Top 5 Nutrition Tips from a Dietitian (That Don’t Involve Dieting).

With the sheer amount of nutrition information (and misinformation) on the internet these days, it can feel incredibly confusing to know what or how to eat.

Here are 5 tips from a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) to help you cut through the noise and feel empowered. These nutritional recommendations are science-based and don’t involve dieting.

By: Danielle Gaffen, MS, RDN, LD

1 - Food is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Photo by Rezel Apacionado

Simply put, everyone is different and so are nutritional needs. There are many roads that lead to achieving a healthful diet, and no one meal plan or eating pattern works for everyone.

Here are some reasons why food and nutrition needs may look different from person-to-person:

  • Medical conditions that may require special dietary modifications, like IBS, Crohn’s disease, diabetes, etc.
  • Food allergies or sensitivities
  • Food preferences (likes and dislikes)
  • Cultural and religious beliefs
  • Ethical and environmental beliefs

Ultimately, the key to optimal nutrition is personalization. The goal is to create a flexible plan that can accommodate individual food preferences within the framework of socio-cultural and ethnic eating traditions. Following a healthful eating pattern doesn’t mean a rigid nutrition prescription -- there are an infinite number of possible food combinations that allow each of us to meet our nutritional needs over time!

2 - Honor Your Hunger and Fullness Cues and Eat Regularly

Our bodies possess internal cues, such as hunger and fullness signals, that can guide us to eat the foods our bodies need in the appropriate quantities. As we get older, many external factors influence eating, which may cause us to disconnect from our internal signals.

Research indicates that there are many benefits to using internal signals of hunger and fullness to guide eating, such as greater body positivity, higher self-esteem, and maintaining a healthier weight.

To identify sensations of hunger before eating, you can ask yourself: “How hungry am I?” Signs of physical hunger may vary from person to person, but here are a few of the ways hunger may manifest:

  • Stomach rumbling or growling
  • Feeling light-headed or faint
  • Having trouble focusing on a task

Alternatively, using a hunger scale to rate hunger prior to eating and fullness after eating can help a person get in touch with his or her internal cues and better understand the body’s needs.

Finally, eating regularly (for example, every three to four hours) may help fuel a healthy metabolism and promote appetite regulation. When a person has fuel in his or her system on a regular basis, he or she will feel better and more focused!

3 - Balance Your Plate

Eating healthfully means eating a variety of foods that gives the body the nutrients it needs to maintain health, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients usually include protein, carbohydrates, dietary fat, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from multiple food groups.

Here are some tips to make meals and snacks satisfying, energy-boosting, and mindfully balanced:

“But ultimately, keep in mind that the key is to follow a lifestyle-based approach that allows for flexibility and variety.”
  • Make half your plate veggies and fruits.
  • Choose whole grains over refined grains most of the time. Whole grains keep energy levels higher for longer, while refined grains are lower in fiber and some vitamins and minerals.
  • Pick lean sources of protein, like fish, poultry, and beans while eating sources like red meat and whole fat dairy less frequently.
  • Include sources of dietary fat like olive oil, avocados, nuts, and seeds – they’re great for health, so don’t be afraid to use them in moderation.

Both Harvard School of Public Health’s “Healthy Eating Plate” and the USDA’s “MyPlate” offer general, helpful guides to making balanced meal choices. But ultimately, keep in mind that the key is to follow a lifestyle-based approach that allows for flexibility and variety.

4 - Eat Plenty of Veggies, Fruits, Herbs, and Spices

Whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried, fruits and veggies are major sources of nutrients our bodies need. They’re packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients, and fiber, which all have amazing effects on our health. Studies have shown that people who eat more produce tend to live longer and have a lower risk for chronic illnesses! Herbs and spices not only add flavor to food, but they also have potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects, which may help improve overall health, too!

When it comes to types of produce, try not to focus only on one color. Since the nutrients in fruits and vegetables vary, it’s important to eat a variety on a regular basis. There are special health benefits to eating red, orange, yellow, green, and blue/purple.

Here are some tips on how you can add more produce to your meals:

  • Keep frozen, canned, and dried fruit and veggies on-hand, especially when fresh produce isn't in season.
    ·       Frozen or canned vegetables can make a quick side dish—just microwave and serve.
    ·       Buy canned fruit that's packed in 100% juice and choose low-sodium or no salt added canned vegetables.
  • Try new types of fruits and vegetables and prepare them in different ways.
    ·       Add flavor to breakfast by topping oatmeal, frozen waffles, Greek yogurt, or cereal with berries or banana slices.
    ·       Texture is everything when it comes to sandwiches, so experiment with veggie toppings such as raw cucumbers, avocado slices, and/or pickled carrots.
  • Add variety to produce with herbs and spices.
    ·       Try adding herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage, and/or parsley to grilled or steamed veggies.
    ·       Create a naturally sweet dessert with fresh fruit and cinnamon.

5 - Don’t Forget About Fluids

If a person loses more water than he or she takes in, the body can become dehydrated. Even mild dehydration may cause headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and digestion problems, confused hunger signals, and may impact mood, memory, or how well one’s able to process information. These symptoms often go away once the body gets rehydrated.

Want a quick and easy way to check if you’re getting enough water? It may sound strange but check the color of your urine. If you are consuming enough fluids, the urine color will be a pale-yellow color (almost clear). If it is the color of apple juice (a dark yellow or amber color), you may need to increase the amount you consume.

Aim to quench thirst with water as a primary hydration source. For more flavor, add a squeeze of lemon or orange juice, mint, or cucumber slices.

About Danielle

Danielle Gaffen, MS, RDN, LD

Danielle Gaffen is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) and founder of Eat Well Crohn’s Colitis, a virtual tele-nutrition practice in the United States. Danielle's mom needed two feet of her intestines removed (she had an ileostomy that was ultimately reversed) and her husband has Crohn’s disease. Understanding the link between nutrition and gut disease prompted Danielle to obtain her master’s degree in Nutritional Sciences, become a registered dietitian, and ultimately specialize in nutrition for people with GI conditions.

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