduced their risk of developing type 2 diabetes by losing just 5 to 7% of their body weight through healthier eating and 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week.

What small changes can a person make to start eating better?

These 5 small changes can help change eating habits for the better:

  • Start the morning with a couple of eggs. Eggs are budget friendly and simple to cook in a variety of ways, from scrambled to poached to hard boiled. Studies show that the protein and fats in eggs can help increase energy levels and help people stay satisfied so they eat less throughout the day.
  • Switch to black coffee. Coffee by itself has few calories and some important nutrients such as vitamins B2 and B5. It’s also been linked to possible health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, liver disease, and certain cancers. Fattening creamers and added sugar quickly turn this beneficial drink unhealthy.
  • Drink a glass of water about a half hour before each meal. This has been shown to help people eat less and to temporarily increase the metabolism to burn more calories.
  • Find easy, healthier substitutes for common foods. For example, a serving of baby carrots can offer a much healthier alternative to chips that’s just as convenient to pack for lunch or grab on the go. Frozen grapes can offer a quick and healthy way to satisfy a craving for sweets.
  • Slow down. Research shows that when people eat at a slower pace, they feel full sooner and this leads to eating less.

For more small ways to eat healthier, and the support to stick with changes over time, try the University of Vermont’s free One Small Thing website and 2019 Healthy Tips Challenge. Go to https://justonesmallthing.org/ to get started.

For weekly tips delivered to your inbox and the chance to win prizes to help you meet your goals, join the six-week Healthy Tips Challenge: https://justonesmallthing.org/signup

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