Written By: Elizabeth Fay, MS, RD, CNSC
Registered Dietitian, Certified Nutrition Support Clinician
Balanced nutrition is vital for maintaining a long, healthy lifestyle, free of chronic disease. What we put into our body has a direct effect on how our body functions. Fueling your body with the healthiest, nutrient-dense foods will help to keep you feeling your best. Just as we put the appropriate fuel in our cars, we want to treat our bodies with the utmost respect and protection to keep them functioning optimally. The healthy dietary choices you make can help reduce your risk of chronic disease. Even if you have family members who have been diagnosed with a chronic disease, healthful nutrition, routine fitness, and balanced wellness can help to prevent disease. Meeting with your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian is key to individualizing your health and wellness plan. A few specific nutrients such as salt, added sugar, and saturated fat can have an impact on chronic disease risk, so paying attention to these nutrients may be of benefit. In addition, increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables can help to ward off chronic disease.
Salt– This nutrient is found in abundance in the standard American diet, especially in fast food, restaurant meals, processed and packaged foods, and frozen items. Salt (also known as sodium on the Nutrition Facts label) plays a very important role in our nutrition, but too much of this nutrient has been linked to high blood pressure, kidney disease, fluid retention, and heart disease. Salt is used in manufacturing to preserve packaged food and extend the item’s shelf life. Of course, salt is also used in our food for the taste.
Unfortunately, most Americans overconsume salt. Our bodies do not require much salt each day. In fact, recommendations limit sodium intake to 2300 mg per day, which is 1 teaspoon of salt. For people with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or heart disease, recommendations limit sodium intake further to 1500 mg per day, which is equal to about 2/3 teaspoon of salt. This limitation includes all salt intake: from processed food, restaurant meals, homemade meals, added table salt, etc. One easy way to limit salt intake is by removing the salt shaker from the table. If you find your food bland, use squeezed lemon, balsamic or unseasoned rice vinegar, or dried spices to enhance flavor, such as garlic, basil, oregano, rosemary, red pepper flakes, or anything you have in your pantry! Restaurants and fast food establishments are well known to put a very high amount of salt in their food. Plan to eat more meals at home or prepare meals to take with you at work or when running errands. This not only improves your nutrition, but will save you money as well! For canned items, choose vegetables without added salt, and choose low sodium soup whenever possible. Frozen items use salt as a preservative, so aim to prepare more homemade recipes, or pair high-salt, frozen items with foods lower in salt, such as a spinach salad or grilled asparagus to help balance out your meal.
Added Sugar– It’s important to limit added sugars because added sugars raise our blood sugar without providing any additional healthful nutrients. Sugars found in fruit, milk, vegetables, and grains are not of concern because they are naturally found in the food along with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. On the other hand, added sugars in soda, sweetened drinks, candy, baked goods, granola bars, and other sweets provide little nutrition except for high amounts of sugar. Too much added sugar in the diet can increase your risk of insulin resistance (also known as prediabetes), diabetes, liver disease, obesity. Limit added sugar by checking how much sugar or honey you add to your coffee or tea. Consider weaning this added sugar in your coffee or tea a little bit each week or day. In place of apple pie or another sugary dessert, try apple slices and sprinkle with cinnamon or make a yogurt parfait with fresh or frozen fruit. Choose water or other sugar-free beverages in place of sugar-sweetened drinks. Try to avoid substituting added sugars with sugar substitutes. Allow your taste buds to transition from sugar-rich foods to a diet that is rich in flavor, but low in added salt and sugar.
Saturated Fat- This type of fat has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, obesity, and liver disease. Saturated fat is a type of fat, typically found in a solid state at room temperature. For example, butter, French fries, cheese, shortening, coconut oil, and bacon are foods with high amounts of saturated fat. Choosing foods that contain heart healthy fats will help to prevent chronic disease. These more healthful options include avocado, vegetable oil, nuts, seeds, and fish. Instead of buttering your bread, try an olive oil for dipping and add rosemary, oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes. In place of sour cream and cheese on your burrito or taco, use unsweetened, nonfat, plain Greek yogurt. When eating out, try substituting a baked potato for French fries.
Fruits and Vegetables– This is the food group to increase when it comes to preventing chronic disease. Fruits and vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that decrease your risk of many chronic diseases, including heart disease, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver, and kidney disease. Aim to incorporate half of your plate with fruits and vegetables at every meal. This goal may take some time to achieve, but working slowly towards this change will significantly improve your health. Incorporating fruits and vegetables in snacks is another great way to increase your produce intake. Add fresh or frozen berries to your breakfast yogurt, smoothie, oatmeal, or cereal. Top toast with peanut butter and sliced apple. Add dried fruit such as raisins, dates, apricots, or figs to your trail mix snack. Add sliced cucumber or peppers to your sandwich. Top a burrito or tacos with chopped cabbage and tomatoes. Take leftover vegetables from your refrigerator, toss in balsamic vinegar, and roast on a sheet pan for a warm dinner side dish. Chop celery sticks for a snack with a hummus or keep an orange or banana with you at your desk at work or when running errands. Keeping a bag of pre-washed spinach or kale makes salad prep or homemade soup recipes fast and easy.
By increasing fruits and vegetables, and decreasing your intake of salt, added sugar, and saturated fat, you will be taking excellent steps towards a healthier future! See your Nuleeu Registered Dietitian to come up with an individualized nutrition plan for you!