Nutrition can be a vast, often overwhelming topic that leaves many walking away with more questions than answers. For help in combatting the confusion and addressing some common nutrition-related concerns, we turned to Adrianne Kartholl, RDN, clinical dietitian, and Amanda Langan, RDN, clinical dietitian, Parkview Health.
Reading nutrition labels
Fortunately, the FDA must approve anything with a nutrition label. However, when reading and deciphering a nutrition label, I recommend starting with the ingredient list. Many food items in the store are highly processed and contain additives making them shelf-stable for longer but higher in sodium and fat. For this reason, I encourage people to opt for more natural foods that have a short ingredient list and contain easily recognizable elements. Also, to stave off any label anxiety, try this handy rule of three: One serving should contain 300 calories or less, 3 grams of fat and less than 300 milligrams of sodium.
Recognizing hunger cues
Hunger cues are our body’s way of letting us know when we’re hungry. Sometimes those cues manifest themselves in different ways, including low energy, pangs or a growling stomach, shakiness or jittery feeling, headaches, irritability and problems focusing. Once you listen to your hunger cues and eat food, your body will feel satisfied, and those cues start to fade away. Unfortunately, in the on-the-go world we live in, many people ignore those hunger cues. However, if it gets to the point where someone fears eating or feels like they have to restrict themselves, that would be a red flag for a possible eating disorder, and they should seek medical intervention immediately.
Eating healthy while on a budget
There are a variety of ways to eat healthy while on a budget, but frozen fruits and veggies will give you the most bang for your buck, especially when they’re on sale. They are great options to have on hand, plus you can easily incorporate them into a multitude of dishes, and they will last for several months when stored in the freezer. However, it’s best to choose varieties that aren’t frozen in syrup and don’t contain a ton of additives. Aim for options where the fruit or vegetable is the leading and hopefully only ingredient. Canned fruits and vegetables are also a good option but look at the label for sodium content or added syrups.
If you feel overwhelmed with where to begin when eating healthier, start small. One of the easiest changes you can make is with the beverages you drink. Many people consume high-calorie options like soda. Diet versions may be low-calorie, but artificial sweeteners can take a toll on your body, and regular sodas are loaded with sugar. Also, if you’re putting heavy cream in your coffee, try swapping it out for 2% milk. No matter what you choose, see if you can take a small step in the opposite direction and gradually wean yourself off the high sugar and fat content.
Watching your portion sizes can also help you take a step in the right direction. Also, be mindful and pay attention to your body, especially when hungry or full. This goes for children, too. I know many of us have grown up with the “clean your plate” mentality, but research has shown it’s teaching children not to listen to their hunger cues. Instead, focus on appropriate portion sizes by measuring out your food. It ensures you’re getting the correct amount and helps you understand and later recognize the proper serving size when you’re unable to measure, like when eating out at a restaurant. If you’re on the go or have a crazy schedule, try purchasing individualized snack-sized portions to take the guesswork out of it.
Also, give yourself some grace. No one expects you to be perfect. It’s just not realistic. But, by setting small goals and accomplishing them every day, you are creating new habits that will turn into a lifestyle. Remember, it takes time. Whether it takes you two weeks, two months, or two years, it’s okay as long as you’re working toward a solution and putting the time and effort into a healthier you.
Before changing your diet and routine, please speak with a dietitian. They can help you decide what’s right for you and your situation. For immediate mental health care concerns, please call the Parkview Behavioral Health Helpline at 260-373-7500 or 800-284-8439 anytime, 24/7.