Good nutrition can impact our lives in many ways: from the prevention of diseases (such as cancer and heart disease), to the management of diseases (everything from lactose intolerance to diabetes to celiac disease to high cholesterol), to weight management and general healthy living. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of being able to make informed decisions about the food you eat. A registered dietitian nutritionist can assist people with eating healthfully in a manner that works for them. A person may receive the best possible advice, but if it seems impossible to apply, it doesn’t do any good. Dietitians strive to help people make healthier choices every day. To become a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN), an individual must earn at least a bachelor’s degree, complete a
supervised practice program, and pass a registration examination, so they really know their stuff. When seeking nutrition counseling, look for RDN credentials, not just “nutritionist” – there are no regulations on the term “nutritionist”, so anyone can use that title.
RDNs are the experts in nutrition, but YOU are the expert in your life. An RDN will gather information about YOUR food preferences, YOUR lifestyle and activity level, YOUR health status, and YOUR goals, and together, you will design a plan that you can stick to every day. Does eating right seem too overwhelming? Your RDN will help you to break your long-term goals into smaller, manageable short-term goals. Need motivation? An RDN can guide you to tap into your inner drive. Have a chronic disease? Your dietitian can help you determine foods and a style of eating to manage symptoms. Want recipe suggestions that fit with your goals? You guessed it! An RDN can help there, as well.
All foods can fit in a healthy eating plan. A family member’s birthday or a business meeting over lunch is no reason to throw in the towel for healthy eating. Working with a dietitian can help you incorporate balance, moderation, and variety into your eating habits, which research has shown can improve long-term health. These aren’t concepts used by most fad diets; in fact, many fad diets encourage complete elimination of one or more food groups! This exclusion of specific types of foods can lead to nutrient deficiencies and other negative effects. Until you are able to make an appointment with your local RDN, remember these tips for healthful nutrition:
- Balance – Keeping your food intake (calories in) in balance with activity (calories out) is a great recipe for weight management. Balancing intake and expenditure can help you keep a healthy weight, which is helpful in disease prevention and slowing disease progression. Don’t force yourself to do activities you find boring, but rather choose activities you enjoy. Try incorporating friends and family and use your exercise time to socialize as well. This can help keep you motivated. Be sure to talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program.
- Moderation – Maintaining moderation in your diet will help you have that piece of cake without the frustration of weight gain. It is okay to indulge yourself every now and then (and is it really realistic to think that you’ll never have a sweet again?), but balance your treats with making healthier, more nutrient-dense
choices the rest of the day and most days of the week.
- Variety – It’s the spice of life! Variety can also decrease boredom when choosing healthy foods. Try to select a food from at least two groups each time you eat – aim for three food groups at meals. Grains provide our major source of energy. Protein helps to replenish our muscle mass and help with our body’s structure and immune function. Dairy is important with building strong bones. Fruits and vegetables provide us with many vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Not only do you want to incorporate all food groups into your diet, but variety within groups is valuable as well. Eating a rainbow of fruits and veggies each day can provide different phytochemicals, which have many benefits, including reducing cancer risk. Using herbs and spices (not salt!) to season foods can also please our palate, while adding very little calories and a lot of antioxidant bang!