By KRISTEN JARVIS
March is National Nutrition Month. It’s a perfect time to take a closer look at how nutrition plays a role in our lives and how it can help those living with many different chronic diseases.
Nutrition is a very important, but often overlooked aspect of our health and wellness. As of 2011, more than eight percent of our population (both adults and children) had diabetes. Heart disease has been the leading cause of death for both male and female minorities for the past 80 years. Other chronic conditions from poor nutrition include obesity, high blood pressure, kidney disease and high cholesterol.
Nutrition is not a cure for chronic illnesses, but can lead to a healthier, longer life and in some instances, can be used in place of medicines. Doctors are (usually) willing to let patients use nutrition, exercise and lifestyle changes first to help improve their health before starting them on a medication. These changes can include drinking more water, quitting smoking, cutting down on alcohol and adding more physical activity daily.
Nutrition is just as beneficial for people living with HIV as any other chronic condition. People with HIV should make it a priority to consume adequate protein to keep their muscles strong in addition to eating foods with appropriate vitamins and minerals for overall health.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently began the “My Plate” initiative to help consumers make better food choices. Among their recommendations are:
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Make at least half your grains whole grains.
• Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk.
• Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread and frozen meals—and choose foods with lower numbers.
When you are trying to work on making changes in what you eat or drink, it is best to throw out the word “diet” and instead think of it as a chance to gain new knowledge about lifestyle and food modifications that will last a lifetime. It’s easiest if you choose one or two habits that you can add in (or take away if it’s a negative habit) from what you are already doing and work on it for one week at a time. Then add in something else for the following week. It’s easier to do a few small things than to try and take on too much at once and get discouraged.
A few helpful hints to start working on at the beginning of this month could be:
• Cutting down on large portions (especially out at restaurants);
• Drinking more water;
• Being more conscious of the empty sugar calories coming from the juice and sodas you might be drinking daily;
• Trying to eat consistently on a schedule;
Changing eating habits can be difficult. But the payoff when you do is so great. Weight loss, more energy, and an improvement in your general health are all benefits of eating healthier.
Whitman-Walker Health can help our patients with nutrition guidance. Any WWH medical patient with a chronic health condition can meet with me and receive guidance on healthier eating.
Come learn how to eat healthy on a budget and how to make smarter choices at the grocery store for both you and your family’s health. You can gain the knowledge to properly read food labels, learn the differences in fats, carbohydrates and protein, and how to put together a balanced plate. Whether you are on a diabetic diet, low-sodium diet or just want to lose weight, learning basic nutrition skills today can help keep you on track for the rest of your life.
To become a WWH patient, call 202-745-7000 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Kristen Jarvis is a registered dietician with Whitman-Walker Health. Reach her via whitman-walker.org.