Small changes can lead to healthier choices

ADDING VEGGIES: This example from choosemyplate.gov illustrates how a single meal can be made healthier with small changes. Trading half a chicken salad sandwich for a small side salad boosts the nutritional value of this lunch. (Courtesy photo)

ADDING VEGGIES: This example from choosemyplate.gov illustrates how a single meal can be made healthier with small changes. Trading half a chicken salad sandwich for a small side salad boosts the nutritional value of this lunch. (Courtesy photo)

BIG RAPIDS — Adopting healthy eating habits can be a lot like enjoying a meal — done one bite at a time.

Small changes made over time can combine to a healthier lifestyle and be easier to swallow than sweeping changes made all at once. March is National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” The campaign is aimed at getting people to begin improving their eating habits over time. Graphic_NNM17_FINAL

Layla Noordhof, a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals, suggests people focus on three areas when starting to consider their eating habits — fiber, energy balance and fats.

“Fiber has a multitude of health benefits, including helping you feel full longer so you’re not reaching for extra things between meals,” Noordhof said.

When thinking about fiber, think about halves — half the plate should be fruits and vegetables, and half of the grains people eat should be whole grains, she said. Grains should take about a quarter of the plate, with the remaining quarter filled with lean protein.

“I say people should be label investigators,” Noordhof said. “Look at the nutrition label and see what a product’s made of. Even if you don’t know any numbers about dietary fiber, you can compare two products and see which is higher in fiber. We consider five grams of dietary fiber per serving to be a good source of fiber.”

HEALTHY CHOICES: Layla Noordhof, a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals, discusses healthy food options with a client. (Courtesy photo)

HEALTHY CHOICES: Layla Noordhof, a registered dietitian at Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals, discusses healthy food options with a client. (Courtesy photo)

Evaluating energy balance is about determining how many calories your body needs, Noordhof explained. If people take in more calories than they burn, they gain weight. To lose weight, people need to use more calories than they consume.

“One of the most useful tools for weight loss is tracking what you’re eating,” she said. “What that does is allows you to be truly aware of what you’re taking in.”

Tracking consumption can be as high-tech as a smartphone app or as old-school as a pencil-and-paper food journal. The process isn’t important as long as everything eaten and drunk throughout the day gets into the log.

“What I encourage is to find something that works for you and you’ll stick with,” Noordhof said. “Then you can get a really good visual of what you’re taking in, and over time you can see areas where you can pull back. Physical activity has a part in this, but by taking in fewer calories, you should see some weight loss.”

Finally, Noordhof suggests people be aware of the fats in their diet.

“Fats provide us with more calories per gram than other macronutrients,” she explained. “Fat has a place in your diet — you want to include it, you just want to ensure you’re consuming it in appropriate amounts and you’re being aware of high-fat items.”

Noordhof noted unsaturated fats — which are liquid at room temperature, such as olive oil and canola oil — are more heart-healthy than saturated fats — which are solid at room temperature, such as butter.

“One of the most important things about nutrition is having a variety of food,” Noordhof said. “I would never suggest people try to avoid things entirely, but people should be aware of the nutrients in their food.

“When you think about a traditional spaghetti dinner, what can you do to add more nutrients to that? Can you add vegetables or zucchini to the sauce? Make the sauce yourself so it’s not so high in sodium? Use whole-wheat pasta? This is a really important approach to cooking, but also when you’re out to dinner. How can you take what’s in front of you and tweak it to add a little better nutrition?”

Food selection is an ongoing conversation with yourself, Noordhof noted, in which people evaluate how they feel, how much energy they have and their overall health, including blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

“How much we eat is as important as what we eat, which is why this year’s National Nutrition Month theme inspires us to start with small changes in our eating habits,” says registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Spokesperson Kristi King in a press release.

“It’s important to balance individualized eating plans that include a variety of your favorite nutritious foods with physical activity most days of the week,” King says. “Registered dietitian nutritionists bring the knowledge and experience to help people find balance and create sustainable solutions that will keep them healthy throughout their entire lives.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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