The Perspective
   
LATE WINTER 2014

A Healthier Plate = A Healthier You

It seems like every day there is another story in the news about the obesity dilemma in the United States. Not only are prepackaged and fast foods typically less expensive than healthy foods, they are highly convenient for overworked and tired parents across the United States. While many families are not going hungry, they are malnourished (deficient in essential nutrients) yet expanding in size.

Eating heavily processed foods with poor nutritional values not only leads to obesity, it can also be attributed to heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer and high cholesterol. Unhealthy eating habits also contribute to compromised immune function, poor digestion and lack of strength.

Aurora Buffington, registered dietician nutritionist, is a health educator with the health district’s Office of Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion. She explains that every person’s body needs nutrients to function at its fullest potential. And the best way to get nutrients is naturally, through the foods you eat.

Pay attention to the values

One of the best ways to gauge the nutritional value of the foods you eat is by reviewing the nutrition facts label on the food product packaging. (See inset.) The column along the right side gives the percentage of the recommended amount an average person on a 2,000 calorie diet would need. While it’s not perfectly suited for everyone, “it’s in a safe range so it’s a good baseline for the average person,” states Buffington. The nutrients listed on the packaging are the ones most Americans lack.

By reading food labels, you can track the actual nutrients you put into your body. It helps you become a more informed consumer by learning the good and the bad ingredients in your foods. Because fruits and vegetables don’t come with labels, you can learn how much equals a serving and the nutritional values by visiting www.choosemyplate.gov.

Baby steps to healthy eating

What are the most important first steps a person can take towards healthier eating? “Start eating more fruits and vegetables… ideally five a day,” Buffington says. “Not only do fruits and vegetables naturally contain necessary nutrients, they also help reduce the risk of cancer; help maintain a healthier weight; are high in fiber (which makes person feel fuller) and helps keep your digestive system happy.”

The second step is to eliminate sugary beverages; or even better, substitute water for sugary beverages. Sugary drinks are full of empty calories and oftentimes, when consumed daily, can contribute to weight gain, metabolic syndrome (symptoms that can lead to diabetes and heart disease), osteoporosis, kidney stones and tooth decay.

Mary Wilson, MS, RD, Extension Nutrition Specialist with the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension (UNCE), offers another helpful suggestion: “Prepare meals at home together. Research shows that families who prepare meals and eat together tend to have healthier diets.” Additional benefits to having family dinners include: children are less likely to become overweight; children are less likely to drink alcohol, do drugs or smoke; they show improved academic performance and improved family communication.

Finding the right tools

Buffington suggests using an online resource, such as Super Tracker at www.choosemyplate.gov, or a mobile app to compute your daily totals. The Get Healthy Clark County (GHCC) website offers the Nutrition Challenge, a free online tool available in English and Spanish, for those interested in learning how to increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, receiving healthy recipes, as well as details about reading food labels.

Wilson manages several UNCE programs to help Clark County residents of all ages learn about the benefits of proper nutrition and ways to improve eating habits. Some programs are offered to the general public while others are provided to educators. Many of the programs are offered in areas with a high number of low-income households and schools with at least 50 percent of students receiving free or reduced-cost meals.



To help people make healthier choices while grocery shopping, the health district collaborated
with UNCE to create a video series in a grocery store, outlining tips to ensure
a person has the right foods in his or her shopping cart.

By making a few changes in your diet, you will soon be on your way to practicing new healthy eating habits that will help you maintain weight, prevent chronic disease, increase energy and improve self-image. If you have a chronic diseases or serious health issue, contact your doctor or a registered dietician before altering your diet too much.

 

To view the UNCE’s calendar, go to www.unce.unr.edu, click on News & Events, then select “Calendar.”Once the calendar loads, select “Clark County” from the dropdown menu. You will need to click on the listing for details, including whether it’s open to the public or not.

To learn more about the health district’s free online programs, visit www.GetHealthyClarkCounty.org.

Table of Contents | Read Next Story | Subscribe

     
The Perspective Footer