Healthy Eating for Life
It’s not about dieting, it’s about prioritizing the foods that best meet your body’s nutritional needs
New Year, New Habits, New You
'Tis the season for fad diets to atone for our holiday feasting, but a better resolution for the New Year would be to find a way to eat that will promote wellness for the rest of our lives. In fact, local dietitians and nutritionists don’t even like to use the term “diet.” The reality is that most of us won’t stick to an eating plan that restricts our food choices to the extreme. Instead, area experts share advice on how to make healthy choices in the real world of day-to-day nutrition — from meals prepared at home to fast food.
How Can I Promote My Own Health?
We all want to feel better and look better, but we don’t always know where to begin. January often means the start of gym memberships that are soon forgotten and diets that are soon abandoned. Nutritionists say that lasting change takes time and patience, but it is achievable.
For Barbie Boules, a registered dietitian nutritionist at NYOUTRITION in Hinsdale, lifelong change starts with understanding our past. She works with individuals to become aware of their eating habits and to create goals for change, including a food plan and a wellness plan that incorporates exercise along with meditation or other stress management techniques. “When it comes to deciding you want to change the way you’re eating, you have to think about what you’re saying ‘yes’ to. Say ‘yes’ to really great food and say ‘yes’ to more energy and stop thinking about deprivation,” says Boules.
Katie Driessens, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator for DuPage Medical Group in Glen Ellyn, works with people to “look at how you’re eating first, not just what you’re eating.” She advocates “mindful eating” and “being present in the meal,” rather than multitasking while eating, such as working through lunch, talking on the phone or eating in the car. “I like to make peace with food,” she says. “Make it a physiological process: Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.” She advocates patient-centered meal planning, based on what the person enjoys eating from an array of healthy food choices. “I ask the patient, ‘Can you eat this way for the rest of your life?’ If not, this plan is not for you.”
“For nutrition professionals, the word ‘diet’ is like an ouch word. It’s the lifestyle that makes the difference,” says Laura Barr, nutrition and wellness educator for University of Illinois Extension in St. Charles. In fact, yo-yo dieting can have harmful effects over time. “Evidence shows that people who continue to lose and gain weight have a continual gain in weight” over time. In addition to a healthy diet based on United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) standards, she recommends “getting 150 minutes per week in exercise,” which can be achieved with just 30 minutes each day for five days, in ten-minute increments.
What Is a Healthy Diet?
USDA guidelines have changed from the old food pyramid to a new approach that illustrates percentages of food groups on a plate (see www.choosemyplate.gov).Registered dietitians and other professionals tend to favor the government guidelines, although not everyone concurs. However, most nutritionists do agree that a diet that is mostly plant-based is the healthiest. My Plate fills half the plate with fruits and vegetables and half with whole grains and lean proteins. Dairy is the smallest portion of all in the recommended daily diet.
Holistic nutrition is an alternative approach to promoting wellness, which is reflected at Nourished Table and Home in Hinsdale. Clients come with a variety of health concerns, such as insomnia, chronic digestive issues, headaches and heartburn. “It’s all about bringing the body back into balance,” says Taylor Wessel, a master nutrition therapist for Nourished. The Nourished team helps people make healthier lifestyle choices, which include eating health-promoting foods, getting sunshine, fresh air and exercise, sleeping well, drinking more water, and practicing some form of spirituality. “We try to teach clients to do little things,” she says. “Food is enjoyable. We are trying to bring that joy back to food. There are a lot of swaps we can make. If you want a piece of pizza, make it with vegetables on top.”
Of course, nobody is perfect, so a healthy meal plan will take that into consideration. Kathy Napleton, natural food chef and owner of Nourished, recognizes the challenges and advocates the 80/20 rule, which means you should strive to eat healthy food at least 80 percent of the time. “We all have social lives,” she says. “If you are really good at home during the week, during the weekend, you can indulge yourself.” To help people choose high quality foods, Nourished offers grocery store tours of Whole Foods Markets in Hinsdale and Willowbrook, as well as private nutritional counseling and classes for adults and children.
According to Neil Edward Levin, a certified clinical nutritionist and senior nutrition education manager for NOW, which owns the Fruitful Yield stores, “I would summarize the healthiest diets as including beans — soybeans are the most common ones cited, but other legumes are also healthy; berries; green vegetables, especially broccoli and cruciferous vegetables; whole grains — can be gluten free, if needed; low-fat dairy; green or black tea; dark chocolate; certain nuts, especially almonds and walnuts; other fruits; deep pigmented vegetables that are rich in carotenoids; and salmon — oceanic, not pond-raised.”
Nevertheless, he says it is difficult to get all the nutrients you need from food. “Some scientific studies have shown that the food supply has had a noticeable and significant decline in concentrations of vitamins, minerals, protein, and antioxidants over the last half-century or so,” Levin says. He points to changes in agricultural methods, the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and genetically modified foods as responsible for some of the decline, as well as a “dilution effect” of USDA food table guidelines based on outdated nutrition levels. “This leads to the inevitable conclusion that taking a multivitamin, at least, would be a reasonable form of nutritional insurance to assure that one is getting at least the minimum amount of essential nutrients in the diet. Many people can benefit by taking targeted supplements to compensate for specific diets and dietary limitations. For example, those on vegetarian diets might require supplements to supply vitamin B12, iron, essential fatty acids such as EPA and DHA, as well as protein,” Levin says.
Some supplements may be problematic for people who are taking prescription medications, which may lead to unwanted interactions, so it is best to check with your physician before starting a highly restrictive diet or adding a lot of special supplements.
Is There a Link Between Nutrition and Disease?
Eating well is not just about looking good. It’s about feeling good. The bad news is that being overweight is linked to chronic and even life-threatening illnesses such as stroke, heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer.
“Obesity is an inflammatory disease,” says Kimberly Neva, outpatient dietitian and bariatric specialist at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park, which is linked to “more than 100 associated diseases.” Those diseases include sleep apnea, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, stomach problems and metabolic syndrome, among others. In addition, being overweight can lead to severe limitations on daily activities. “We have a lot of patients with limited mobility, who I refer to the fitness center. If you lose five to ten percent of your overall weight, you can have a lot better mobility. For Neva, the evidence is overwhelming that even a seemingly minimal amount of weight loss can have significant health benefits.
She reports that the average medical weight loss for her patients ranges from 20 to 50 pounds. To qualify for weight-loss surgery, a person would need to lose 60 to 100 pounds. Although such a goal can seem daunting, Neva says she starts slowly: “I usually just try to get people to eat a little bit less and move a little bit more.” Neva also recommends changing from processed foods with added sugar and giving up sugary drinks. “The hardest swap for people to make is eliminating added sources of sugar,” she says. But she observes that it only takes about two weeks for the body to respond positively and kick the excess sugar habit.
At Edward Cancer Center in Naperville/Plainfield, Doreen Berard, oncology/wellness dietitian, works primarily with cancer patients, who may have issues with eating during and after treatment. She recommends looking for information on the link between inflammation and diseases from reputable organizations, such as the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Institute for Cancer Research. The latter group estimates that “excess body fat is a cause of approximately 132,800 cancer cases every year,” and that “seven in 10 Americans are currently overweight or obese.”
What you eat can help prevent inflammatory diseases. Berard explains that an anti-inflammatory food plan includes whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables, “preferably fresh or the least processed,” and lean protein.
If you are dealing with a significant health condition, the only nutrition professionals who are trained and certified through accredited university programs to prescribe medical diet therapy are registered dietitians and registered dietitian nutritionists. “All other people who are called nutritionists, health educators or life coaches cannot prescribe diet therapy,” explains Paula Sochacki, assistant professor of nutrition at Benedictine University in Lisle and head of their undergraduate dietetics program. “They can talk about healthy eating and healthy living, but not specific dietary counseling for any disease state.” For people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or kidney disease, the services of a dietitian may be covered by insurance. However, anyone can work with a dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan. Sochacki recommends visiting the website of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at www.eatright.org to find a registered dietitian near you.
How Can I Get My Children to Eat Healthy Foods?
With the long-term consequences of overeating so dire, helping children to maintain a healthy weight and choose healthy foods is critical. Barr notes that University of Illinois Extension is working with school lunchrooms throughout the state to make healthy food more appealing to children. “You can put fresh fruit in a beautiful bowl,” she suggests. Giving foods interesting names can also help attract attention in the lunch line, like “x-ray vision carrots.” At home, she says, “parents can model the behavior” by having healthy foods available and ready to eat in the refrigerator or on the counter.
“If there’s one thing that we could do, it’s eliminate calorie-containing beverages,” says Boules. “Lattes, sodas and even juices can have 500 to 600 calories.” She suggests finding good substitutes for sugary beverages, such as drinking tea or water with a squeeze of lemon. Instead of packaged snacks, she encourages people of all ages to concentrate on their favorite flavors and create a list of healthy snack foods that they will enjoy eating. Then spend a couple of hours once a week to prepare fresh foods and snacks that will be ready when you want them. The good news about changing your eating habits, Boules says, “It’s never too late, no matter what you’re dealing with.”
Myths about Nutrition
I read it online.
“People ask, ‘How do I re-educate myself?’ One of the common mistakes is paying attention to a lot of the erroneous information you find online. As a dietitian, I am very evidence-based. I do allow room for people who want to try herbs or supplements. It’s not carbs or fat or sugar that are killing us. It’s over-consumption.” — Barbie Boules, dietitian, NYOUTRITION
Sugar and carbs are bad.
“Sugar feeds all our cells in our body. All cells use carbohydrates because it’s the primary source for energy in the body, especially the brain. At least 40 percent of intake should come from carbohydrates, including fruits and vegetables. Fiber is also important in the prevention of inflammatory conditions.” — Doreen Berard, dietitian, Edward Cancer Center
I want to lose weight as quickly as possible.
“When there’s too much deprivation, it’s only a matter of time before it leads to some sort of binging or backfiring. If a patient wants to lose weight and do it in a healthy way, one-half to two pounds a week is appropriate. I tend to not focus on the numbers. The numbers will follow if the patient makes (healthy eating) a positive, and they like what they eat.” — Katie Driessens, dietitian, DuPage Medical Group
A vegetarian diet is best.
“We don’t believe in full vegetarian diets for most people. It cuts out nutrients. We recommend that you rotate in good quality fish and eggs.” — Kathy Napleton, natural food chef, Nourished
I should buy organic foods for my family.
“I firmly believe that eating organic does not mean you’re eating more healthy. No studies show that. I hate to tell moms and dads that they have to buy organic. So many people don’t have access to it, and it’s so expensive.” — Mary Bachman, food scientist, H&W Ingredients
HEALTHY FOOD ON THE RUN
Let’s face it: we are all very busy and preparing a fresh meal takes time. Fortunately, the emphasis on healthy eating has prompted food manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants to add healthier items to their offerings. Now we just have to learn how to choose wisely.
Check Out the Nutrition Labels
In an effort to help consumers make good food choices, the USDA has mandated changes to the Nutrition Facts labels on food. The new labeling makes serving sizes more realistic, highlights the calories and added sugars per serving, and modifies the list of required nutrients.
According to Mary Bachman, a certified food scientist for H&W Ingredients in Brookfield, which sources fruits, nuts and vegetables for food manufacturers, “The battle cry of packaging for manufacturers is clear, clean labeling. We do find that’s what the consumer is looking for. They want to be able to understand the nutrition statement.”
Bachman describes clean labeling as “no preservatives and no artificial colors or flavors — a natural approach to ingredients.” She explains that manufacturers are able to take out preservatives by using more sophisticated packaging, shortening shelf life and developing new manufacturing processes. So pay attention to food labels. If you see a word you can’t pronounce on the ingredient list, you might want to make a different selection.
Count the Calories on the Menu Board
If you crave a burger and fries but think it isn’t a wise choice, McDonald’s would like to set the record straight. “We have a variety of options for a reasonable meal of 500 to 600 calories,” says Cynthia Goody, a registered dietitian nutritionist and senior director of menu innovation for McDonald’s Corporation in Oak Brook. She suggests visiting www.mcdonalds.com to use the nutrition calculator to see how your menu choices stack up in terms of calories, fat content, carbohydrates,
protein and other nutrients.
“I come from the school of thought that you should eat the foods that you want, but enjoy them in lesser amounts,” says Goody. Instead of the large size, think small or medium, and swap the sugary drinks for unsweetened iced tea or water. You might want to have a side salad instead of fries with your burger or pick the Southwestern salad with grilled chicken for 350 calories. She also suggests customizing your order to cut calories, such as skipping the cheese on your burger to save 50 calories. She points out other healthy choices on the menu, such as fruit with oatmeal for 290 calories, fruit and yogurt parfaits for 150 calories, and a sausage burrito for 300 calories. For the record, a regular hamburger and small fries add up to 470 calories.
For kids, McDonald’s has made major changes to its iconic Happy Meals to make them healthier. “We strive to find a balance between what families and children want from a quality standpoint and the science of appropriate portion size, fat, calories, food groups, and sugar,” says Goody. She notes that they have reduced the sodium in their Chicken McNuggets by 10 percent and removed artificial flavors and preservatives, cut the size of the kid’s serving of fries by 53 percent, and now include apples in all Happy Meals. (Before, only 11 percent of customers were choosing apples over fries.) Healthy options for kids include low-fat strawberry yogurt, fat-free chocolate milk and organic apple juice with less sugar added.
“We feed the equivalent of the U.S. population every 11 days,” says Goody. “We take very seriously how we can use our scale to do good.”
Take home a nutritious meal from the grocery store
Prepared meals can be a great choice for a quick dinner, even if you have food allergies or restrictions such as gluten intolerance. At Standard Market in Westmont and Naperville, chef Patrick Cassatta explains that their NRG2go meals are free of dairy, gluten and refined cane sugar and weigh in at less than 500 calories total for an entrée, vegetable and dessert.
“You have to have a sweet,” he says. “You can’t live your life eating only grilled chicken and asparagus or spinach.”
The double chocolate brownie made with almond flour might make converts of us all. The Paleo-friendly meals for one person feature Italian chicken, turkey meatloaf, beef kabobs or salmon at $7 each. If you’d rather prepare the meal at home, Standard Market offers “Let’s Make a Meal” packages that include all the ingredients you’ll need to make dinner for two. The stores also offer a juice lineup, fresh juice cleanses and quick service options such as acai bowls for breakfast.Edit Module