Wednesday, March 18, 2015

WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS: Top Ten Tips for National Nutrition Month

"There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way in which it treats its children."                             --Nelson Mandela

March is National Nutrition Month. So let’s get right to it.  What does it mean to eat real food and why does it matter?  Recent conversations with friends have been triggered by my WELLNESS WEDNESDAYS column about “mindful health”.  Are you "mindful" of what you are eating and drinking and the connection to how you feel, what kind of mood you are in, or why you might be taking so many medications? Many people don’t connect the dots that they really are what they eat-until it is too late and they have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, diabetes, gout, arthritis, or cancer.  So nutrition, or what you eat and drink, really DOES matter.

As an epidemiologist and in the business of preventing diseases, many diseases I study are caused (or made worse) by not eating well.  Diabetes and obesity are central to my work because of their devastating, life-altering effects on one’s physical, mental and financial health.  It is expensive to be sick.  People tell me every day, “I can’t afford to eat healthy.”  My response? You can’t afford to NOT eat healthy.  Give me an hour and I’ll teach you.”  If not, then just keep drinking all those sodas loaded with high fructose corn syrup and google how much it costs to get a liver transplant.  Like I said, it is expensive to get sick, or more specifically, to not eat real food.

Here are my top ten tips for National Nutrition Month: 
1.   Read food labels and stop eating/drinking anything that contains high fructose corn syrup.
2.  Eat more dietary fiber every day.  Aim for 30 grams a day.  Remember that most Americans eat less than 20% of what they need every day and this is a major contributor to the diabetes and obesity epidemics (and why you or a family member may already have diabetes or prediabetes or be at an unhealthy weight).
3.   Make water your primary drink (refer to #1). 
4.      Eat mostly the good fats (fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados), eat less of the bad fats (saturated fats like milk other than skim milk, meat, chicken, and fats solid at room temperature) and eat none of the really bad fats (trans fats).
5.      Eat whole foods, like fresh vegetables, whole grains like oats and quinoa, lentils, beans, and peas.
6.      Stop eating processed foods (think Pop Tarts and McNuggets) which are loaded with added sugars, salt, and fat.  Fast, cheap and convenient does NOT mean tasty, nutrient-dense and healthy.
7.       Plan family dinners together with no electronics allowed at the table.  This has been shown to be a key factor in helping kids (and adults) at a healthy weight.
8.       Get enough sleep. Sleep is essential if you want to lose weight.
9.       Watch out for sodium (salt).  Most Americans eat too much of it (no wonder the pharmaceutical companies are making a killing on medicines for high blood pressure).  Half of Americans are advised to limit their salt intake to no more than 2,300 mg a day.  The other half of us (everyone 51 years and older, all African-Americans, all Americans with diabetes, hypertension, and/or chronic kidney disease) need to limit their daily intake to LESS THAN 1,500 mg a day (or less than 2/3 teaspoon a day).
10.   Support your local farmer.  Shop your local green markets.  What is grown locally and fresh picked has the most nutritional value and taste.  My grandfather was a farmer in southern Indiana.  On the summers spent on our family farm, nothing tasted better to me than the tomatoes, bean, and squash my grandmother served at the noon meal every day. 

Food should taste good.   Savor the flavors.  Spend time cooking locally grown foods with those you love.  Eat slowly.  Light candles and put fresh flowers on your dinner table.  Eat real food. Stop eating processed foods (think food that comes in boxes). Share great meals with family and friends. Repeat.  

Listen to Chef Michael Glatz of La Patissiere and me talk about food, avocados, and dark chocolate on "Pop Up Health".  Our fun weekly talks are fulled with tips, recipes, and resources and serve as a reminder about the power of eating well.  To catch this week's "Pop Up Health" with Nancy Heinrich, PLUS learn the history of the croissant from Chef Michael, just click here.

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder of the Growing Healthy Kids Project