Put Your Best Fork Forward: Food Choices for a Healthier Lifestyle

Put Your Best Fork Forward: Food Choices for a Healthier Lifestyle National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and this year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” Melinda Mahoney, Registered Dietitian, shares examples of small changes we can make in our eating habits – one forkful at a time!

Begin Transcript

Marissa Wertheimer: Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness Wellcast. I am Marissa Wertheimer with Health Plus. I am here with Melinda Mahoney, registered dietitian. March is National Nutrition Month which is a nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Each year, there is a new message or theme that the campaign focuses on. What is the theme for 2017? Melinda Mahoney: This year's theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which I think is really fantastic because it incorporates the focus on how small changes can add up in big ways over time. Marissa Wertheimer: Could you first give our listeners a picture of what a healthy eating plan looks like? Melinda Mahoney: That is a really great question Marissa because there is really so much misinformation in the media about what food should and should not be eaten, and the messages can become very confusing to consumers. All of us have different nutrient needs, and depending on what foods we like and what culture we grew up in, our healthy eating patterns can look completely different. So, for the most part, our diet should be based around nutrient-dense foods like whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat diary, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, so really focusing on the five food groups. But we also really need to focus on consuming calories in a range that is appropriate for our personal needs. So, doing both of these, we will really help us nourish our bodies and maintain a healthy weight. Marissa Wertheimer: Thank you for explaining that and talking about the five food groups. What are some ways that we can make sure that we are getting all of the nutrients we need and adequate calories that our bodies need? Melinda Mahoney: Again, I just want to stress the importance of making sure we are getting representation from all five food groups that I just mentioned and getting a variety of choices within each one of these food groups. A lot of clients I work with tend to want to eat the same foods over and over again, and I can completely understand why they do it because it saves them time, they have little planning, and they know that they like it. But the problem with that is if I am eating a turkey sandwich with carrots and an apple every day that is fantastic, but there is a whole world out there of other protein sources, fruits, vegetables, etc., that are different colors and have different makeups that contribute a ton of nutrients that our bodies are missing out on if we stick to the same food routine each day. So, my main tip is to focus on getting the recommended servings from each food group, and for people looking to try to figure out what these are, they can be found on choosemyplate.gov. Another way to focus on getting appropriate nutrients is to track our food intake using a mobile app like MyFitnessPal. And this tool is especially helpful for folks who are trying to lose or maintain their weight because it totals your calories, carbohydrates, fats, and so forth and helps you have a pretty good understanding of what your specific need should be and how close you are to reaching them. So, this is the number one tool that I recommend to help people with weight loss. Marissa Wertheimer: So to sum it up, we should focus on eating a variety of foods within all five food groups, and consider tracking our food intake to help you stay accountable and learn about the recommended amount of calories specific to you, and that is especially helpful if you are focused on weight loss. Melinda Mahoney: Exactly. Marissa Wertheimer: So, you mentioned earlier that this month's theme was “Put Your Best Fork Forward”. You explained how small changes in our eating habits can add up to big results. What are some specific examples of small changes we can make toward a healthier lifestyle? Melinda Mahoney: Marissa, I think the key here is to start by taking a step back and looking at your overall eating pattern to identify what you are doing well and encourage yourself in that and then also look at what can be improved, becauseeach one of us has something different that we need to work on. So, think about maybe starting with the beverage choices you make. Can you switch from sugary beverages like soda to drinking sparkling water or in your cooking methods can you use oil instead of butter to help reduce the saturated fat you are consuming. If you are dining out a lot, can you make sure you are choosing grilled or baked food instead of fried and then maybe thinking about can you focus on more plant-based diet by replacing meat in some of your meals with beans and then of course we want to keep focusing on that fruit and vegetable intake so if maybe you are only getting one serving a day trying to work up to more appropriate servings like about three cups per day for vegetables. So, these are just a few examples of how you can make a healthy choice, one fork full at a time to go with our theme. Marissa Wertheimer: Those were some really good specific examples and hopefully our listeners can try one of them out. What are some resources available for those looking to get involved with national nutrition month or who want to learn more about healthy eating? Melinda Mahoney: Well, we have a number of things available for the Vanderbilt faculty and staff to participate in. The one that I am most excited for is our short video series. It is a three-part video series that are just a few minutes each that people can watch from the convenience of their own computer either at work or at home, and the topics are about eating what you love so how do we incorporate eating cupcakes and fried chicken and those things that maybe are not nutrient-dense but we still love to eat, and then, the second video is about how to prepare simple meals for busy people. We are in a very dynamic workplace, and we need simple delicious ideas to get us through and still meet our health goals, and then, the third one is on how to make healthy choices when we dine out. We are all going to dine out at some point, so it is important to know just a few key things to help us make healthier choices. If you want to register to watch these videos, you can visit the Health Plus website and search for National Nutrition Month and you need to make sure you are registered by March 10, 2017 in order to receive those. Marissa Wertheimer: Yeah, those sound like topics that everyone can relate to, and it sounds like you are providing Vanderbilt faculty and staff with some very useful information. So, thanks again Melinda and thanks for sharing your expertise and your knowledge on nutrition. Melinda Mahoney: Thank you so much for having me. Marissa Wertheimer: Thanks for listening. Please feel free to leave us any comments on this Wellcast on the form at the bottom of this page. If you have a story or suggestion, please email it to us at health.wellness@vanderbilt.edu or you can use the "Contact Us" page on our website at healthandwellness.vanderbilt.edu. -- end of recording (07:27) --