For Caregivers

Easy Tips for Healthy Eating

Easy Tips for Healthy Eating
Text Size

Many caregivers feel pressure to fit so much into 24 hours that eating healthy becomes a low priority. For meals, they may resort to sugary cereals, fast, frozen, pre-prepared or boxed foods, If this sounds like you, please remember: Many of these items are low in nutrition and high in salt, bad fats and empty carbohydrates. This is unhealthy for you, for your loved one who needs your special care, and for the rest of your family. The wrong foods, over time, can literally kill you (for instance, by causing heart disease). But eating healthy is a gift to yourself for better physical, mental and emotional health. Here are some quick tips that simplify choosing, preparing, and eating more nutritious foods with reasonable serving sizes.

Top Nutrition Tips
Start using these suggestions to treat yourself to good health.

1. Calories in should equal calories out. Calories are a measure of how much energy is in food. When you do not burn all the calories in what you eat, your body stores them as fat. The body needs fat, but too much makes the heart work harder, clogs arteries, and hurts your joints. Check out the SuperTracker at the US Department of Agriculture web site. It’s a fun tool that tells you how many calories are in a food serving, and how many calories different activities burn. It also helps you set your own personal goals for exercise and weight.

2. Eat less, enjoy more. Pay attention to what you eat, its texture, its taste, how much you like it. Chew your food well instead of gulping it down. (Chewing makes your food easier to digest). Eat more slowly, too, and pay attention to your body. When it says, “Enough!” stop eating.

3. Undersize, not supersize. Use a smaller plate or bowl. You will tend to eat less. Go back for moderate seconds if needed.

4. Create a power plate. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables. On the other half, portion out a little more starch (like whole grains or potatoes with the skin) than protein (meat, poultry, fish, etc.).

5. Brighten meals with colorful fruits and vegetables. These have plenty of important vitamins and fiber, and are most often low in fat. Also, different colors of produce tend to have different vitamins, so mix it up! Wash and cut up veggies ahead of time for quick snacks to go.

6. Go low on fats. Switch to lean proteins and 1% or fat-free dairy products. They have a higher protein value and fewer calories. Read labels and choose food low in “saturated” (solid) fats, cholesterol, and trans fats. Solid fats are more likely to build up in arteries. When you cook or sauté, the best oils to use are high in monounsaturated fats, like olive oil or canola oil.

7. Eat more whole grains. Whole grains have more fiber and vitamins than processed grains. So choose brown rice or 100% whole wheat products. (Note: If you are allergic to gluten, avoid grains like wheat and barley. You can enjoy corn, rice and quinoa instead.)

8. Dunk the junk. Cakes, cookies, ice cream, candies, sweet drinks, fatty meats (sausage, bacon, hot dogs) all tend to be high in sugar and hard fats. Indulge in them only now and then.

9. Watch the sodium. Sodium (salt) in foods makes the body hold fluid. It can cause high blood pressure and worsen heart disease. Choose foods that say, “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.” When you prepare food, use less salt and more spices. Be adventurous and add curry for a taste of India, or a little cayenne pepper for a Creole kick.

10. Switch out sugar for water. Soda, energy drinks, juices with corn syrup and ANY drinks with added sugar pour unnecessary calories into your body (and may eat away at your teeth). Stick to water, which your body loves. In fact, try to get 6 to 8 glasses a day.

 

(Note: If you have a chronic disease or any disorder that limits your food choices, visit a registered dietitian to help you create a nutrition plan!)


The table below summarizes major types of food that provide both calories and nutrients (macronutrients, meaning needed in larger amounts), what they are and what they do. If you review the chart, the healthy eating tips above are more meaningful.

Food Types Why We Need Them Special Notes
Carbohydrates
Examples:
  • Complex carbohydrates/starches (like potatoes, bread, rice, beans)
  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Simple carbohydrates (sugars)
  • The body uses carbs (carbohydrates) as its main energy source.
  • Complex carbs help the brain, nerves, muscles, kidney and heart to function well.
  • Fiber in carbs (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) pushes food through the GI tract and helps the colon do its job: get rid of waste. This avoids constipation.
  • Often, food manufacturers “process” grains. They take out fiber and other important parts of the grain used in breads, snacks and baked goods. Look for food labels that say “100% whole grain.”
  • Fruits and vegetables do contain sugars, but provide vitamins and other nutrients.
  • Most processed sugar has little or no nutrition and is used just for energy.
Proteins Examples:
  • Meats, poultry, fish
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Nuts and nut products (like peanut butter)
  • Some vegetable/starch combinations
  • The body uses proteins for growth, repair and healthy function.
  • Proteins build a strong immune system to fight infections.
  • Proteins are the main building blocks of muscle.
  • Dairy proteins also have carbohydrates in them to provide energy. Many dairy products also have lots of calcium, supporting healthy bones, nerves, muscles and the heart.
  • When certain starches and/or vegetables are combined (like rice and beans), the mix is a “complete protein” (like meats, poultry, fish, etc.)
Fats
  • Examples:
  • Oils
  • Butter and Margarine
  • Lard
  • Found in meats, whole dairy products, eggs, some vegetables
  • Fats provide energy
  • They help absorb certain vitamins.
  • Body fat cushions organs.
  • The brain and nervous system need fats for insulation.
There are “good fats” and “bad fats”
  • Good fats (as in olive oil) are mono- or polyunsaturated. They help the body keep arteries clear.
  • Bad fats are solid at room temperature. These tend to clog arteries and cause heart disease and strokes.
  • Fats have more than twice the calories per grams (9 calories) than carbs and protein (4 calories).