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Healthy diet benefits extend to daily activities

Feb. 5, 2005 -- A healthy diet with lots of milk, fruits, and vegetables in your diet can help you keep up your strength as well as manage your money.

Previous research has shown that nutrition is a key factor in maintaining a good quality of life and preventing disability. And calcium, vitamin D, and antioxidants have been shown to play a significant role in this regard.

So Denise K. Houston, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, took a look at how much dairy, fruits, and vegetables people ate. Dairy is rich in calcium and vitamin D and fruits and vegetables are packed with antioxidants.

Her study appears in this month's American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In this study, Houston set out to examine how three key elements of a healthy diet -- milk, fruits, and vegetables -- affected middle-aged men and women over a nine-year period.

At the study's beginning, 940 people she studied -- aged 44 to 64 -- were all healthy and strong. Each volunteer gave detailed information about foods they regularly ate.

Dairy foods included milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese. Fruits included fresh apples or pears, oranges and orange juice, bananas, and other fruits. Vegetables included everything from green beans and broccoli to lima beans and sweet potatoes.

Men reported eating fewer daily servings of fruits and vegetables than the women did. Blacks had fewer daily servings of dairy, including milk, than whites did.

Put a Little Pep in Your Step

Nine years later each volunteer completed a survey about their ability to perform various physical activities, such as climbing stairs and lifting a 10-pound object. Normal everyday activities were also evaluated, including chores around the house and managing money.

The people were divided into low, medium, and high groups based on the amount of fruits, veggies, and dairy they ate.

Researchers found that people who ate a healthy diet with the most dairy, fruits, and vegetables were physically the strongest. In addition, they were better able to handle what the researchers called "instrumental" activities, such as managing money and preparing meals.

Black women especially benefited from getting enough milk and dairy. Those getting the most were better able to perform daily-living activities.

Other studies have shown similar results of a healthy diet: In one study, middle-aged women -- but not men -- who ate an "unhealthy" diet with no whole-grain bread, no low-fat milk, and less than one fresh fruit or vegetable a day increased the risk of poor physical function five years later.

According to just released dietary guidelines, two to five servings of fruit, two to eight servings of vegetables, and two to three servings of dairy should be eaten every day.

WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Medical News

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