Make managing your health the priority during National Nutrition Month

By: Kara Szymanski | C&G Newspapers | Published March 18, 2019

METRO DETROIT — The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services is urging Michiganders to make informed diet choices during March, which is National Nutrition Month.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, unhealthy eating habits have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States, with about a third of U.S. adults and approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 years being considered obese.

“What we eat matters, and good nutrition is important. Healthy eating habits are especially critical during growth and development in early life, but are also important to reduce the risk of chronic disease throughout the life span,” said Tara Fischer, a nutrition consultant for the Michigan Women, Infants & Children program.

“Some of the major health issues you could get if you don’t eat healthy are obesity, heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke,” she said.

She said that everyone can benefit from making a change to eating habits and you don’t have to do it alone.

“Everyone can benefit from healthy eating patterns and can play a role in supporting others to eat healthy too, whether at home, school, work or in the community,” said Fischer.

She also said that for people who can’t afford to pay for healthy food, they can find many different resources to help them be able to start making choices to get healthy or stay healthy.

“There are many resources to help with access to healthy foods. Call 211 to learn more about these options. Examples include programs such as WIC, for pregnant and postpartum women, infants and children up to age 5; the federal food stamp or SNAP program; food pantries, etc.,” she said.

Fischer said that there are many different foods you should eat to try to get the nutrients your body requires.

“It is suggested people choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods across all food groups to ensure adequate intake of these nutrients, as well as other important nutrients. It’s best to limit saturated fats, trans fats, added sugars and sodium,” she said.

WIC foods are selected specifically to meet the unique needs of women and children,” said Fischer.

WIC is a federally funded program that serves low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 by providing nutritious food, nutrition education, breastfeeding promotion, and support and referrals to health and other services. WIC foods are selected to meet nutrient needs such as calcium, iron, folic acid, and vitamins A and C.

Fischer said people can be sure they are making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits by researching and speaking with their doctors.

“One great online source for healthy eating is ChooseMyPlate.gov. If offers tips, recipes, personalized plans and more,” said Fischer.

She said people should seek help and support as needed. It’s not easy to make lifestyle changes, and having the support of a friend, family member or health professional can make all the difference.

“A healthy weight doesn’t always tell the whole story. Keeping a healthy weight is a great goal but doesn’t replace the benefits of a healthy eating pattern in reducing the risks of chronic disease. Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death,” said Fischer.

She said people can start making little changes now.

“It’s never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle by making better food and activity choices. Break down your daily routine and identify where you may be able to improve. Start small and celebrate successes. Work at making small changes (to your) routine before adding more,” she said.

Michele Kawabe, a public health consultant and team-based care lead in the Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention Unit at the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, also had a few tips.

She said that starting to make a change early can help to continue those choices into older ages.

“Good nutrition continues into adulthood and through old age,” Kawabe said.

Kawabe said that while making healthy eating choices, there don’t have to be specific foods that you eat, just foods that you should try to include and others to limit.

“Items you want to get more of are fruits and vegetables; whole grains; fat-free or low-fat dairy products or fortified dairy alternatives; lean proteins; and small amounts of healthy fats, like vegetable oils, nuts and seeds. Items to limit are added sugars, solid fats and sodium,” she said.

She said that if people can’t afford to pay for healthy food, they can get help.

“Food affordability is an issue many people struggle with. The USDA’s SNAP-Ed website is a great resource for tips about meal planning and shopping on a budget. The Eat Right When Money’s Tight section has tips on how to make affordable healthy food choices and also has information on government food programs and food assistance benefits. The website is www.snaped.fns.usda.gov,” said Kawabe.

People can also visit the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Food Assistance Benefits website for information about food assistance programs, eligibility criteria and application information.

“Adequate intakes of calcium, potassium, dietary fiber and vitamin D is important due to the association of these nutrients with the risk of chronic disease. Adequate amounts of folic acid and iron are particularly important for pregnant women and all women capable of becoming pregnant, and an adequate amount of iron is important in young children,” she said.

She said that when making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits, it’s important that people seek out reputable sources of information. Registered dietitians are a resource for evidence-based dietary advice and for help creating an eating plan tailored to individual needs and preferences. Some health plans pay for visits with a registered dietitian.

Some other reputable web-based resources are www.eatright.org and www.heart.org. For people with diabetes, the American Diabetes Association is a resource; the website is www.diabetes.org.

Kawabe also said that physical activity is important.

“Adults should aim for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, like walking fast, or 75 minutes a week of a vigorous-intensity activity, like jogging or running. Adults should also do some type of muscle-strengthening activity that involves all major muscle groups at least two days per week. This could be weights or exercises with resistance bands, for example,” said Kawabe.

“Older adults should also incorporate balance training into their physical activity routine in addition to aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities. It’s important to note that older people and people with chronic health conditions may not have the ability to meet these physical activity recommendations; in these cases, they should be as physically active as their abilities and conditions allow,” she said.

Kawabe recommends that the 150 minutes be split up to make it easier to obtain.

“(One hundred fifty) minutes each week sounds like a lot of time, but it doesn’t have to be done all at once. Not only is it best to spread activity out during the week, but it can be broken up into smaller periods of time during the day. As long as a person is doing the activity at a moderate or vigorous effort for at least 10 minutes at a time, it’s benefiting them. A person might try going for a 10-minute brisk walk three times a day, five days a week; this will net a total of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity during the week,” she said.

Kawabe said that making changes can be a hard thing to do, but small changes can make a big difference.

“Habits can be hard to change, and a shift to healthier eating patterns and more physical activity is no exception. It’s best to incorporate small changes over time. For example, choosing reduced-fat rather than full-fat dairy items; varying vegetable choices to include a variety of different colors; enjoying fish or shellfish twice a week instead of red meat; or replacing sugar-sweetened beverages like regular pop or sweet teas for water or other beverages without sugar,” said Kawabe.