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Published on March 06, 2014

MU Nutritionists Offer Healthy Eating Tips

COLUMBIA, Mo. - March is National Nutrition Month. In recognition, University of Missouri Health Care dietitians encourage practicing a healthy diet by "Enjoying the Taste of Eating Right" - this year's theme from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

"Eating can be a very emotional activity," said Ashley Ritzo, R.D., L.D., a clinical dietitian at MU Health Care. "There are many factors that prompt us to eat certain foods, but taste trumps them all. When it comes to maintaining a nutritious diet, it is important to find ways to make healthy foods taste great."

Ritzo offered several suggestions about choices that are healthy, different, flavorful and add variety to your diet:

  • Change the way you cook your usual foods. For example, if you usually boil or steam vegetables, try grilling them or roasting them in a hot oven for about 25 minutes at 415 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Try one new fruit, vegetable or whole grain each week.
  • Try a dish at a restaurant that features local, seasonal fruits and vegetables.
  • Use flavorful condiments with fresh ingredients like olive tapenade, salsa, flavored mustard or pesto sauce.
  • Mix chopped vegetables into dishes like chili, meatloaf or pasta.
  • Don't be afraid to try foods that you haven't eaten in a while. Our taste buds are constantly changing, so it can take several attempts at trying a food before you learn that you actually like it.

The MU dietitians say that making small changes over time, rather than big, abrupt changes, may be more helpful in achieving a sustainable, healthy, balanced diet.

"Making changes that improve one's diet can often seem overwhelming," said Elizabeth Freeman, R.D., L.D., C.D.E., a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at MU Women's and Children's Hospital.

"Many of us think we need to make these changes all at once; however, it is actually better to make small changes over time. Good habits that you stick with tend to make the biggest differences in your health." 

For those struggling to figure out how to begin making small changes, Freeman suggests thinking about the foods you usually eat each day:

  • If you usually skip breakfast, simply start with the goal of eating something each morning. It doesn't need to be a full meal, just something small like a glass of low-fat milk, a container of low-fat yogurt, a slice of whole-grain toast with peanut butter or a snack-size bag of whole-grain cereal.
  • If you feel that you are eating too much, slowly start cutting back. If you usually eat three eggs, two slices of toast and a cup of juice for breakfast every day, cut back to two eggs or egg whites, one slice of toast, and switch to low-fat milk instead of juice.
  • If your lunch is usually a bologna and cheese sandwich, chips and fruit punch, try a turkey sandwich, pretzels and a fresh fruit or vegetable for a meal with fewer calories.
  • If you drink sweetened beverages throughout the day, start by cutting back slowly how much you drink over time. If you drink three cans of soda per day, cut that back to two cans of soda per day. Your ultimate goal can be to completely eliminate sweetened drinks, but start out slowly and replace those drinks with water or another calorie-free alternative, such as diet soda or sweetened tea with a sugar substitute.

"Try to focus on being healthy by making healthy choices, but do not get discouraged if you don't meet your goals every day," Freeman said. "Stay positive and make each day count!"
"Finding small, healthy eating habits that you enjoy, is essential to sustaining a lifestyle change long-term," Ritzo said.