Get the Facts on Nutrition: Eat Healthy and Feel Good

Fruit Vegetable FactsThe facts on eating healthy are clear: Good nutrition helps your body run the way it should. Research proves the many benefits to our health time and time again, including:

  • Boosting your mood and appearance
  • Giving you more energy
  • Lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing your risk of cancer
  • Reducing your risk of diabetes

Why, then, do we struggle to make healthy eating a priority? Often, it’s because there is an overwhelming amount of information about nutrition to navigate and lack of time. That’s why, with this blog, we’re taking it back to the basics by offering simple nutrition facts to help you maximize your healthy eating habits.

Nutrition Fact No. 1: 5-9 Fruits and Veggies a Day Keep the Doctor Away

If you’re committed to eating healthier, the best place to start is by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet every day. Not only are you filling up on good-for-you vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and other powerful nutrients, but you’re cutting empty calories and sugar out of your diet.

Five to nine fruits and vegetables may sound like a lot, but start slowly and consider some of these simple substitutions throughout the day:

  • Grab a banana for a convenient on-the-go snack.
  • Dedicate at least two-thirds of your plate to fruits and veggies at dinnertime.
  • Dip raw veggies in Greek yogurt or hummus to power through your mid-day slump.
  • Satisfy your sweet tooth in the evening with a bowl of fresh fruit.
  • Swap your regular sandwich at lunch with a salad packed with dark, leafy greens, tomatoes, shredded carrots, dried fruit and a hard-boiled egg.
  • Top cereal or yogurt with one cup of blueberries or strawberries at breakfast.
  • Keep dates and unsalted nuts available for a healthy snack.

Plan meals with your favorite fruits and vegetables to keep it enjoyable. Challenge yourself to try at least one new fruit or vegetable a week to mix it up and expand your taste buds. Try different methods of preparing your vegetables, such as sautéeing, roasting, or grilling. You never know what you may discover!

Nutrition Fact No. 2: Maximize Freshness

It’s happened to all of us: We load up our carts with fresh and nutritious food, only to let them spoil in the refrigerator. Not only is food waste a drain on our budget, it’s also bad for the environment. The National Resource Defense Council estimates that up to 40 percent of the food in the U.S. is never eaten. That’s food that’s going straight from our homes to the landfill, untouched.

Another downside of food hanging out in the fridge is that fresh fruits and veggies can lose their nutritional punch after being harvested. Add in transportation time to local grocery stores, and it can be anywhere from 3 days to several weeks before consumers even have a chance to buy fresh produce.

Try eating frozen vegetables. Frozen vegetables are packaged soon after they are picked, so they are more likely to retain their nutrients rather than fresh vegetables that hang out in the refrigerator. Be sure to check the nutrition label for added sugar or sodium.

A recent article in Healthline found that fresh fruits and vegetables lose nutrients over time — some as soon as they’re picked, including:

  • Soft fruits, such as berries, can lose nutrients after three days of refrigeration.
  • Vitamin C in fresh vegetables declines as soon as it’s picked from farms.

Maximize freshness and nutrients in produce:

  • Buy produce you plan to eat in the next 3-5 days.
  • Freeze fruit that’s nearing its shelf life or make a smoothie to use up fruit on hand.
  • Rinse and cut fruits and veggies to have on hand for snacking. Be sure to store them in airtight containers in the fridge.
  • Store produce appropriately to maximize its freshness. Some fruits and vegetables do best at room temperature while others should be stored in the refrigerator.

Nutrition Fact No. 3: Read Food Labels

The food labels on the back of packaged foods can help you find healthy options to add to your diet. Look past the claims on the front or sides of packaging and zero in on the food label and ingredient list.

Here are a few tips to help you choose healthful foods:

Look for Wholesome Ingredients in the Ingredients List

Manufacturers are required to list ingredients based on how much is used in the product. If sugar is the first, second, or third ingredient, that means there is more sugar in the food than whole grains. Another good rule of thumb is to look for ingredients you can pronounce. While most packaged foods contain preservatives that can be a mouthful, most ingredients should be easy to read, easy to say and recognizable.

Check the Serving Size

Manufacturers can sometimes make food look healthier than it is based on the serving size. Double-check how much is considered a serving and then consider how much you typically eat to be sure you are keeping “healthy” foods healthy.

Cut Back on Sugar

These days sugar is added to almost every packaged food. Keep your sugar consumption in line with the recommended daily intake: 3-6 teaspoons (12-16 grams) for women and 6-9 teaspoons (16-36 grams) for men. Sugar can increase your risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease and add pounds and inches to your waistline.

Focus on Healthy Fats

Avoid saturated and trans fat in food to help reduce your risk of heart disease. Instead, find foods with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats, like fish, nuts and vegetable oils. Be sure to limit fat to 25-30 percent of your calories. Fat from plant-based sources like avocados, nuts, and olives pack a lot of omega 3 fatty acids, which help reduce heart disease.

Cut Back on Salt

Manufacturers add sodium to most packaged foods. Look for foods that are low in sodium and high in potassium to help combat heart disease and manage high blood pressure. Avoiding canned vegetables high in sodium is preferred. But if you do eat canned vegetables, rinsing them off can reduce some of the sodium you consume.

Nutrition Fact No. 4: Drink More Water

Drinking water throughout the day offers many health benefits. Research has shown that drinking water can help you:

  • Feel energized
  • Improve kidney function
  • Keep skin looking hydrated, smooth and glowing
  • Lose weight
  • Stay hydrated and help your body run properly
  • Avoid constipation

The most common advice is to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day. Reach for water when you’re thirsty and be sure to drink more on hot, sunny days or when you’re working up a sweat.

Nutrition Fact No. 5: Refrigerate Leftovers

Skipping takeout and making homemade food is another great way to boost your nutrition. Leftovers also make a great, healthy lunch the next day or can do double-duty for dinner two nights in a row. Be sure to refrigerate your leftovers safely to reduce the risk of bacteria or other contamination.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) offers several tips on leftovers and food safety:

  • Divide food into shallow containers to cool it more quickly and safely.
  • Reheat food safely, in the microwave, stovetop or oven. Food should reach 165 degrees, and sauces, soups and gravies should be brought to a rolling boil.
  • Refrigerate leftovers two hours after food was cooked or removed from a warm appliance.
  • Store food in airtight storage containers or wrap it in airtight packaging.
  • Store leftovers safely in the refrigerator for 3-4 days or in the freezer for 3-4 months.

Emory Healthcare

At Emory Healthcare, we’re here to help you find the care you need, when you need it. With more than 2,800 doctors and 300 locations, including 11 hospitals, primary care offices, urgent cares and MinuteClinics, we’re delivering specialized care across the region. If you have questions about how you can boost your nutrition, find a doctor near you to help you get and stay healthy.

About Dr. Collins

Caroline Jones Collins, MD, joined Emory at Peachtree Hills in January 2018. Dr. Collins grew up in Snellville, GA, and gained her bachelor’s degree in Microbiology from the University of Georgia. She attended Emory University for both medical school and her internal medicine residency. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two children. Dr. Collins is passionate about preventive health and helping patients live healthy, happy lives.