An interview with a dietitian: eating healthy in a few simple steps

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The struggle is real and making time for eating healthy and getting enough exercise is a never-ending battle. Deadlines, meetings, appointments, and assignments, all seem to get in the way and take precedence over eating right. I often fall prey to the same preoccupations so I decided to sit down with a dietitian to help me establish a balance in my jam-packed schedule. Registered Dietitian and Health Promotion Specialist, Alex Kloehn, works at the University of South Florida’s Wellness Center where he advises students on how to eat healthy and incorporate well balanced meals into their everyday diets.

What are some ways that you could suggest to balance a stressful lifestyle but still eat healthy?

Alex Kloehn: One of the first things that I tell people, and this is a very common issue for students, is unfortunately eating and food has become something in our daily lives that people don’t respect as much and I guess don’t feel is as important an issue as some other things, like a shower or going to class. The first thing that people need to do is realize that food is and needs to be something that’s important. That means prioritize your day to make time for either preparing food or going to get food. By making that a part of your normal day-to-day schedule, it can actually be easier. What I like to do to manage my stress is to have a cooking time scheduled into my week. I can make something in my crockpot or make a big batch of something and that’s what I usually use for my lunches. So that takes care of a third of my meals for the week.Not everyone works on a schedule that they can sit down at the beginning of the week and say, ‘Okay, this is what I am going to plan for my lunch, my breakfast and my dinner’ but sometimes people benefit from that. 

For someone who is starting to change their eating habits, what advice can you give them?

AK: I usually try to start with the Choose My Plate, this is the new food pyramid, and tell people if you can try and make at least your main meals look something like this than that is sort of a good place to start. You always want a kind of protein, you always want some fruit or vegetable, emphasis on the vegetable since most people don’t have as many of those. Fruits tend to be a little easier for people to have in their diet.

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What are a few vegetables you would recommend?

AK:  Some of my favorite produce is  broccoli, which is something that people either hate or love and I love bell peppers.

I love bell peppers and they have such beautiful colors.

AK: They are expensive, though. So with bell peppers, those are definitely something that I buy more seasonally. Broccoli is available all the time. Sweet potatoes you can use in so many different ways. You can use them in savory dishes and sweet things and those are relatively cheap. Tomatoes are so cheap. You can get them fresh you can get them canned. As long as you are watching for things like sodium, when you buy canned.

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Healthy eating is seen as a more expensive route in comparison to a drive-thru fast food chain.

AK: Going to the drive-thru isn’t necessarily cheaper in the long run. Eat things that are in season. Buy things that are in bulk, when you can, especially pantry items like dry or canned beans. When you are going to buy canned vegetables, try and buy things that are in a low sodium liquid. I’d rather you have fresh first, then frozen, then canned. For things like beans you can easily find beans that are low sodium and you can rinse them, which will get rid of a lot of the sodium. Also, if you live with roommates you can buy certain things together and share them and the cost. In general, vegetarian proteins are probably going to be cheaper than meat. I would recommend having meat three days a week.

There has been a kale craze. How do you weigh in on that?

AK: Haha, with greens if you can get a variety you can make things more fun. There is a slight difference in the nutrient content of kale versus swiss chard or romaine lettuce. I don’t advocate eating iceberg lettuce. It is so lacking in any nutrient  value. Unfortunately it is a lot of water. It is a little bit of fiber but compared to all the other greens that you can buy now, there’s really not a lot there. In terms of kale, there is nothing particularly spectacular about kale. It is a great source of iron and vitamin k and fiber and some other nutrients. You can bake it, you can use it in salads, you can have it in stews, smoothies but it isn’t any better than spinach or romaine lettuce.

What are some healthy snacks to nibble on during the day?

AK: Fruits and veggies are always a great go-to. They don’t really need to be refrigerated. So if you take them in the morning they should be fine in your bag. Something like cut-up carrots or cucumbers, celery or little cherry tomatoes. Those are all good snacks and you can even bring some hummus with that. It’s a good combination because hummus is a good protein source. You are getting some protein and some fiber and the nutrients from the veggies which will keep you full a little longer. Nuts are also a good on-the-go snack but you want to make sure you stick to about a handful a sitting. They are higher in fat and fortunately it is a plant based fat, unsaturated fat, but in the end the calories add up.

What would you suggest to someone who was interested in cutting meat out of their diet?

AK: There are only really two nutrients that I get most concerned about when I talk about a vegetarian diet versus an omnivorous diet, even more so with vegans, vitamin B12 and protein. Vitamin B12 can only be found in meat products. You can buy a supplement that comes from algae but it is not cheap. So that is a challenge for vegetarians and vegans. Fortunately, you can get protein from non meat sources. Beans are a great source of protein, lentils are a good source, soy products: soymilk, tofu, edamame or any type of soy you can think of are great sources. There really isn’t any reason you can’t be healthy on a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat has a lot of things like iron and magnesium but you can get that from a lot of fruits and vegetables. As long as you are making sure you eat a lot of fruits and veggies as opposed to a lot of starch, pasta, rice, cereals things like that, you really shouldn’t have issues with supplementation.

For people who are on a diet and want to lose weight, what can you talk about regarding portions and stuff like that?

AK: I would always recommend that if you have access to a dietitian, talk to one right up front. They can give some good resources to begin that process. They can talk to you about what your diet is now and smaller changes you can make to your diet so you don’t have to make these drastic changes. One thing I would say is there is no miracle diet and also there are very few things you should cut completely from your diet. If you enjoy certain foods you are actually going to benefit more from minimizing and having it in moderation, once a week. Or if it is something you have everyday, start out with just a few times a week rather than trying to never eat it again. People fail on diets when they try to take out too many things that they love and feel that they have to suffer through all these foods that they haven’t yet developed a taste for. Also try cooking. Look in your community for cooking classes.

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