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Registered Dietitians Encourage Consumers to ‘Get Your Plate in Shape’

March 1, 2012

March is National Nutrition Month.  Registered Dietitians (R.D.) from around the country are promoting their expertise in nutrition. Registered Dietitians translate sound, science- and evidence-based research into messages consumers can understand and apply to their everyday life. Each March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly American Dietetic Association) encourages consumers to return to the basics of healthy eating. This year, Americans are encouraged to “Get Your Plate in Shape” by utilizing the new USDA’s MyPlate and incorporating physical activity.

Jenny Starr, R.D., Clinical Nutrition Manager for Masonicare Health Center in Wallingford, sees the importance of educating the benefits of a healthy diet while balancing quality of life for practical changes that will stick. “We aim to offer and encourage healthy choices, but realize lifestyle and behavioral modification must often come first.” Masonicare dietitians and dietetic technicians, registered, nutritionally assess all patients and residents.  They offer a variety of options for nutrition education, including monthly nutrition chats, one-on-one counseling for those admitted to the Health Center, and soon-to-come televised nutrition programs to be broadcast on the Center’s closed circuit channel.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about one-third of U.S. adults are obese. Approximately 17% of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years (12.5 million) are obese. [Data from the National Health and Examination Survey (NHANES)]. Most, if not all, of America’s leading causes of death have much to do with diet and lifestyle. Some of these top killers are heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.  Ms. Starr offers the following nutritional advice to promote quality of life and disease prevention.

How do I get myself and my plate into shape?

Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables plus beans and peas. Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables all count. Choose “reduced sodium” or “no-salt-added” canned vegetables whenever possible.

Add fruit to meals and snacks. Buy fruits that are dried, frozen or canned in water or 100% juice, as well as fresh fruits.

 Make at least half your grains whole.  Choose 100% whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and brown rice. Check the ingredients’ list on food packages to find whole-grain foods.

 Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.  Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories. If you are lactose intolerant, calcium-fortified almond milk and soy milk are also great heart-healthy alternatives. Just watch out for any added sugars. 

Vary your protein choices.  Eat a variety of foods from the protein food group each week, such as seafood, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, poultry and eggs. Canned and dry beans can be an economical and protein rich source, but be sure to rinse off the canned beans. Draining canned beans alone reduces sodium by 36%, while draining and rinsing can reduce sodium by 41%.

Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars. Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Select fruit for dessert. Eat sugary desserts less often. Choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks.  Look out for salt (sodium) in foods you buy. Compare sodium in foods and choose those with lower numbers. Add spices or herbs to season food without adding salt.

Make major sources of saturated fats such as desserts, pizza, cheese, sausages and hot dogs occasional choices, not every day foods. Select lean cuts of meat or poultry and fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.  Switch from solid fats to oils when preparing food.

Enjoy your food, but eat less. Get your personal daily calorie limit at Keep that number in mind when deciding what to eat.  Avoid oversized portions or “portion distortion.” Use a smaller plate, bowl and glass.  Cook more often at home, where you are in control of what’s in your food.  When eating out, choose lower calorie menu options. Choose dishes that include vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Write down what you eat to keep track of how much you eat.  If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so sensibly. Limit to 1 drink a day for women or to 2 drinks a day for men.

What about physical activity?

Be physically active your wayPick activities that you like and start by doing what you can, at least 10 minutes at a time. Every bit adds up and health benefits increase as you spend more time being active.

Children and teens: Get 60 minutes or more a day.

Adults: Get 2 hours and 30 minutes or more a week of activity that requires moderate effort such as brisk walking.

How do I know what to buy at the grocery store?

Know how to read the Food labels by following this simple guide:

      Low calorie Less than 40 calories per serving.
      Low cholesterol Less than 20 mg of cholesterol and 2 gm or less of saturated fat per serving.
       Reduced 25% less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.
      Good source of Provides at least 10% of the DV of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving
      Calorie free Less than 5 calories per serving.
       Fat free / sugar free Less than 1⁄2 gram of fat or sugar per serving.
      Low sodium Less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
      High in Provides 20% or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving.
      High fiber 5 or more grams of fiber per serving.

 What do I do first?

Changing your habits can be tricky, especially if you’re not ready or don’t even recognize your bad habits.

You can start by cleaning out your cabinets and refrigerator/freezer of items that need to be “out of sight, out of mind.” Have those healthier, ready-to-munch on snacks handy if you tend to be a “grazer.” Fresh fruit, yogurt, cut up veggies or nuts are a great place to start.

Find your support system. Is your family or are your friends going to be a good influence for you? Make sure you find the right people to help you move forward with your goals.

Get ready, get set…now go get your plate in shape!

Find more healthy eating tips at:

For a referral to a registered dietitian and for additional food and nutrition information, visit Sources:  Let’s Eat for the Health of It, USDA’s; Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Today’s Dietitian, Jan. 2010