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Best fork forward: Choosing food that fuels a healthy lifestyle

Posted 3/1/17

Food can mean a number of things to us. It can be a source of delight, a means to gather friends and loved ones around a common table, even an instrument of comfort at the end of a long day.

But most importantly, food is fuel. The bonds between …

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Best fork forward: Choosing food that fuels a healthy lifestyle

Posted
Food can mean a number of things to us. It can be a source of delight, a means to gather friends and loved ones around a common table, even an instrument of comfort at the end of a long day.

But most importantly, food is fuel. The bonds between good food and good health are strong, and it’s crucial to fuel our body with the proper nutrients to stay healthy.

While a deficit of the right foods in our daily diet can lead to increased health complications and poor disease management, making sure we’re including the right foods in a balanced diet can help us take some control and ownership in our overall health. Furthermore, a well-balanced diet plays an important role in the healing and recovery process when we do find ourselves in health situations that are beyond our control.

The bottom line: healthy food fuels a healthy body. It sounds simple in theory, but the reality is that a healthy, balanced diet can be a challenge for many of us. A well-meaning trip to the grocery store to shop the “organic aisles” or a dinner visit to your favorite restaurant, laden with good intentions to peruse the menu’s “lighter side,” can end in confusion or discouragement.

The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult or confusing. By learning a few tips and tricks, you’ll be putting your best fork forward in no time.

It takes a village

You’ve heard the phrase, “it takes a village,” right? Well, it takes a “village” or variety of foods to get all the healthy nutrients your body needs. No one food has it all. Building a healthy diet by incorporating a variety of foods can ensure that your body is getting the right mix of vitamins and nutrients.

According to the USDA, it’s important to focus on making healthy food and beverage choices from the five food groups encompassing fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods and dairy to ensure that you’re getting the right variety of food in your diet. The USDA MyPlate initiative at www.choosemyplate.gov is a helpful source of tips and inspiration for creating the right variety in your daily diet.

Eat in Technicolor

When it comes to food, natural color often signifies specific nutrients that can help your body stay healthy and ward off disease.

Beta-carotene-rich orange foods like carrots and squash provide vitamin A. Green veggies like spinach, broccoli and kale are storehouses of fiber, vitamins A, E and C and potassium. Some red and blue foods like cherries, cranberries and blueberries are packed with antioxidants that can improve your health. Taking some time to do a bit of quick and easy research on the health benefits of a colorful diet can provide a helpful road map for navigating the grocery store on your next visit.

Read the labels

Before you toss that box or jar into your basket, take a moment to read the label. Pay attention to serving size and how many servings are in the container. The nutrition facts, like the amount of fat, carbohydrates, protein and vitamins, are calculated per serving, so if you plan on having two servings, you would double the amounts and percentages specified on the label.

Also, check the ingredients. Aim to buy foods with natural ingredients and little added sugar. Here’s a hint: if you don’t recognize the ingredient, it may best to leave it on the shelf.

Spice it up

Healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland eating. Experiment with different spices and low-sodium, low-calorie marinades to give your meal’s flavor profile a boost and keep things interesting.

Creating and maintaining a balanced diet packed with the nutritious food your body needs to stay healthy doesn’t have to be a slog. Armed with knowledge and a little bit of creativity, you can put your best fork forward and fuel your body for the long haul.

Stop by Wilson Medical Center’s Café Court on Wednesdays in March to enjoy our National Nutrition Month specials.

Shannon Jackson is a registered dietitian at Wilson Medical Center.

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