Nutrition – Why it Matters
As a country, we have seen vast health improvements including increased accessibility to nutrients and decreases in infectious disease. However, we continue to experience high rates of chronic disease. While risk factors for many chronic diseases start early in life, there is evidence that indicates prevention can start with dietary and lifestyle changes. The impact of these diet-related chronic diseases is immense, not only to the individual but to the country as a whole.
Chronic Diseases Related to Diet
Heart Disease, Stroke, and other Cardiovascular Diseases
“The weight related diseases listed above, as well as others, cause significant health risks and are closely related to poor nutrition and physical inactivity,” says Kathy Blackledge, RDN Nutrition Clinical Coordinator, and Outpatient Nutrition Coordinator at Sturdy Memorial Hospital. “We as a society are not engaging in healthy eating patterns.” The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics identified reasons for poor eating habits including: not wanting to give up certain foods, not eating enough fruits and vegetables, failure to track diet, desire to have meals prepped quickly due to the juggling of work and family, as well as no leisure time for physical activity. In order to improve the rates of chronic disease in our country, we must begin to eat better and move more. Nevertheless, with so much information out there, it is easy to get overwhelmed.
One tool available, which can provide education on how to eat healthier, is The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, developed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Professionals use these Guidelines to help individuals make food choices that promote health while reducing the risk of disease. The USDA and HHS released the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans in January with an emphasis on the need to follow science-based recommendations to improve the eating habits of Americans. Ultimately, the goal is to reduce the nation’s high rate of obesity and prevalence of diet-related chronic diseases.
What is so different about the Guidelines in this edition? For starters, they now recognize that people do not eat in the form of food groups or nutrients, but in a combination of the two resulting in an eating pattern. The Guidelines have further come to understand that an eating pattern is flexible as individuals have personal, cultural, traditional and budgetary preferences, all of which can change.
The Dietary Guidelines indicate that a healthy eating pattern includes:
• A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy and others.
• Fruits with a focus on whole fruits.
• Grains, half of which should be whole grains.
• Fat-free or low-fat dairy including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages.
• A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes, and nuts, seeds and soy products.
Furthermore, the Guidelines recommend specific limitations on sugars, saturated fats and sodium. Less than 10 percent of calories per day should be from added sugars, less than 10 percent of calories per day should be from saturated fats and no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.
Blackledge indicates, “when looking to consume a healthy diet, one should eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat or fat-free dairy products. There should also be a healthy balance of lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts with a limit on the amount of fats, salt and added sugars. Fruits and vegetables can be fresh, frozen or canned as long as they are included. Variety is key as this will provide the body with nutrients it needs to function properly.”
In order to understand how certain foods fit into your eating pattern, one should understand the Nutrition Facts Panel. “This panel provides key information such as serving size, calories and fat, all of which are important in ensuring you are eating enough nutrient-rich foods,” says Blackledge. The serving size highlights how much is in a serving and how many servings are in a package. This is important, as your portion may be greater than the recommended amount, thus increasing the calories, fat and other nutrients you are consuming. Another important aspect of the food nutrition label is the ingredient list. Foods that have more than one ingredient must list the ingredients of the item. These ingredients are listed in order by weight, therefore, the first ingredient listed holds the highest weight in that item. For example, a major cereal brand’s first two listed items include milled corn and sugar indicating that these two items are the highest by weight of all the ingredients.
“Some may opt to navigate on their own when trying to lose weight or modify their eating habits, believing that professional help is not for them, however, enlisting the help of a Registered Dietician (RD) at Sturdy, may provide more successful outcomes,” says Blackledge. Registered Dieticians work to identify an individual’s current state of health. They work with each patient and establish personalized plans that ultimately lead to living a healthier lifestyle. “Having the knowledge and understanding of how important nutrition is with regard to chronic diseases allows us to provide education on how nutrients can affect these conditions and how one can better manage their illness. Additionally, we can help patients navigate through food allergies and intolerances in an effort to reduce the chance of nutrition deficiencies.” Through nutrition counseling, RDs can work with individuals and further educate communities on how to make healthy lifestyle changes through food and proper nutrition.