The Importance of Daily Exercise and Weight Control

Your weight is important in staying healthy.  If your weight is in the “healthy” range, keep it there.  If you are overweight, avoid gaining weight and lose some if you can.  Daily exercise is important in losing weight, so it is no surprise that daily exercise and weight control are at the base of the Healthy Eating Pyramid shown below.

Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.
Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.


Since taller people tend to weigh more than shorter people, the body mass index (BMI) was developed as a measure of weight adjusted for height.  There are a number of online BMI calculators.  You can click here to see a BMI chart.  Scientific studies have shown that BMIs above 25 increase the risk of dying early, mainly from heart disease and cancer.  There is widespread agreement that BMIs between 25 and 30 should be considered overweight, and over 30 obese.  A healthy BMI is between 18.5 and 25.


If your BMI is below 25, you want to keep it there.  Try to avoid gaining weight even if you could add some pounds and still stay within the healthy BMI range.  If your BMI is above 25, you want to prevent it from getting any larger, and if possible, you want to lower it.


Some studies support the idea that healthy eating, in moderation, should be good for not only long term health, but also for losing and maintaining weight.  One such scientific research study was conducted by Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital on 101 overweight volunteers.  The study has proven that people following a moderate-fat diet based on the Healthy Eating Pyramid  lost more weight (and kept it off) than people following a low-fat diet.  After six months, both groups had similar weight loss.  However at 18 months, people on the low-fat diet had regained most of their weight.  On the contrary, those following the moderate-fat diet based on the Healthy Eating Pyramid kept off the pounds they lost.  They reported being satisfied with the variety and flavors of their new way of eating and did not feel deprived.


Weight control  can be a challenge especially since it is so easy to gain weight.  We are also bombarded by food commercials and eating occasions which tempt us to indulge.  This three-pronged strategy may help in losing weight and keeping it off:

  1. Get physically active:  If you are already, try to increase the level of your activity.  Daily physical activity has many health benefits.  It helps you lose weight, prevents many diseases like cancer and heart disease, lowers anxiety, improves your mood, and aids in living a long life.  It also burns calories and maintains muscle.  Walking is an effective activity (aim for 30 minutes or more daily).
  2. Find an eating program that works for you:  The Healthy Eating Pyramid is a good start.  It can help you choose the right foods to improve your health.  Diets low in refined grains are best.  Replace them with whole grains, vegetables, and fruits.  Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats in favor of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats to improve your cholesterol levels and allow your arteries to work more effectively.  Replace red and processed meat with beans, nuts, poultry, and fish to reduce risk of cancers, diabetes, and heart disease.  A Mediterranean-style diet is one good option.  It is flexible as you can include cuisines from around the world as well as your own creations.  This style of diet has tremendous variety and pleasure to last a lifetime.  Most of all, the diet you choose has to work for you, just make sure that it includes healthy fats and protein and physical activity.
  3. Avoid overeating:  To keep your caloric intake at a reasonable level, it is important to not overeat.  Some suggestions: 1) Practice stopping before you are full. 2) Be selective about what you eat. 3) Beware of desserts. 4) Eat slowly and pay attention to your food when you eat. 5) Drink a glass of water before each meal. 6) Keep track of the calories in your food.

Remember that weight loss is a marathon, not a sprint.  You want to lose weight and keep it off.  Following the Healthy Eating Pyramid will help, and you will also lower your risk of many diseases like cancers, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.



Introducing The Healthy Eating Plate

In the last post, the Healthy Eating Pyramid was presented.  How does this translate to what we actually put on our plate?  This is where the Healthy Eating Plate comes in.  It serves as a guide to help people make the best eating choices.  The Healthy Eating Plate is shown below followed by the key points.

Copyright © 2011 Harvard University. For more information about The Healthy Eating Plate, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,

Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits.  The more color and variety the better.  Remember potatoes and French fries do not count as vegetables because of their negative effect on blood sugar.

Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains, not just any grains.  Whole grains include whole wheat, oats, brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, millet, hulled barley etc.  Foods made from whole grains should also be included, like whole wheat pasta.  Whole grains are healthier because they have a milder effect on blood sugar and insulin than refined grains (white rice, white bread, pasta).

Fill a quarter of your plate with healthy protein.  Keep in mind that some sources of protein (fish, poultry, nuts, beans) are healthier.  They can be mixed into salads or served on a plate with vegetables.  Limit red meat and avoid processed meat, like sausage and bacon.

Enjoy healthy fats.  The glass bottle near the Healthy Eating Plate is a reminder to use healthy oils, like olive and canola, in cooking, on salads, and at the table.

Drink water, coffee, or tea.  Complete your meal with a glass of water, or if you’d like, a cup of tea or coffee.  Limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day and juice to one small glass a day.  Skip the sugary drinks.

Stay active.  The figure scampering along the bottom of the Healthy Eating Plate’s place mat is a reminder to stay active for weight control.

The Main Message is Diet Quality
In addition to recommending the healthy carbohydrates, like fruits, vegetables (other than potatoes), and whole grains, the Healthy Eating Plate encourages the use of healthy oils and does not set a maximum on the percentage of calories people should get each day from healthy sources of fat.  The Healthy Eating Plate therefore recommends a moderate fat diet.

Personally, I was on a low fat diet for one year and lost 22 pounds.  However my blood cholesterol increased from 218 mg/dL to 228 mg/dL.  I then switched to using The Healthy Eating Plate as a guide to plan my meals over the next two years.  In that time I lowered my blood cholesterol from 228 mg/dL to 147 mg/dL and also lost 44 pounds.  I printed a copy of the Healthy Eating Plate and refer to it regularly.

Introducing The Healthy Eating Pyramid


Two years ago, I researched diets that would reduce my risk of cardiovascular disease and other diseases.  I discovered the Healthy Eating Pyramid, a pyramid developed by faculty members of the Harvard School of Public Health.  The Harvard faculty members felt that the icons, MyPyramid and MyPlate, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) fell short of giving people the nutrition advice needed to choose the healthiest diets.  This was due to both the shaky scientific evidence they used and the influence of the powerful food industry.

The Healthy Eating Pyramid

The Healthy Eating Pyramid uses the wealth of scientific research conducted in the last 20 years that has reshaped the definition of healthy eating.  The Harvard School of Public Health also developed the Healthy Eating Plate which corrects the flaws in USDA’s MyPlate.  I will present the Healthy Eating Plate in my next post.  The Healthy Eating Pyramid is shown below.

Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.
Copyright © 2008. For more information about The Healthy Eating Pyramid, please see The Nutrition Source, Department of Nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health,, and Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy, by Walter C. Willett, M.D., and Patrick J. Skerrett (2005), Free Press/Simon & Schuster Inc.

Here are the building blocks of The Healthy Eating Pyramid:

Daily Exercise and Weight Control: Both form the foundation of The Healthy Eating Pyramid.  They strongly influence your chances of getting and staying healthy.  They also influence what you eat and how your food affects you.

Whole Grains: Grains are the seeds of grasses cultivated for food.  Whole grains include the outer (bran) and inner (germ) layers as well as the energy-rich endosperm.  Examples of whole grains are oatmeal , whole wheat bread, and brown rice.  Refined grains are milled to remove the germ and bran to increase shelf life.  Whole grains are the best sources of grains because they contain more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.  The body also digests whole grains slower than refined grains preventing blood sugar and insulin levels from rising and falling too quickly.  This better control of blood sugar and insulin can delay hunger and prevent the development of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Healthy Fats and Oils: Healthy fats and oils are basically unsaturated fats: monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats.  Sources include olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut and other vegetable oils;  nuts and seeds, and avocados.  These healthy fats and oils improve cholesterol levels.

Vegetables and Fruits: Lots of fruits and vegetables lower the chance of having a heart attack or stroke, lower blood pressure, protect against some types of cancers, and prevent cataracts and macular degeneration as we get older.  Potatoes are not included here because they consist mostly of rapidly digested starch, so they have the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets.  Instead potatoes are included in the “Use Sparingly” section.

Nuts, Beans, Seeds, and Tofu:  These are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  Nuts include almonds, walnuts, pistachios, pecans, and peanuts.  Beans include black beans, garbanzos, lentils, and other beans usually sold dried.

Fish, Poultry and Eggs: These are also good sources of protein.  Fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can reduce heart disease risk.  Chicken and Turkey are also good sources and can be low in saturated fat.  Eggs contain a lot of vitamins and minerals.

Dairy or Vitamin D/Calcium Supplement: Calcium, vitamin D, and exercise are important for strong bones.  Most people need more vitamin D than three glass of milk provide, and most people need less calcium than three glasses of milk provide.  Keep in mind that high dairy intake has been associated with high risk of certain types of cancers, and there are healthier ways to get calcium than from milk and cheese.  Cheese in particular usually has a lot of sodium.  So if you like dairy, limit dairy intake to one to two servings a day; Then you may want to take a vitamin D supplement to get enough vitamin D.  If you don’t like dairy, then take a vitamin D and calcium supplement, or take the right multivitamin.

Use Sparingly: Red Meat, Processed Meat, and Butter: These are high in saturated fats.  Processed meats, in particular, are also loaded with added sodium.

Use Sparingly: Refined Grains; Potatoes; Sugary Drinks and Sweets: Unfortunately refined grains (like white rice, pasta, and white bread), potatoes, and sugary drinks and sweets are staples in the American diet.  They all cause rapid blood sugar spikes that can lead to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Use Sparingly: Salt: Extensive scientific research links high salt diets to increase risk of heart attack and stroke so use the salt shaker sparingly.  Food prepared away from home and processed foods such as cheese, bread, deli meats, snack chips, canned soups, frozen dinners, and spaghetti sauce contribute the most sodium in our diets, so read labels and choose the lowest sodium foods.

Multivitamin with extra Vitamin D (for most people).  There may be nutritional holes in the diets of even the most careful eaters.  Therefore a daily multivitamin, multimineral supplement can help fill those nutritional holes.  The Healthy Eating Pyramid recommends a multivitamin with at least 800-1000 IUs (international units) of vitamin D.  It’s always a good idea to discuss your diet and use of supplements with your doctor who may want to order a vitamin D blood test.

Optional: Alcohol in moderation (not for everyone).  Scientific research suggests that an alcoholic drink a day lowers the risk of heart disease.  Alcohol has risks and benefits so moderation is very important.  One to two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day (at most) for women.  Pregnant women should avoid alcohol during pregnancy.


The Healthy Eating Pyramid does not state how many ounces or cups of the specific foods you should eat each day, because it is not meant to be a rigid roadmap.  Actually the amount you eat depends on your size and physical activity.  Instead it is a flexible, simple guide on how you should eat when you eat.

A healthy diet includes more foods from the base of the pyramid than from the higher levels of the pyramid.  There is flexibility for different eating styles and food choices.  For example a vegetarian can follow the Healthy Eating Pyramid by emphasizing beans, nuts, seeds, and other plant sources of protein and choosing non-dairy sources of calcium and vitamin D.  Someone who eats meat can choose fish and poultry for protein, with occasional red meat.

I use the Healthy Eating Pyramid as a guide to healthy eating.  I eat fish five times a week and poultry twice per week.  I also eat two vegetarian meals (breakfast and dinner) each day.  I include two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil each day making my diet a moderate fat Mediterranean-style diet.

The only foods that are off-limits are those that contain trans fats from partially hydrogenating oils.  Trans fats have been strongly linked to higher cholesterol levels and heart disease risk.  Trans fats are found in commercially prepared baked goods (like cookies, pies, donuts), snack foods, processed foods, and fast foods.  So read food labels carefully for trans fats, and the ingredients list for the word “hydrogenated.”   I will have a post in the near future on avoiding these trans fats.