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The bottom line on food, nutrition and health

Thirty years ago, I began dispensing thoughts and advice on healthful eating through this weekly column. The year was 1976, and people wanted to cook both fast and slow. Microwave ovens and electric slow cookers (crock pots) were becoming popular, and people wanted to know how to use them safely. Low fat was in, all diet drinks were made with saccharin and people were just beginning to worry about cholesterol.

The 1980s brought us the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. A fifth food group, “fats, sweets and alcohol,” was added to the “basic four” as foods targeted for moderation. Heart disease and cancer were being linked to dietary patterns, and we were advised to limit fats, cholesterol and sodium and to increase our intake of high fiber foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains. High fructose corn syrup made from corn starch began to replace cane and beet sugar in soft drinks and other processed foods. Aspartame was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an alternative sweetener, and we learned about Escherichia coli O157:H7 after small children died from eating undercooked hamburgers.

The 1990s brought the release of the Food Guide Pyramid as a graphic representation of how to eat. Variety, proportionality and moderation were key concepts we, as nutritionists, tried to convey. America was well on its way to becoming the fattest nation in the world, and diabetes was on the rise. Sucralose received FDA approval for use as an alternative sweetener. On the food safety side, Listeria monocytogenes gained prominence as the pathogen of concern following outbreaks associated with such foods as deli meats and raw milk cheese.

Today, childhood obesity has become the most pressing public health issue in America. Older adults are living longer and healthier lives than ever, but their grandchildren are facing the prospect of developing type 2 diabetes and atherosclerosis before they reach their twenties. Something is certainly wrong with this picture. Despite the many technological advances we’ve made in the world of food, nutrition and health, the rates of obesity and diabetes have soared, particularly in younger people, as a result of improper diet and inactivity. There is still much to be done both in nutrition advances and in nutrition education and practice. But that is for someone else to focus on in future articles.

After 30 years of writing a weekly column, I’m signing off so I can spend more time with my family and more time enjoying Colorado and the big world out there. Next week, Shirley Perryman, MS, RD, will begin writing this nutrition column. Shirley also is an extension specialist with Colorado State University and comes with much expertise on nutrition and health.

Thanks to you for reading and following this column. It’s been a great 30 years. In closing, I’d like to leave you with my top five bottom lines.


  • Practice portion control.
    Always remember: Moderation in all things. As long as you practice portion control, there are no evil foods, just inappropriate portion sizes. Portion control starts with the size of plate you choose and the meal you order and ends with the push away from the table.
  • Focus on vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
    When loading up your plate, fill half of it with fresh or steamed vegetables. You’ll do your health a favor and help keep calories under control.
  • Be physically active every day.
    When asked her secret to staying healthy, a friend of mine replied that she tried to do something every day that caused her to work up a sweat. This is good advice indeed. In years past, physical activity was part of the daily work life. Today, with our motorized, computerized world, it needs to be planned. Current recommendations are that we commit to at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity each day.
  • Keep foods safe to eat.
    No one enjoys the cramps, vomiting and diarrhea that accompany a bout of foodborne illness. What’s worse, though, is when the bout leaves you with a chronic complication like Gullian Barre or meningitis. Keeping foods safe takes a little effort but is well worth it. And whenever in doubt, throw it out!
  • Eat to live, not just live to eat.
    Most get-togethers center around food. But it is the getting together and enjoying each other that should take center stage, not the food. Life is to be enjoyed – and at least for me, that means being able to be active.
    Here’s to your health!
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