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Eating your Way Into the New Year

Jan 18, 09:52 AM

Food and Fitness Fundamentals

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions coming along? If you had the opportunity to read my last blog, you may remember that I suggested that you to take time to reflect on your current overall lifestyle and eating habits. Conducting a thorough assessment of your everyday behaviors, followed by setting and prioritizing very specific goals (i.e. behaviors that you would like to modify) is of key importance for long term success. This will help keep you focused and directed on the objectives you want to accomplish. As suggested in my last blog, taking small baby steps in the beginning often aids with long term compliance in making your resolutions a lifelong habit. Now that we have accomplished some small steps toward making lifestyle changes, let’s elaborate and continue with an in-depth assessment about ways to help you accomplish your goals.

Generally speaking, when looking at overall healthy lifestyle goals, I suggest focusing heavily on three key areas: Portion sizes, the fat content of foods, and physical activity. In today’s blog, let’s begin by looking more closely at portion sizes and reading labels.

The importance of portion sizes and food records

This may sound like a broken record; however, I cannot emphasis enough how important it is to know portion sizes, as well as the fat and calorie content of commonly eaten foods. Over the past 30 years as a practicing dietitian, I have found it very common that people “think” they know what their daily intake is; however, after keeping a food diary for several days, they are often quite shocked with the realization and actuality of their consumption when seen on paper.

Not all serving sizes are deemed equal.
The USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines have set recommendations for serving sizes for all healthy Americans to follow. However, manufacturers don’t always follow this standard and their serving sizes may be vastly different. One specific example is butter or margarine. The USDA indicates a single serving as being one teaspoon, yet on a manufacturer’s label, it may indicate 1 tablespoon. That is a variance of three servings! It is important to become familiar with the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines.

Whether your ultimate goal is to lose a few pounds or improve your overall health, especially when faced with medical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, it is critical to know what and how much you are consuming on an average basis. In regard to weight loss, “calories in verses calories out” is the bottom line. For every additional 3,500 calories consumed, another one pound of weight is gained. That may sound like a lot of extra calories, but if you are not paying close attention to your daily habits, it could be something as simple as drinking one can of regular soda each day for 20 days; YIKES!….There is that one (extra) pound of weight gain!

Read food labels

Reading the Nutrition Facts Panel on prepackaged foods allows you to see exactly of what that product consists. The Nutrition Facts Panel indicates precisely what a serving size is and how many calories that one serving provides. It also shows the nutrient values, i.e. carbohydrates, protein, fat, sodium, fiber, etc.

Also listed on the food label are the “Percentage Daily Values”, which shows how that one serving of food compares to a healthy 2,000 calorie diet. Your own daily values may be different depending on your personal calorie needs. In either case, this information provides a quick and easy way to assess the nutritional value of the product. Ideally, you do not want to consume more than 100 percent in areas such as fat and sodium; however it may behoove you to strive for more than 100 percent in fiber, vitamins and minerals, when reasonably possible while still consuming fresh wholesome foods.

Last on the food label is the ingredients listing. The ingredients are listed from highest to lowest concentration. Typically, the first five ingredients listed indicate the bulk of what is in that food item.

Over the years, I have often asked patients to keep detailed food records. Their initial response is sometimes negative, however once completed, they quickly see that it is an invaluable tool. It is frequently astonishing to see how we sometimes think we eat in ways that are very misleading. The above suggestions are a good way to begin learning about your true eating habits. Keep detailed food diaries and review them periodically to see how your overall eating habits mesh with how you perceive them to be. Also, it is good practice to occasionally physically weigh and measure foods in order to get a good visualization of how various serving sizes appear. Before long, you will be able to simply look at a plate of food and determine how many servings are incorporated. Remember as best you can to stick with simple goals that will move you in the direction you desire. The above discussed techniques can assist you on your journey.

Until next time, here’s to healthy eating!

Lori Dodds, RD, LD, is a Registered Dietitian at The Corvallis Clinic Nutrition Services Department.

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