Healthy Eating: Portion Control, Making Recipes Healthier and Food Labels
In this Fox 8 House Call series, Cone Health experts discuss nutrition topics, including:
Our eating habits change throughout our lives and creating healthy habits is an ongoing process. Mindful eating can help us pay more attention to what we are eating and how much we eat by being more intentional in our choices. Practicing mindful eating throughout the year gives you the chance to enjoy the food you eat without feeling uncomfortably full or like you’re missing out on the foods you love.
First, it helps to take an honest assessment of your current eating habits. Give yourself credit for what you do well and consider areas that you could improve in, like finding ways to incorporate more fruits and vegetables. An area that many people struggle with is portion size. Appropriate portions are normally a lot smaller than we think, especially when meals served in restaurants are typically double if not triple the amount of food you need.
The “My Plate” model serves as a great resource for individuals trying to manage and choose the right portions for different types of food. The model demonstrates that one-quarter of our meal should consist of a lean protein food item, one-quarter should consist of a starch choice and one-half should consist of vegetables and/or fruits.
Beverly Paddock, RD, CDE, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services.
Making Recipes Healthier
We all have our favorite comfort foods, but these meal choices aren’t always the healthiest options. Fortunately, there are many ways to make meals healthier without sacrificing all of the flavor. Whether you want to add protein or reduce your calorie, sodium, fat or sugar intake, there are easy swaps you can make to meet your goals.
Some simple changes you can make to recipes include:
• Butter – unsweetened applesauce, mashed banana, pumpkin puree, avocado or olive oil. Replacing butter reduces the calorie count, fat content and is heart healthy.
• Sugar – applesauce, stevia, maple syrup or honey. Reducing sugar lowers the calorie count and using applesauce increases the amount of fiber.
• Salt – dry seasonings and spices. Make recipes more heart healthy by substituting the high-sodium ingredients with low-sodium options.
• White flour/bread/pasta/rice – whole-wheat flour or whole grain flour/bread/pasta/rice. Replace refined white carbohydrates with more nutritious options, such as brown rice or whole wheat pasta, as these foods have higher amounts of fiber, vitamins and minerals.
• Sour cream – plain Greek yogurt. This swap reduces fat and increases protein.
• Mayonnaise – mashed avocado or Greek yogurt. This is an easy way to add protein and healthy fats to your meal.
• Ground beef – ground turkey or chicken. Using ground turkey or chicken are good low-fat meat options.
• French fries – sweet potato, zucchini, carrot fries. Sweet potatoes and veggie fries are heart-healthier, lower calorie and are more fiber-rich.
For most of these swaps, you can substitute the same amount of the new ingredient for the old. Although if you’re replacing sugar, you only need to use half of the amount that should’ve been sugar with applesauce or honey.
Lisa Balestrino, RD, is a registered dietitian at Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services in Burlington.
Reading a Food Label
Food labels are an extremely important tool when trying to make healthier diet decisions. However, many people are confused about what to look for when reading them. Just because products look healthy or call themselves a healthy choice doesn’t mean they are the best thing for you. Understanding the right things to pay attention to can help you make healthier decisions based on facts rather than marketing.
Depending on your dietary needs, you may pay more attention to some parts of a food label over others. In general, you can break current food labels down into six parts:
- Serving size – This is the very first thing you should look at, since serving sizes vary greatly among the different food choices. The serving size doesn’t necessarily mean what is the right serving for you, but instead functions as your reference point when reviewing the rest of the nutritional information on the label.
- Calories – Double-check how many servings you’re really consuming. If you eat double the serving size, you need to double the calorie and nutrient counts.
- Things to minimize – Saturated fat, trans fat and sodium are typically things you should try to minimize per serving. This section is a little bit tricky because there are different kinds of fat. Some are good for your heart and we should make sure to get enough of the healthy fats in our diet. Some fats, such as saturated and trans fats, are bad for your heart and we should try to have smaller amounts of these. Knowing which types of fat are which and what’s best for you is a topic that a dietitian can help you understand.
- Nutrients we need – You should strive to get all of the fiber, vitamins and other nutrients you need each day.
- Percent of daily values – For example, saturated fat and sodium daily value is based on the most we should get in our diet each day. For nutrients many Americans don’t get enough of, such as fiber, the percent is the minimum amount we should eat.
- Quick guide to percent of daily values – This helps you understand the percentage of each nutrient in a single serving compared to the daily recommended amount. Some daily values are based on a 2,000-calorie diet.
You may have noticed there are three rows that are not color coded – total carbohydrate, sugars and proteins. These can be even trickier than the types of fat. It may really depend on your individual situation what you want to look out for here.
It’s not only good to look at the numbers, but it’s also important to skim the ingredients list to see where the nutrients are coming from. For instance, if you’re trying to choose more whole grain foods, the numbers won’t tell you what you need to know. Instead, you would look to see if the first ingredient listed is a whole grain.
In the big picture, the nutrition facts labels are most helpful for the nutrients we are limiting. But for the ones we need to get more of, such as fiber, vitamins and minerals, the labels are not really necessary. We will almost certainly get enough of the good stuff if we follow the three simple guidelines: choosing lean proteins, making at least half our grains choices whole grains, and filling up half our plates with a variety of fruits and vegetables.
It’s important to remember to choose foods that support a healthy diet based on your individual needs. For example, paying attention to carbohydrates can be important for individuals with blood sugar issues and diabetes. Sodium and cholesterol content are also important factors to review on food labels, especially for individuals with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease.
Angela Johnston, RD, LDN, is a registered dietitian at Cone Health Nutrition and Diabetes Education Services.