How to Improve Nutrition Habits and Where to Start
We can help! This week, PacificSource Senior Registered Dietitian Laura Dudley and PacificSource Health Management Nurse Caroline Rea are gearing up to answer your questions for our AMA (Ask Me Anything) video on nutrition!
First, we asked a few questions.
To start off with a tips and tricks, we asked Laura and Caroline some basic questions.
If someone wants to improve their nutrition habits, what habit do you recommend they start with?
Caroline: Taking a look at your daily habits is the first place to start. Start small. Small changes over time add up and can make a big difference.
Create attainable goals. Start by creating a healthy environment at work, home, or anywhere else you spend time.
Add in more healthy foods, and have a selection of low-calorie, healthy snacks around, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products like milk and yogurt.
Laura: Yes! Eat more fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and whole grains. One study of more than 30,000 people concluded that by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains coupled with some non-dietary factors, specifically 30 minutes or exercise, seven days a week, not smoking, and being at a healthy weight, we could reduce chronic disease by 80%. That’s amazing!
Also, replace sugar-sweetened drinks like soda, juice, punch, sweet tea, and lemonade with water. For each 12-ounce sugary drink consumed on a daily basis, there’s about a 25% increase in the risk of developing diabetes.
What are the three biggest mistakes people make when trying to eat more healthfully?
Laura: Number one is following trendy or “fad” diets or eating plans. Typically cutting out a certain group of foods, such as grains in the Paleo diet or carbohydrates in the Atkins diet, is not necessary unless you have a medical condition like celiac disease, lactose intolerance, or a true food allergy.
Another mistake is juicing for extended periods of time. Juicing removes a very important and healthy part of a fruit or vegetable—the fiber. Fruit juices can be quite high in calories and also contain a very high dose of naturally occurring sugar. Without the fiber to slow down the digestion process, people experience a big spike, then dip, in blood sugar, leaving them feeling tired.
Finally, adding coconut oil to foods to make it healthier. I hear this quite a bit, but as of now, the research doesn’t support the claims of coconut oil as a miracle cure. It’s 100% fat, meaning high in calories, and is about 90% saturated fat. That’s even more than lard or butter! It’s well known and accepted that saturated fat leads to hardening of the arteries and inflammation.
Caroline: I second Laura’s feelings about fad diets or even choosing a way of eating because a “celebrity” eats that way. Balance is really the key.
Avoiding fat is also a mistake. Not all fat is bad. Sometimes people have the idea that eating fat will make them fat.
Another big one is not setting attainable goals or “all or nothing” thinking. Start small. Small changes add up.
When looking at nutrition labels, what three things do you recommend people pay closest attention to?
Caroline: First, pay attention to saturated fat. Based on 2000 calories per day, ideally you’d like your total fat to be less than 65 grams per day. Your total saturated fat should be less than 20 grams per day.
Next, look at sugars. Some are naturally occurring, which means they’re still sugar, while some are added. We don’t really need these added sugars. Unfortunately, at the moment, sugar is labeled as sugar. There’s no differential between added and naturally occurring sugar. Reading the ingredient label on processed foods can help you identify hidden sugars.
Finally, check the sodium. Ideally, you want less than 2,400 mg of sodium, per day.
Laura: My choices are similar to Caroline’s. My first recommendation is to check out the serving size. Compare the amount you actually eat to the listed serving size. If the serving size is one cup and you eat two cups, you’re getting double the calories, fat, and other nutrients listed on the label. This is important because often times we consume an entire package and the food manufacturer has deceptively listed the package as 2.5 servings.
I also recommend that you eat as little saturated fat as possible. Saturated fat is linked to hardening of the arteries and cardiovascular disease. Pizza and cheese are the biggest food sources of saturated fat in the U.S. One ounce of cheddar cheese, about the size of a pair of dice, has about five grams, which is a quarter of your daily allowance.
My last recommendation also matches Caroline. As she said, reading the ingredient list can help you check for added sugar. Ingredients are listed by weight, so the first few items are important. Watch for sugar being added in multiple forms, such as fructose, corn syrup, honey, agave, sugar, sucrose, and fruit juice concentrate.
What’s one food/nutrition myth you hear most often?
Caroline: That fat is bad for you. Healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated in salmon, walnuts, and sunflower seed/oil, as well as monosaturated in olive oil, avocado, almonds, and sesame seeds, are the good fats. Incorporating these into your daily fat allowance will benefit your overall health.
Laura: Carbohydrates or “carbs” are “bad” or they make you fat. Carbohydrates are the preferred source of fuel for the human body. The brain and nervous system need carbohydrates. If you cut them too low, your body will break down muscle in order to convert some of it to glucose, which is the major end product of carbs. Fat can’t be converted to glucose.
Carbs are not all bad. Many carb foods are very healthy, such as whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and beans. However, some carbs aren’t so great for us, namely added sugars and highly refined grains. In fact, many people who cut carbs turn to much less healthy foods like bacon, ham, steak, burgers, and cheese, putting them at much higher risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart issues.
What is your biggest challenge when it comes to eating healthfully?
Laura: Sweets. I’ve come to accept I just cannot keep sweets in the house. Sometimes I break down and buy something thinking this time I’ll portion them out and eat a reasonable amount each day. This never happens. I’m better off going to get something on special occasions. Though, I do have 70% dark chocolate and eat some every day. I have to be mindful with that, too.
Caroline: For me it’s planning and sticking to the plan. I’m vegetarian, so I do a few hours of prepping meals on the weekend for the following week. This requires a bit of planning, but if I don’t plan, then I won’t eat as healthy as I want to.
I eat a lot of beans and legumes and I usually soak them overnight and make soups and chilies. I can load these up with tons of veggies. Usually I’ll divide them into serving size containers and put them in the freezer—ready for the week ahead. In the long run, it saves time, and that’s my motivation!
Now it’s your turn!
This is your opportunity to ask Laura and Caroline questions about nutrition. They will answer your questions on video, and we’ll post the video on this blog on Wednesday, June 21.
What kind of questions can I ask?
As the name implies, you can ask anything. Questions can range from serious to silly, but should generally relate to nutrition.
So, how do I ask questions?
Scroll down to the comment section, and leave your question as a comment.