Just as gasoline is needed to run most cars, food is needed to energize the human body. With poor quality gasoline, your car will sputter to a finish, and with poor quality of food, your body will sputter to gain the energy it needs to function.
That’s why nutrition experts in the region say nutrition plays an important role in a person’s day-to-day and long-term health, and there are key components to remember in your diet that will help you live longer.
Choose this over that
Being strategic in how you shop is the key to healthful eating, said Kelly Devine Rickert, a registered dietitian and health coach with Franciscan WELLCARE.
“The idea is to shop the perimeter – aka the produce section, meat market and dairy – to keep the diet as clean as possible,” she said. “These are your most fresh, least processed food items.”
If purchasing bread, make sure the loaf’s ingredient label has whole grain flour as the first ingredient, and there is greater than 3 grams of dietary fiber per slice, said Sheana Brighton, supervisor of clinical nutrition at Advocate South Suburban Hospital.
When shopping meats, choose lean. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts are a great staple, Brighton said.
When purchasing fruits and vegetables, choose fresh, in-season options for best taste, and try organic when possible – especially produce where the skin is eaten, said Terri Sakelaris, a registered dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator at Community Hospital-Fitness Pointe.
“Not always is it affordable to purchase organic,” Sakelaris said. “You get great nutrition from fruits and vegetables that are not organic, but try to buy locally to limit the amount of chemicals and pesticides that are used.”
Indulging in snacks can be an easy way throw eating healthy off track, but Rickert said snacks can be used instead to supplement nutrients to your diet that you might otherwise be missing.
“I encourage a fruit or vegetable at most meals and at least one snack a day,” she said.
Low-fat cheese sticks or Greek yogurt low in sugar are great options to have on hand as well, Brighton said.
“If you want to munch on your favorite snacks, choose the baked version or go with the snack pack size, as portion control is the key,” she said.
Though fast food is easy, having fresh fruit and vegetables in the grocery cart doesn't take much more time at all, Sakelaris said.
“People like fast food and there is nothing faster than washing a fresh crisp apple, pear or even peeling a banana for those on the go,” she said. “Another fast food that should be in the cart is raw almonds, walnuts or pecans. Having a high protein snack between meals can help curb hunger.
Follow the plate rule
Imagine an actual plate, Brighton said.
“Half of your plate is fruits and veggies, the other half is split – ¼ of the plate is whole grains and the other ¼ is protein,” she said.
Add in a skim or 1 percent dairy source – 3 cups per day total – and this is what meals should look like, she said.
While previous generations learned about the Food Pyramid, kids today are learning about My Plate, an initiative that individualizes people’s plates depending on age, gender and calorie needs, said Vanessa Provins, a dietary supervisor with Porter Regional Hospital.
“It also has a nice grocery list for healthful shopping,” she said. “It has a nice 10-tip series, addressing each of the food groups, decreased sodium, increased fiber, increased whole grains, decreased sugar, etc.”
For more information, go to choosemyplate.gov.
It’s easy to get swept up in diets, but Brighton advises avoid calling any plan a diet and move toward calling it healthy eating and healthy living.
“Eating a variety of foods, such as the plate method, and every once in a while enjoying your favorites in moderation is a good rule of thumb,” she said. “There are some structured plans available that aren’t about restrictions, but more about healthy choices and portion control.”
She said to avoid any plans that advise eating as much as someone wants of one item, because in the long run, it won’t be nutritionally beneficial.
“Plans that are very restrictive in terms of calories or food choices have proven ineffective over the long run,” she said.