Health & Medicine

The key to long-term health and weight loss is sustainable lifestyle changes

In a world where fad diets seem to rule the airwaves, many people find it difficult to discern what combination of diet and exercise is most likely to ensure overall health. Many fad diets may help someone lose weight in a short time, but the weight will come back quickly if the diet is not maintained. And some diets may also have undesirable effects on overall health.

For long-term health, the most effective diet plan involves a combination of balanced, healthy eating and regular, moderate exercise.

The best way to have a healthy, balanced diet is to follow the new food pyramid, ( in addition to the guidelines set by the American Heart Association. A combination of fiber, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, dairy and proteins, coupled with limiting the amount of fats, oils and sweets will ensure that your body is getting all of the nutrients it needs to prevent illness and maintain a proper balance.

To start, the average adult should have six tp11 servings of fiber daily. This includes whole grains like whole wheat bread or pasta, brown rice and whole grain cereal. Vegetables and fruits are also key. Most adults should have about five servings of vegetables and three to four servings of fruit daily. Rounding out the diet, the average person should eat two to three servings of both dairy and lean protein, including eggs and lean meat.

In general, it isn't about a "diet," so much as making a sustainable lifestyle change. A healthy lifestyle is something that anyone can do consistently and make a habit.

Among the greatest keys to success for overall health and weight control is to watch what you eat and be mindful of portions. An appropriate serving of meat is the size of a deck of playing cards. For grains, a serving is a slice of bread or one half cup of cereal, rice or pasta. A medium size apple, banana or half cup of chopped fruit would count as one serving of fruit. Portion size is all about knowing the appropriate size and measuring your food to the cup or ounce. This will help make you more aware of what you're eating and how much you're eating.

If midday hunger strikes, don't go for the cookie; instead, opt for a healthy, low-calorie snack, like an apple or banana, whichwill help you feel full for a longer period, won't give you a sugar crash later and won't break the bank in terms of calorie intake.

In general, drink water with meals. Many other beverages, like sodas, are high in sugars and other chemicals and are filled with empty calories. Even diet sodas can be an issue, as they may lead you to eat more calories than you would if just drinking water with a meal. Be mindful of juice also, especially with children. While a natural fruit juice with no additives can count as a serving of fruit, it's high in sugar and low in the good fiber in whole fruit.

Of course, any good health regimen would not be complete without a healthy dose of exercise. For healthy adults, 30 minutes of moderate exercise is recommended daily. A child needs much more, in the neighborhood of 60 minutes of activity daily. Before beginning any health plan, consult with your doctor, who will be able to help you find the right balance for you.