Altering your eating habits is a means of accomplishing a variety of health goals, anywhere from losing weight to lowering blood pressure. Brookfield Registered Dietitian Sarah Brunner provided answers for some of the most commonly asked about topics related to nutrition.
Choose Healthy Snacks
Snacks are a great way to maintain energy levels and stave off hunger between meals. They should always include a combination of at least two food groups in order to be considered a nutritious, filling option. The food groups to choose from include: grains, fruits, veggies, dairy and protein. Keep portable, healthy snacks in your desk drawer, purse, or car so you’re less likely to reach for unhealthy choices when in a pinch. When possible, avoid snacking while distracted by TV, your phone, or other electronic devices as we tend to consume more calories when our full focus is not on the eating environment. Simple snack ideas include raw veggies with cottage cheese, a tablespoon of peanut butter with an apple or banana, or a handful of unsalted nuts with one ounce of cheese.
Don’t Be Afraid of Carbs
Carbs have a bad reputation and are usually associated with bloating and weight gain. For those looking to lose a few pounds and stay active, carbs are a necessary component of a healthy diet. They are our body’s main source of fuel and provide immediate energy. Without a consistent intake of carbs, physical performance would suffer, you may be at an increased risk for injury, and recovery time may be lengthened. Restricting your carb intake too far for too long can lead to increases in stress hormones, slower metabolism, and decreases in muscle-building hormones. Even with an adequate protein intake, consuming too few carbs will lead to muscle loss and an increase in fat mass. Try choosing whole grains more often than refined grains. Whole grains include: brown rice, wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, whole-wheat bread, oatmeal, barley, millet, and buckwheat. Grains should be treated as a side dish rather than the star of the meal, taking up only about one-quarter of the size of your plate.
Watch Portion Sizes
One area where most people could use some assistance would be in proper portion sizes. An easy way to monitor portion sizes from becoming out-of-hand would be to switch from a larger dinner-sized plate to a smaller salad or appetizer plate. This simple swap can trick our brain as well as help you feel satisfied with reduced portions. To ensure that you are sticking to the recommended serving sizes, get out the measuring cups every so often to test how your portions compare. When you look at your plate for each meal, ideally half of the plate would be filled with fruits and veggies, one quarter would be grains, another quarter would be lean protein, and you would complete the meal with a serving of dairy. Learn more about portion sizes at choosemyplate.gov.
Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies
The recommended intake for fruits and veggies combined is 5-9 total servings per day. They contain incredible nutritional value such as vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Try experimenting with different types including fresh, frozen, and canned. When buying canned fruits, choose ones that are canned in 100% fruit juice or their own juices. When buying canned veggies, choose low sodium or no salt added and rinse them before using. Fruits can be enjoyed with meals, snacks, or as a dessert. Vegetables can be prepared in several different ways such as steamed, sautéed, roasted, or raw. I challenge you to be open to the possibility of expanding your palate by trying new fruits and veggies at least once per month!
Look Out for Added Sugars
Foods and drinks with lots of added sugars provide empty calories with little to no nutritional value. Try to stay hydrated with plain water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. This is especially important if you are active, are an older adult, or live or work in hot, humid conditions. If you do consume something other than water, review the ingredients on the food label to identify any possible sources of added sugars. Sources of added sugars include, but are not limited to: corn syrup, dextrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, molasses, sucrose, white granulated sugar, honey, and maple syrup. Try to choose a drink that, at the very least, does not have sugar (or some other sweetener) listed as the first ingredient. Be aware, though, that labels will try to trick you – there may be several sources of sugar listed under several different names, so read carefully!
Slow Down at Mealtime
As I mentioned earlier, we consume unnecessary calories by not focusing on the food we are eating. Try to dedicate meals and snacks as a time to sit down and enjoy the tastes and textures of the foods. This can have a positive effect on your relationship with food. Fast eaters should learn to slow down during meals because it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. You can practice this by placing your fork down between each bite or stopping halfway through a meal to evaluate your hunger levels. It is better to stop consuming food when you are satisfied, rather than when you feel full. Set regular mealtimes and plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week, if possible. This should be a time when all electronics and distractions are put away and an emphasis is put on conversing and enjoying your time with your family. Use this as a way to set a good example and teach children good nutrition habits. This is also a great way to get them involved in meal planning and cooking.
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Written by Sarah Brunner, RDN, CD
Sarah is certified in food allergies/intolerances and nutritional counseling, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; has a certificate in Dietetics from Mount Mary University; and a BA in Education and Mathematics from the University of Wisconsin – La Crosse.