Make good food choices for better health


Special to Palms West Monthly
Posted Dec. 3, 2016

Living a healthy lifestyle starts with a healthy diet which can lower the risk of diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol – all of which can lead to heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

I tell my patients that it’s all about balance, making good choices and having realistic expectations. Getting the right nutrients also helps our bodies function at their best so we feel better in everything we do.

Start by considering balance and portion size. Balanced meals include proper portions of meat and carbohydrates as well as fresh vegetables and fruit. Because overeating is easy to do in our “super-sized” culture, try to visualize what an appropriate portion looks like. For example, pasta is about half a cup, or the size of a hockey puck. A portion of meat is two to three ounces, about the size of a deck of cards.

Using smaller plates and bowls can also help keep portion size in check.

One simple step I recommend is to slow down, drink some water and take a break. This gives your brain a chance to catch up with the signals from your body. Chances are you will be less motivated to go back for seconds.

I also recommend small snacks between meals to help balance your metabolism. Choose low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables.

Avoid high-calorie, high-sodium foods as they are harder for the body to break down and therefore turn into fat.

Be careful about what you add to your food. In salads, adding croutons, candied nuts, cheese, fried meat and creamy salad dressing increases fat and calories. Many restaurant salads can be upwards of 10 to 20 grams of fat and 1,000 to 2,000 calories. Choose fresh dressings such as oil and vinegar over creamy ones or ask for your dressing on the side.

When shopping at the grocery store, remember that fresh fruits and vegetables are best. When buying frozen or canned fruit, check the label to make sure there’s no added sugar. Fruit in natural juice or water, rather than syrup, is best. If you’re buying canned vegetables, look for those with low sodium.

Fiber is essential to a healthy, well-balanced diet. High-fiber foods include whole grains, quinoa, barley, brown rice and 100 percent whole wheat breads and pastas. Avoid synthetic foods such as waffles, doughnuts, muffins, refined white flour, biscuits, egg noodles and buttered popcorn, to name a few.

High amounts of sodium, as well as saturated and trans fats can also derail your healthy lifestyle. In general, people should have less than 2,300 mg of salt per day – even less for those with certain health conditions.

Be sure to read your labels! A can of soup or a frozen dinner may have more than a whole day’s serving of salt. Foods with high trans fats (sometimes referred to as partially hydrogenated) should be avoided. Try healthier alternatives such as low-sugar fruit spread on your toast instead of butter. Choose a baked potato topped with salsa or low-fat yogurt instead of mashed potatoes or French fries.

Good fats are also an important part of a balanced diet and – if eaten in moderation – may even help lower cholesterol. Monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil are examples of good fats. Polyunsaturated fats that are found in certain fish, avocados, nuts and seeds are also good choices.

Balance your meals with protein such as lean meat, fish, eggs and low-fat dairy. Choose low-fat or skim milk and skinless chicken rather than fried chicken.

Legumes, such as beans, peas and lentils, are also good sources of protein and contain no cholesterol. Cold water fish is another good choice and is high in omega 3 fatty acids. Other foods rich in omega 3 are walnuts, soybeans, flaxseeds and canola oil.

The goal is to balance your meals with vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats while limiting salty, processed and high-calorie foods. Mix it up and try a variety of foods.

And remember that it’s okay to splurge once in a while. We all need to give into temptation from time to time as long as it’s the exception and not the rule.

A member of Bethesda Health Physician Group, Dr. Kandankulam is a Board Certified Family Medicine physician. She recently relocated to South Florida from Ohio where she worked as a solo practitioner. Her office is at 2465 State Rd. 7, Suite 800 in Wellington. To reach her office, call (561) 784-4930.

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