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Food for Thought Food for Thought

Get a Taste for Nutrition!

October 23, 2014

By Heather Hawkes, R.D., L.D.N.
Brigham and Women's Hospital

The American Dietetic Association sponsors National Nutrition Month in March. In the past, several nutrition-related topics were highlighted to broaden the public’s knowledge regarding this evolving field. The five points discussed below still apply today.

Be Adventurous

Think variety! Exploring different flavors and textures can open up a whole new culinary world. Subscribing to a health-oriented cooking magazine can provide creative new ideas. Aim to try one new recipe a month.

Consider color. Does your intake reflect the typical American diet, a monochromatic palate of browns? Bright colors from fruits and vegetables provide a wide range of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients to help protect our bodies from chronic disease and enhance overall health. The newly revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends seven to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. This may seem daunting, but when you break it down into some general meal guidelines it becomes more feasible, for example:

  • Breakfast — 1 fruit or 4-6 ounces of juice or 1/2 cup of frozen fruit or 1/4 cup dried fruit
  • Lunch — 2 cups salad
  • Snack — 1 fruit or vegetable
  • Dinner — 2 cups of cooked vegetable or 1 cup of salad + 1 cup of cooked vegetable
  • Snack — 1 fruit or vegetable

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Treat Your Taste Buds

Food is one of life’s great pleasures. Favorite foods frequently become “forbidden” in conventional diets. Deprivation is the downfall of “diets,” leading to intense cravings and cheating. It is only a matter of time before we indulge, and suddenly find ourselves off the diet, whether from feelings of guilt or failure. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans advise us to choose sensibly. In the context of a healthy, balanced diet, it is reasonable to include moderate amounts of our favorite foods. Take time to savor and enjoy your food — this is part of getting the most out of what you eat.

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Maintain A Healthy Weight

You’ve heard it before: an estimated 64 percent of American adults are overweight and over 30 percent are obese. Being overweight can greatly increase the risks of developing hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis and sleep apnea, as well as premature death. Calculate your body mass index (BMI) to see if your weight falls into the healthy, overweight or obese range. Even moderate weight loss of 5 percent to 10 percent of your body weight can change your BMI and reduce obesity-related problems, even if it doesn’t get you to your goal weight. Whether your goal is weight loss or weight maintenance, watch portion sizes and exercise regularly to get the results you want.

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Balance Food Choices With Your Lifestyle

Are you behind a desk all day, or do you find yourself not having time to sit and enjoy lunch? Is your workout walking to the mailbox? In part, how active we are in our daily lives should help to determine how much we should eat. Weight management all comes down to energy balance: calories in (from food and drinks) vs. calories out (from daily activity and exercise). The equation is simple: If weight loss is your goal, you need to eat fewer calories than you use on a daily basis. A calorie deficit of 500 calories per day will lead to a loss of one pound per week (in the absence of metabolic abnormalities). There are several ways to accomplish this: a) eat less, b) exercise more, or c) both! Below are some examples of how you can begin to create a calorie deficit that leads to weight loss:

  • To Burn 100 Calories
    • Walk for 30 minutes.
    • Shovel snow for 10 minutes.
    • Climb stairs for 15 minutes.
    • Do general housework for 25 minutes.
    • Practice gentle yoga for 30 minutes.
  • To Cut 100 Calories
    • Eliminate 1 tablespoon of butter or margarine.
    • Replace 8 ounces of regular soda with diet soda or another non-caloric drink, such as water.
    • Have an apple instead of a single-serving bag of chips.
    • Switch from a bakery bagel to a 2-ounce small, frozen bagel.
    • Have a ½ cup of ice cream instead of 1 cup.


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Be Active

As you explore increasing the variety in your diet, do the same with your activities. In order to sustain an active lifestyle, find activities you enjoy. If joining the gym sounds like torture, you’re probably not going to go regularly. Consider the investment of money and time when adding an activity into your life. Are equipment or membership fees required? Will there be a commute involved? Be realistic and set attainable goals when building exercise into your schedule. Decide how many days a week you can commit to, the best time of day, and how long you will spend exercising. The more specific you are with your goal, the more likely you are to succeed.

For example, the resolution “I will walk more” is more specific when expressed as “I will walk in the morning before work for 30 minutes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.” For increased accountability, keep track of your exercise on a monthly calendar. And remember- something is better than nothing. If you can’t get in your regular 45-minute workout, use the 20 minutes you do have.

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The Bottom Line

Nutrition is in the news daily, but some basic principles never change. Increasingly we are becoming more aware of how diet and exercise impact our health. So take time to assess your lifestyle considering the points above, and get a taste for nutrition!

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Heather Hawkes, R.D., L.D.N. is a staff nutritionist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she completed her dietetic internship in 2004. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Vermont in 2003 with a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics. In 2003 she spent nine weeks in Haiti as a public health nutritionist.

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