Memorial Regional Health: Good nutrition doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive — developing healthier eating habits easier than you may think
- Make instant oatmeal with low-fat milk instead of water. Toss in raisins or dried cranberries and chopped walnuts.
- Layer low-fat plain yogurt with your favorite crunchy cereal and blueberries.
- Blend a breakfast smoothie with low-fat milk, frozen strawberries, and a banana.
- Make one packet of microwave oatmeal with low-fat milk. Mix in 1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce. Sprinkle with apple pie spice or cinnamon.
- Top a toaster waffle with low-fat yogurt and peach slices.
- Stuff a whole-wheat pita with a sliced, hard-cooked egg and low-fat shredded cheese.
- Spread a flour tortilla with peanut butter. Add a whole banana and roll it up.
- Spread low-fat cream cheese on a whole-grain toasted bagel. Top with sliced strawberries.
- Add lean ham and low-fat Swiss cheese to a toasted whole-grain English muffin.
Editor’s note: The following article is sponsored by Memorial Regional Health.
Thanks to technology and affordability, healthy foods are becoming tastier and more accessible for all people.
Healthy options are tastier thanks to the endless access to online recipes, which debunks the assumption that healthy eating doesn’t taste good, said Madysen Jourgensen, registered dietitian at Memorial Regional Health.
“With the internet and all of the websites that you can find, there are some really great tasting and healthy recipes out there,” Jourgensen said. “We are lucky to live in a world of technology in that sense.”
March is National Nutrition Month, and on the heels of National School Breakfast Week (March 4 through 8), Jourgensen is offering some excellent advice for all the ways local residents can make the change to healthier eating habits.
Healthy eating is affordable
While some food prices have increased through the years, Jourgensen said it is still affordable to eat healthy. She advises looking for coupons in the paper each week and planning meals around the foods that are on sale. Buying items in bulk that can be stored for longer periods can also help cut food costs.
“Frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh — they just tend to be more affordable and also last longer, so you don’t waste as much,” Jourgensen said. “Canned fruits and vegetables are more affordable, too, however it is important to read the food labels on these. I always encourage people to look for low-sodium, canned vegetables and fruits that are canned in 100-percent fruit juice rather than the fruit syrup. Dried beans are a nutritious food that I think people tend to forget about — they are high in protein and fiber and they are one of the more affordable foods.”
Healthy, not complicated
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which promotes National Nutrition Month every March, has many resources on its website, eatright.org, for making healthy eating choices. One rule of thumb is that healthy eating doesn’t need to be complicated — not even when you’re dining away from home.
“Think about what you want your plate to look like and ask if it’s incorporating all the major food groups. Select a mix of lean protein foods, vegetables, whole grains, and fruits to enjoy a healthful meal,” said Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Robin Foroutan, a New York-based spokesperson for the Academy.
Jourgensen said eatright.org has many great articles and recipes written by nutrition professionals that anyone can look up. She also recommends the American Heart Association, heart.org, and the American Diabetes Association, diabetes.org, for tasty, heart-healthy recipes.
Making healthier choices
In addition to looking for recipes online, Jourgensen said one way to ease into healthier choices is to focus on making at least one healthy substitute at each meal.
“This could be something as simple as switching from white rice to brown rice, russet potatoes to sweet potatoes, including a fruit and a vegetable with each meal, etc.,” she said. “The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans really just recommend making half of the grains you eat whole grains, choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy (so skim or 1 percent), focusing on a variety of fruits and vegetables, and finally, lean meats.”
For choosing a variety of fruits and vegetables, Jourgensen tells people to “eat the rainbow” — focus on reds, greens, oranges, yellows, purples. Lean meats include boneless, skinless chicken breast; turkey; and fish.
“Another pretty big thing in terms of just optimal nutrition would be to just focus on drinking water each day — a lot of us get much more calories and sugar from other beverages throughout the day that can really have an impact on health and general well-being,” Jourgensen said. “Plus, it is much easier to drink 350 calories worth of soda each afternoon than it would be to eat 350 calories worth of fruits and vegetables, so I think the calories from beverages can really sneak up and surprise people — sugar-sweetened coffee beverages and soda, especially.”
Exercise should also be part of every healthy lifestyle. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity, or 75 to 150 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity, aerobic physical activity for adults, or an equivalent combination. Children should get one hour of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity every day.
Don’t skip breakfast
Jourgensen points out that breakfast literally means “breaking our fast from the night before.”
“This allows our metabolism to ramp up and work on digesting the food we just ate and provides our body with the energy that it needs to get us through the day,” she said. “Eating breakfast also indirectly can help prevent overeating at lunchtime.”
For children who are growing and developing at such a rapid rate, breakfast should provide adequate nutrition to give them energy for the day and to fuel their brains for concentration and focus at school, Jourgensen said.
“Students who regularly consume breakfast have been consistently shown to perform better in class,” she said.
She recommends eggs as a great source of protein or low-fat Greek yogurt with granola and fruit. Hot cereals, such as oatmeal, cream of wheat, or malt o meal are good high-fiber options, but Jourgensen warns to always be mindful of the sugar content in any sweetened cereal.
“The good news is there are many lower-sugar versions of different hot cereals at the grocery store. Cold cereals can also be a good whole grain option provided children are eating things like Cheerios or other whole grain cereals rather than the sugary options which tend to be much more popular at that younger age,” she said.
Try to avoid high-calorie foods without much in the way of nutrients — things like toaster pastries, donuts, and sugary cereals. Jourgensen said this can lead to excessive calorie intake, which can contribute to childhood obesity.
“These foods just don’t provide children with long-lasting fuel to get them through the morning and to lunch which can again impact a student’s focus in school and also cause them to be hungrier by the time lunch time comes around due to the lack of fiber and protein in these foods to fill them up,” she said.
Eat a balanced diet in moderation — don’t eliminate specific nutrients
Jourgensen said good nutrition stems from healthy habits that are created and maintained for the long term. This could start with just one small substitution per day that can have a major long-term impact.
“Find healthy foods you enjoy and stick with them. Instead of focusing on limiting specific nutrients in your diet (i.e. avoiding carbohydrates, sugars, fat, etc.), I think it is important to just focus on a healthy eating pattern. Including each of the food groups — whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy if you prefer — and focusing on portion sizes is the best way to ensure adequate nutrition and avoid missing out on important vitamins and minerals each day,” Jourgensen said. “Our nutritional status isn’t defined by one meal — it’s impacted by the choices we make day in and day out.”