University of Missouri Extension

GH6655, Reviewed July 2018

Challenges and Choices: Fit for Life

Editor's note
This webpage contains updated contact information at the end of the So get moving section that is outdated in the PDF version.

Amy C. Sigman
Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition

Do you want to feel great? Chances are, you do. So how do you get there? Healthy habits can bridge the way to feeling great. Read on to find out what you can do for better health.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

Want one easy way to lower your risk of cancer, heart disease and high blood pressure? Eat more fruits and vegetables. They are low-calorie, low-fat, and packed with fiber and nutrients.

More good news: fruits and vegetables often require little or no preparation. This makes them the perfect food for your busy lifestyle.

For good health, eat at least five servings a day

One serving equals:

Here are some fun, simple ways to eat fruits and vegetables with your meals and snacks.


Brown-bag lunch

Lunch or dinner


On the go


Hundreds of studies have shown fruits and vegetables lower the risk of some diseases and keep us healthy. You may start eating more fruits and vegetables for your health and keep eating them because they taste so good.

Shopping tips

Eat more fiber

What gives fruits and vegetables their crunch? What makes grains, beans and legumes chewy? The answer to both questions is fiber. Fiber is the part of plant foods that our bodies cannot digest. You may wonder then, why do we need it?

We have known for a long time that fiber aids in moving waste out of the body regularly. New research says fiber may also help prevent obesity and diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke, diverticular disease and some cancers.

There are two kinds of fiber that help fight these diseases, insoluble and soluble. Insoluble fiber holds onto water in the intestinal tract.

This increases bulk, softens the stool and aids in passing waste out of the body. Soluble fiber can help lower blood cholesterol and control blood sugar levels.

Eating a combination of both insoluble and soluble fiber is best. Insoluble fiber is found in foods such as whole grains, wheat bran and some vegetables. Soluble fiber is found in foods such as beans, oats, barley and some fruits and vegetables.

How much is enough? The National Cancer Institute recommends 25 grams to 35 grams of fiber per day. Most Americans get much less.

A word of caution: Talk with your doctor before making any major change in your diet. Slowly add fiber to your diet, but don't eat more than 50 grams a day. Too much fiber can cause gas, diarrhea and discomfort. It may also prevent some minerals from being used by the body.

Read on for tips on how to get more fiber into your meals and snacks.


Lunch or dinner


Recipe adjustments

You can add high-fiber ingredients to your favorite recipes, and you will hardly know the difference. These ideas are only guidelines. Try them, and see what works best for you.

A recipe calls for 2 cups of all-purpose flour.

Adjustment: Use ½ cup whole-wheat flour and 1½ cups all-purpose flour. Or use 1 cup whole-wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour.

A recipe calls for 4 cups of all-purpose flour.

Adjustment: Use 1 cup oat flour (made from ground oat bran or oatmeal) and 3 cups all-purpose flour.

A recipe calls for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Adjustment: Use ¼ cup bran cereal flour and ¾ cup all-purpose flour.

Questions and answers

Does processing food change how much fiber is in food?

Yes. Unprocessed plant foods are the best source of fiber. A fresh apple has 3.0 grams of fiber. Apple juice has no fiber.

More examples are shown in the "Compare the difference" chart below.

What is meant by whole grain?

Whole grain means the grain has not been processed as much. This is important because processing often removes the outer layer of the grain (called the bran) that contains fiber. For example, whole wheat flour contains fiber from the bran, while white flour contains very little fiber.

Meat can be tough and chewy. Does it have fiber in it?

No. Fiber is found only in plant foods including fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds.

I have heard fiber helps people lose weight — is this true?

Fiber itself does not cause us to lose weight. However, because eating foods with fiber makes us feel more full, we eat less.

I want to choose high-fiber breads and cereals. What should I look for on food labels?

For breads, look for whole grains. For example, whole-wheat flour, not just wheat flour. Look at the Nutrition Facts panel for grams of dietary fiber per serving. Choose cooked and ready-to-eat cereals with at least 2 grams of fiber per serving. The less fat and sugar, the better.

Eating fiber can be simple. To start, try a few ideas that sound good to you, and work up to the recommended amount. You'll be doing yourself a favor.

Eat less fat

You have probably heard dozens of times that eating less fat is good for you, but have you made the switch? While we were growing up, many of us ate high-fat favorites such as cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes.

Now we know that high-fat diets are linked to heart disease and some types of cancer. Does this mean we have to stop eating high-fat foods altogether? No! We have several choices.

Compare the difference

Less processed foods More processed foods
Whole-wheat bread, 1 slice
2 grams fiber
White bread, 1 slice
0.6 grams fiber
Brown rice, ½ cup, cooked
2.4 grams fiber
White rice, ½ cup, cooked
1 gram fiber
Fresh orange, 1 medium
2 grams fiber
Orange juice, ½ cup
0 grams fiber
How much fiber are you eating every day?
Food Grams of fiber
All dairy products 0
All meat, fish, and poultry 0
Apple, 1 medium, with peel 3.0
Banana, 1 medium 2.5
Peach, 1 medium, with skin 2.0
Pear, 1 medium, with skin 4.5
Strawberries, 1 cup 3.5
Broccoli, ½ cup, cooked 2.0
Carrot, 1 medium 2.3
Spinach, ½ cup, cooked 2.0
Corn, ½ cup, canned 3.0
Peas, frozen, ½ cup 3.0
Potato, baked, with skin, 1 medium 3.6
Sweet potato, baked, with skin, 1 medium 3.4
Bran flakes, ¾ cup 5.3
Oatmeal, cooked, ¾ cup 1.6
Beans and legumes
Kidney beans, ½ cup, cooked 7.3
Red beans, ½ cup, cooked 6.0
Lentils, ½ cup, cooked 3.7
Peanuts, ¼ cup, roasted 3.0
All fiber values listed are approximate.

Eat similar foods with less fat

If your favorites include high-fat cheeseburgers, french fries and milkshakes, and you still want to eat them, here's how you can lower the fat.

Shopping tips

Read labels
They can tell you how much fat is in foods before you buy them. Look for:

1. Ingredient statement

2. Nutrition facts

Suppose you want to buy American Cheese:
1 serving has 78 calories
56 calories are from fat
56 divided by 78 x 100 = 72 percent calories from fat

Fruits and vegetables
Buy plenty. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Check labels for added sauces that may be high in fat.

Pasta, rice, bread, crackers and cereal
Look for plain pasta and rice. Stay away from convenience foods with lots of added fat. Choose low-fat breads such as sandwich bread, sourdough bread, English muffins and bagels. Crackers are often high in fat. Choose plain, saltine crackers or reduced-fat crackers. Buy cereals with 2 grams of fat or less per serving. Stay away from donuts, sweet rolls, biscuits and croissants — they are loaded with fat.

Dairy products
Buy skim milk, low-fat buttermilk, reduced-fat cheese, low- or nonfat yogurt, sour half-and-half, or fat-free sour cream.

Meat, fish and poultry

Vegetable oils, cooking fats
Buy in small amounts. Try vegetable oil cooking spray so that you can add as little fat as possible when you cook.

Buy low- or nonfat salad dressings.

Cooking at home

Baking at home

A recipe calls for 1 cup of oil. Instead, use 2/3 cup oil, and 1/3 cup applesauce.

Casseroles that call for cream soups
Use low-fat soups or this low-fat casserole sauce mix:

Casserole sauce mix
Yield: equal to 9 cans condensed soup
2 cups nonfat dry milk powder
¾ cup cornstarch
¼ cup instant chicken or beef bouillon granules (may use low sodium)
2 tablespoons onion flakes
½ teaspoon dried crushed thyme
½ teaspoon dried crushed basil
¼ teaspoon pepper
Other seasonings as desired

Blend all ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Store in an airtight container. To use in place of one can condensed soup in recipes:

Recipe from Iowa State Extension

Try these low-fat recipe ideas

Healthy choices
This chart shows how many grams of fat are in some foods. Make the lower-fat choices! (All fat values listed are approximate.)

Choose this Instead of this
Food Grams of fat Food Grams of fat
Bagel, 1 1.5 Donut, 1 raised 11.2
Skim milk, 1 cup 0.0 Whole milk, 1 cup 8.0
Vanilla ice milk, ½ cup 2.8 Vanilla ice cream, ½ cup 7.2
Nonfat, plain yogurt, 2 tablespoons 0.0 Sour cream, 2 tablespoons 6.0
Cheddar cheese, reduced fat, ¼ cup shredded 6.0 Cheddar cheese, regular, ¼ cup shredded 7.5
Evaporated skim milk, 2 tablespoons 0.0 Whipping cream, 2 tablespoons 5.0
Ground beef, extra lean, 2-ounce patty, cooked 9.3 Ground beef, regular 2-ounce patty, cooked 11.7
Chicken, roasted, light meat, no skin, 2 ounces 2.6 Chicken, roasted, light meat, with skin, 2 ounces 6.2
Eating less fat may be hard at first, but your taste buds will learn to like it. Your waistline will thank you.

Eating out wisely

Questions and answers

Which has more calories, a teaspoon of sugar or a teaspoon of fat?

A teaspoon of fat, by far.
1 teaspoon sugar = 16 Calories
1 teaspoon fat = 36 Calories

What is an acceptable level of fat in my diet?

The American Heart Association and other health professionals recommend that we limit fat in our diets to no more than 30 percent of total calories.

You eat 2,000 calories a day.
To figure 30 percent of 2,000: 2,000 x 0.30 = 600 calories from fat
To figure how many grams of fat you can eat, divide calories-from-fat by 9 (there are 9 calories in a gram of fat).

600 divided by 9 = 67 grams of fat

Are all fats the same, or are some fats better for me than others?

All fats have the same number of calories. Limit all fat in your diet. However, research has shown that we may benefit from having more polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat in our diet than saturated fat. Which is which? Here are some examples.

So get moving

Imagine a group of small children doing nothing but sitting still. It's difficult, isn't it? Our adult bodies are designed to be active too. Yet as we get older, we often become less active. Many of us have sit-down jobs or watch a little too much TV in our spare time.

Physical activity is important at all ages. It makes us look and feel great and can add years to our lives.

Look at the ways that exercise can make your life better. It can help you: lower blood pressure, lower blood cholesterol, stop smoking, lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and keep bones strong.

If the word exercise makes you think of aches and pains or expensive exercise equipment, think again. Physical activity can be fun and can easily fit into your busy lifestyle.

Getting started

Make a list of activities that you enjoy. You may like team sports, bicycling with a group, or walking by yourself.

Think about comfort. Find some walking shoes that support your feet and feel good. Wear loose-fitting clothing — layers are ideal because you can peel them off as your body warms up.

Talk to your doctor before you start shaping up. It is especially important if you:

Stick with it

Make exercise a regular part of your routine. Here are some tips for sticking with it from people just like you:

What kind of physical activities suit you best?

We all benefit from different kinds of exercise. Aerobic, non-aerobic and weight-bearing activities are all important. Aerobic activities make the heart pump faster, which helps keep it healthy. Examples of aerobic activities are brisk walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling, cross-country skiing and dancing.

Anaerobic activities improve strength, flexibility and muscle tone. Examples include bending and stretching exercises and weightlifting.

Weight-bearing exercise is good for your bones. Strong bones help prevent osteoporosis, a disease that often leads to broken bones. Examples of weight-bearing activities are walking, jogging, dancing and strength training or weightlifting.

How much is enough?

Experts say adults need 30 minutes or more of moderate exercise every day or at least most days. Ten minutes, three times a day is fine. Build from there. For better health and fitness, do 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week. Make sure you are not overdoing during aerobic activity. You should still be able to carry on a conversation without being out of breath.

Most importantly: JUST DO SOMETHING!

You can get into shape and stay fit without pain. No pain, no gain, makes no sense. Listen to your body. If you feel pain, nausea, extreme breathlessness or pain in the chest during physical activity, stop.

The best thing you can do for your health is to get moving.

For more information on fitness and health, call or write the President's Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition at 240-276-9567 or

Think your way to a healthy lifestyle

Picture yourself waking up one day and being satisfied with your body. You look and feel great. You like yourself just the way you are. If this is hard to imagine, you are not alone. Many of us want to improve our eating and exercise habits. We may wish we felt better about ourselves. The good news is thinking positively can open the door to a healthy lifestyle. Feeling good about ourselves is the first step. Lots of people have done it, and so can you.

Body image
Everywhere we look we get the message that thin bodies are best, especially for women. It's no wonder we end up worrying about our weight and dieting. Yet dieting can cause ups and downs in weight that are not good for us. And being thin does not mean we're healthy.

Healthy bodies come in many shapes and sizes. Mother Nature gave us our height, bone size and basic body shape. Tell yourself that your body is OK. Think about your best features. When you get a compliment, accept it by saying, "Thank you!" Be proud of your body, and enjoy what it does for you.

If you need to gain or lose weight for health reasons, use common sense. Eat smart, stay active and let the change happen over time as a result of your good habits.

Make it a habit to think positively about your body. Here are some tips for accepting yourself and staying with a healthy lifestyle.

Positive thinking tips

Fit for life

If you want to be fit for life, choose healthy habits. Eat smart. Cut fat by eating more fruits, vegetables and fiber. Get moving. Your body will love you for it. Think positively. It will help you get fit and stay fit for life.

GH6655 Challenges and Choices: Fit for Life | University of Missouri Extension

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