MIAMI VALLEY — The start of the new year is inspiration for many to eat a little healthier, and there are a number of small steps one can take with one’s diet to make that happen.
Diane Birchfield, a clinical dietitian at the Upper Valley Medical Center and Miami Valley Hospital, said those seeking healthier eating habits can “make small changes you can build upon.”
One thing is people can try to do is increase their intake of fruits and vegetables, she said. Birchfield said people consume only about half of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, which could be anywhere from three to five servings, depending on one’s age.
“Fruits and vegetables have good nutritional value,” Birchfield said, adding that fruits and vegetables have fiber but do not have things like added sodium.
The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states that making healthier eating choices can help prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. The ODPHP’s dietary guidelines recommend shifting the focus of increasing one’s overall intake of food groups to making substitutions and “choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages in place of less healthy choices.”
The ODPHP’s recommendations of a healthy eating pattern include consuming the following:
• A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
• Fruits, especially whole fruits
• Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
• A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
• Oils, including those from plants (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, and sunflower) and oils that are naturally present in foods (nuts, seeds, seafood, olives, and avocados)
A healthy eating pattern also limits saturated fats and trans fats, added sugars, and sodium, the ODPHP stated.
When it comes to the ODPHP’s recommendation of replacing typical food and beverages choices with more nutrient-dense options, the ODPHP defines “nutrient-dense” as a “characteristic of foods and beverages that provide vitamins, minerals, and other substances that contribute to adequate nutrient intakes or may have positive health effects, with little or no solid fats and added sugars, refined starches, and sodium.”
The ODPHP also recommends preparing nutrient-dense foods with little or no added solid fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium. Types of nutrient-dense foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, eggs, beans and peas, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry when prepared with little or no added solid fats, sugars, refined starches, and sodium.
Birchfield also suggested consuming less processed foods as a way to eat healthier as processed foods can have more sodium and less fiber in them.
According to the ODPHP, most Americans consume 50 percent more sodium than recommended, and diets high in sodium are associated with high blood pressure and heart disease. The ODPHP recommends limiting sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg daily for adults and children 14 years and older.
Birchfield also suggested those looking to get healthier in the new year can also pay attention to the beverages they are consuming, as higher calories can be found in different coffee drinks and other beverages. She suggested drinking more pure water.
Birchfield also suggested limiting one’s daily window for consuming foods to 12 hours a day, which can help with digestive health.
When it comes to exercise, Birchfield said that it is equally as important as eating healthy, but one’s diet may be more difficult to tackle. She suggested exercising 150 minutes a week, which can be just about reached taking an hour-long exercise class a couple times a week.
When it comes to eating healthier and exercising, if one’s goal is to lose weight, reaching that goal and maintaining it over time is about going the distance instead of seeking instant gratification. Birchfield recommended not to lose more than two pounds per week as, after that, one may be losing muscle mass.
“The slower you take it off, the longer you keep it off,” Birchfield said.
For more information on eating healthy, visit health.gov or the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website at ChooseMyPlate.gov.