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A healthy eating pattern is important to living

You want to eat healthfully, but what’s the best way to do it? Some of today’s popular diets say to cut sugar while others restrict fat. “Consumers are confused,” said Keri Gans, MS, RDN, CDN. “The problem here is neither approach is the answer to healthy eating.”

 

A Healthy Eating Pattern

Rather than eating an exclusively low-fat or low-sugar diet, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you focus on your overall eating pattern.

“People need to look at the big picture versus using a magnifying glass,” said Karen Collins, MS, RDN, CDN, FAND, a nutrition advisor at the American Institute for Cancer Research. Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, low-fat dairy, seafood and nuts. Meanwhile, eat less red and processed meats, sweet drinks, desserts and refined grains.

Gans said that when counseling clients, she talks about what their plate should look like.

“One quarter of the plate should be whole grains, such as 100-percent whole-wheat pasta, quinoa or brown rice,” she said. “Another quarter should be protein, such as lean red meat, skinless poultry, fish, legumes or tofu. And half of the plate should be filled with beautiful vegetables and fruit. A little heart-healthy fat can be added, such as olive oil, nuts or seeds. Meals should be more plant-based and vegetables should be the stars.”

Gans said that portion size is another sticking point for many of her clients.

“For dinner, they eat a whole serving platter of pasta rather than a single portion,” she said. “Instead, choose one-half cup cooked whole-grain pasta, add a lean protein such as four ounces of cooked shrimp, and lots — one and a half cups — of cooked vegetables such as spinach, broccoli or eggplant.”

 

The Skinny on Fat

The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasizes oils rich in monounsatured and polyunsaturated fatty acids as part of a healthy eating pattern, and recommends limiting saturated and trans fats. Choosing the right kinds of fats, including those from fatty fish such as salmon, vegetable oils, nuts and seeds is especially important.

5 Tips for Making Good Decisions about Fat

• Try grilled, steamed or baked salmon, trout or mackerel instead of fried or breaded fish.

• Vary your protein choices by eating more seafood, and legumes.

• Choose lean cuts of meat and remove visible fat. Remove skin and fat from poultry.

• Choose low-fat or fat-free dairy products.

• Top salads with nuts or seeds instead croutons. Use vegetable oil-based salad dressings instead of cream-based dressings.

 

The Skinny on Sugar

The average American consumes more than 13 percent of his or her daily calories from added sugars — yet the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend limiting added sugars to less than 10 percent of daily calories. By going above 10 percent, it’s difficult to maintain an overall healthy eating pattern. Added sugars can be found in foods such as sugar-sweetened beverages and refined grain snacks and desserts. Naturally occurring sugars in foods such as fruit and milk are not added sugars.

“Most Americans can very effectively reduce added sugars by just focusing on a few habits — drinking fewer sugar-sweetened beverages and eating less desserts, sweet snacks and candy — since more than 75 percent of added sugars in the diet comes from these foods,” Collins said.

 

3 Tips for Reducing Added Sugar

• Re-think sweets: Save sugary desserts for special occasions.

• Instead of a post-dinner dessert, close out a family mealtime with a cup of coffee, tea or iced tea — but enjoy it without added sweeteners and whipped cream.

• Switch from yogurt with added fruit to plain low-fat yogurt. Then, add fresh fruit for a nutritious, sweet mid-morning snack. Fruit and low-fat dairy contain natural sugars that provide nutrients that promote health.

Your Personalized Healthy Eating Pattern

For more help developing a personalized healthy eating pattern that includes appropriate amounts of healthy fats and sugars, contact a registered dietitian.