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Back in Balance with Food

By Kimberly Plessel, MS, RDN, LD

Ever feel confused about nutrition? With all of the popular diets and conflicting information, it is easy to feel out of balance. Each of us is unique in our genetics, lifestyles, and preferences, which is why each of us deserve a personalized approach with nutrition. Rather than trying to fit your life into the restrictive rules of any trending diet, let’s pause to appreciate key patterns that have held the test of time. That way, you can design an approach that will work best for you.

Lessons learned from the longest-living populations around the world indicate the importance of:

Eating to 80 Percent Fullness

Eating to “neutral” versus “full” supports longevity, or living longer. “Diets” work because they raise awareness; however many of us just can’t sustain that level of attention for deconstructing what we eat into calories, macros, nutrients, etc. Intuitive eating is a gentler approach to raising awareness. Using a simple hunger and fullness scale can help you tell the difference between eating to neutral, satisfaction and varying levels of fullness. Research suggests that eating to “satisfied” throughout the day and “neutral” in the evenings helps us fuel our bodies while moderating our overall caloric intake for the day.

Embracing Whole, Plant Foods

Research continues to mount about the benefits of eating whole plant foods due to their phytonutrient, fiber and vitamin content. More than 8,000 phytonutrients, or “plant nutrients”, have been identified to date. They are found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, teas and whole grains. You can enhance your intake of these powerful nutrients by:

  • Choosing seasonal produce grown close to home;
  • Opting for a wide variety of produce that are from a rainbow of color; and
  • Eating combinations of food to maximize absorption (like adding healthy fats to help you absorb vitamins A, D, E and K).
  • Don’t forget that spices and herbs are also plants with incredible health benefits.

Establishing a Nutrient-rich Diet “Pattern”

Your overall eating patterns have the greatest effect on your health. Establishing a rhythm to your meals and snacks helps to ensure that you are eating key nutrients for your health. MyPlate and Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate are easy visuals that can help you strike a balance. While simplistic, referencing the plate visual can be extremely powerful. While you may not eat all of the food groups at every meal, notice if you have any gaps.

Ask yourself: “Am I over-relying on any one section of the plate consistently?” Can you start to balance your plate at meals or even incorporate strategic snacks that help you “finish” or “balance” your plate if you are hungry between meals? Establishing a nutrient-rich pattern ensures that you can still savor some fun throughout the week.

Maximizing Energy, Strength and Metabolism

Centenarians who age with vitality, “move naturally”. With physical inactivity, we risk losing as much as 3 to 5 percent of muscle each decade after the age of 30. The CDC recommends at least ~30 minutes of brisk, moderate physical activity most days plus 2 or more days of muscle-strengthening activities each week. Again, personalize how you want to employ these strategies in your life. You don’t necessarily need to sign up for a gym membership if that is unrealistic or daunting. You can raise your heart rate by walking, biking or having fun while dancing. Strengthening activities don’t just equate to lifting weights; you can also explore resistance bands, gardening or yoga.

Nourish your lean muscle by also consuming protein consistently throughout the day. Reference the Plate Method to ensure that you don’t miss out on this important nutrient in the mornings and afternoons. Most of us easily consume protein in the evenings, but our lean muscle needs to be nourished all day long. Now, this doesn’t necessarily equate to noshing on meat all day. You have a multitude of options including beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, dairy, whole soy foods (tofu, tempeh, edamame or soy nuts), fish, seafood, poultry, and lean, grass-fed meats. Mix it up for the most nutrient dense approach.

Protecting Your Health

We’ve all heard the phrase “Food as Medicine”; but how popular culture defines this varies widely. To date, the “Mediterranean” dietary pattern has been shown to be the most protective of overall health. It exemplifies the “Plate Method” in action by focusing on whole, real foods. It also highlights the importance of “quality” fats found in olives, avocado, nuts, seeds and the omega 3s found in fish, specifically salmon, tuna, trout, cod, sardines or anchovies. Variations of the Mediterranean dietary pattern (“DASH” and “MIND” diets) have also been shown to protect your heart and cognitive health.

If you would like support designing your own personalized nutrition patterns, we encourage you to make an appointment for a nutrition and wellness consult with Kim Plessel, MS, RDN, LD. Call 763-587-7000.