March may be National Nutrition Month, but for Joan Milton, the emphasis on healthy eating is a year-round priority.
Milton works as a registered dietician and a diabetes educator with Community Health Education and Resources, a Spokane-based nonprofit agency that promotes wellness through a variety of programs, classes and screenings. Last month, Milton was the featured speaker at a CHER presentation providing insight on healthy restaurant eating.
On Monday, March 8, CHER will continue its emphasis on community education by hosting a free class on “Nutrition 101”in the Providence Auditorium at Sacred Heart Medical Center beginning at 7 p.m.
As with exercise, Milton said a smart approach to food begins with simple steps.
“It’s about eating the right amounts of the right foods,” she said. “It’s important to develop a healthy routine.”
Milton pointed to portion control as an issue, especially when dining out. Many restaurants will load a plate up with more carbohydrates than people need because, she said, “it makes it look like you’re getting a lot of food.”
Carbohydrates – typically from foods like pasta, rice, breads, fruits and vegetables – should comprise between 40 to 60 percent of a balanced diet, Milton said. Whole grain breads and rice as well as fresh fruits and vegetables are best.
Healthy fat may seem like a misnomer but 25 to 35 percent of a person’s daily food intake should consist of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as those found in olive oil, canola oil, nuts, seeds and vegetable oil. Omega 3-fatty acids – think fish like salmon and herring as well as flax oil and walnuts – are also a good source of healthy fat, according to the Mayo Clinic.
On the flip side, saturated fats (from dairy products, coconut and palm oils) and trans fats (found in partially hydrogenated oil, fried foods, baked goods, shortening and margarine) can increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes and other health problems by increasing total and LDL (or bad) cholesterol. Milton described how such foods contribute to irritated and damaged tissue from inflammation caused by interabdominal weight gain.
In other words, think twice about the french fries and doughnuts.
“I think people have become a lot more aware of the impact of trans fat in recent years,” Milton said. “People care more about what they’re eating.
The last piece of the nutritional puzzle – around 15 to 20 percent – has to do with protein. Milton recommends lean meats – fish, chicken and turkey without the skin – as well as legumes like black beans and kidney beans.
Meat should be eaten sparingly – about twice a week, Milton said.
Understanding that the average American visits a restaurant of some kind around four times a week, Milton said it’s important to be informed before sitting down to look at a menu or approaching a drive-through.
“Decide before you go,” she said. “Look at a menu online and plan ahead at a time when you’re not hungry.”
Healthier options when dining out include grilled food instead of fried, opting to leave off sauces or picking vegetables like broccoli or carrots instead of carb-heavy potatoes. Diners can also decide to split an entrée or ask that food be served in a smaller portion.
“Be creative – bring up healthier ideas,” Milton said. “Restaurants will make the changes.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise are the two major factors in the rise of diabetes over the past decade. A study by the University of Chicago last year reported that the rate of diabetes will double in the U.S. over the next 25 years if the trend of obesity and inactivity continue.
“The good news is that you can do something about it,” Milton said.
Part of counteracting the problem involves eating more fruits and vegetables. While most Americans eat three servings (defined as a half-cup raw or a cup cooked) of produce a day, the recommended amount is five. Milton said a better approach would be to aim for around 10 servings a day.
On the opposite side of the health spectrum, talk of carbonated soda is enough to make Milton cringe. In addition to the heavy sugar content, the amount of phosphorus in soda is a contributor to heart disease and can lead to osteoporosis by depleting calcium levels.
“There’s really no good reason for drinking soda,” Milton said. “It’s so negative for your health.”
Forming meal patterns that cut back on salt, sugar, fat and carbohydrates while substituting healthier options may seem like an inconvenience, but Milton tells people it is well worth the investment. From having more energy to avoiding chronic disease, Milton and other food experts continue to emphasize that the adage “you are what you eat” carries more truth than most people realize.
“Try to add in things to your diet that will promote your health,” she said. “It’ll be worth it.”
Want to find out more?
To learn more about healthy eating and National Nutrition Month, go to www.eatright.org. To find out more about programs offered through Community Health Education and Resources, including Nutrition 101, call 232-8138 or visit www.cherspokane.org.