Use these tips and recommended resources to build your own, individualized nutrition plan. Keep track of your success along the way. If it’s working, stick to it! If it is not working, change it!
The goals of a healthy nutrition and diet program should include:
Taking in the amount of calories that is right for you
- Ensuring that you are taking the right amount of calories helps your body and mind do what you want to do while not becoming overweight or under nourished.
- There are several easy-to-use smart phone apps (for example: “Lose It” and “Fitness Pal”) which give good estimates of your caloric intake from different foods and beverages. Their recommended calorie goals consider you current body weight and your dieting goals. These apps are faster and much easier to use than fighting with often confusing food labels. You might be surprised by how many calories are in some of your favorite foods, and how few are in other foods which can serve as alternatives (see also our blog: “Working off the Calories”).
Following a balanced diet with a variety of proteins, fruits & vegetables and carbohydrates
- Your balanced diet should include a variety of proteins (either through healthy meats or vegetarian products such as tofu), fruits and vegetables (preferably fresh), and some carbohydrates (preferably whole grains). The diet should also contain the essential nutrients (including minerals and vitamins) which your organs need for optimal function.
- There are several helpful guides featuring a variety of foods for designing a balanced diet (so you can pick what you like). For example see the American Heart Association website on nutrition which is not only aimed at maintaining good cardiovascular health, but also helps prevent many other diseases and chronic illnesses as well (e.g., cancer prevention).
- Although most good diets should provide you with sufficient essential vitamins and minerals, taking a multivitamin tablet (for example, once a day or week) can help make up for any deficiencies.
- It is helpful to get a periodic medical checkup with blood tests to see if you are deficient in essential vitamins and minerals. For example, iron deficiency anemia (low number of red blood cells which carry oxygen to your organs) is quite common among menstruating women and can cause chronic fatigue. Supplemental iron can fix this.
Limiting foods and substances that can be damaging to your health
- It’s important to limit foods and substances which can damage your organs or put you at increased risk for developing several disease states. Chief among these is excessive alcohol consumption (beer, wine, liquor) which can cause not only accidents, but damage to several organs including your heart, liver, and cause stomach ulcers). Charred (heavily barbecued or burnt) and highly processed foods also increase your risk for certain diseases (for example, cancers). Many contain cancer causing chemicals. We are not saying that you must eliminate these foods, just do not make them the main part of your diet. Moderation is the key.
Including foods that can lessen the negative effects of others
- Add foods to your diet which can lessen the negative effects of others (for example high fiber diets may limit the amount of cholesterol you absorb).
- Helping you achieve and maintain a healthy body weight. We unfortunately have an obesity epidemic in this country, and so many diseases like back and leg arthritis, heart disease, diabetes are associated with being overweight. You may exercise but remember, you cannot outrun a bad diet! Similarly, being severely underweight can negatively affect your health. Check with your healthcare provider about being markedly underweight since this may indicate a disease process or an eating disorder which needs to be addressed.
Managing certain diseases
- Your diet should help you manage certain diseases (i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, allergies, and others). A proper diet together with appropriate exercise may allow you to come off certain medications or use them at lower doses with possibly fewer side effects and less cost.
- After all this is probably the main reason we like to eat! 😊. Healthy foods need not be “horrible tasting foods” you feel compelled to eat (like taking some awful tasting medicines).
These programs need to be individualized since each person is different, and the Take CHARGE Team can help you optimize your own plan to achieve your goals. In the meantime, here are two additional helpful tips:
#1. Regularly measure the results
If you are dieting to achieve a particular health goal, for example losing weight, reducing your blood pressure, or better controlling your diabetes, do not forget to regularly measure the results. Weigh yourself every day. Although your weight will fluctuate based on fluid and food intake and what your body eliminates, if you are not consistently moving in the direction of your goal, then you need different plan. Measure your blood pressure to see if diet and exercise alone is actually normalizing your blood pressure. For some people this works, whereas for others supplemental medication may be needed. If you are diabetic, check your blood sugar at least daily and ask your healthcare provider about getting a hemoglobin A1c test (a measure of glucose control over several months). You can also ask your healthcare provider for programs offering financial assistance with blood sugar monitoring. Do not just assume your diet is working without measuring the relevant goals.
#2. Tell others your nutrition goals
Let other people, including your healthcare provider, know of your goals. They can help keep you accountable, give you advice and provide encouragement that we all need for success.