New Year, New Dietary Guidelines: Eat Less Junk, Eat More Plants, Eat Real Food

This holiday season I was able to spend time with my parents who are now 70’ish. Did we sit and read or watch TV? No, I went to Tai Chi with mom and motorcycle riding with dad.

Motorcycling with Dad!
Motorcycling with Dad!

My mom was the reason I became a dietitian. She emphasized nutrition my entire childhood. She cooks from scratch using real food and incorporating plenty of vegetables, fruits and nuts. She even has her own blog, The Gluten Free Edge. My dad is not much of a plant food eater but she finds creative ways to prepare the ones he does like or encourage him to like others. Despite their age, they are living life healthy and well.

The recently released 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines provide healthy eating patterns like my mom uses to help prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes. The Department of Health and Human Services and the United States Department of Agriculture undergo a lengthy process every five years to ensure that the Dietary Guidelines reflect the most recent science. Obesity and other chronic diseases come with increased health risks and costs. Healthy eating helps you take control of your health and enables you to live a healthy, high quality of life.

The key is choosing a healthy eating pattern that is right for you. That means an eating pattern that can be maintained for your lifetime and, at appropriate calorie levels to promote health and support a healthy body weight. A Registered Dietitian can help you choose a healthy eating pattern or you can use the many tools available to incorporate the new Dietary Guidelines using many of the foods that you enjoy.

The areas to consider include:

Consume a healthy eating pattern that accounts for all foods and beverages within an appropriate calorie level and accounts for your taste preferences, culture, traditions, and budget.

A healthy eating pattern includes real food and more plants:

  • A variety of vegetables from all of the subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and other
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy, including milk, yogurt, cheese, and/or fortified soy beverages
  • A variety of protein foods, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), and nuts, seeds, and soy products
  • Oils from plants

A healthy eating pattern limits processed foods and junk:

  • Saturated fats; Saturated – less than 10% of total calories per day.
  • Trans fats; Generally, found in processed foods.
  • Added sugars; Less than 10% of total calories per day.
  • Sodium; Less than 2300 mg per day.
  • Alcohol; If you drink alcohol, it should be in moderation.

There is a healthy eating pattern for every one and everyone’s lifestyle. Registered Dietitians are the experts in food and nutrition that can help you plan an eating pattern that is right for you. Additionally, you can find various examples of healthy eating patterns and the Top 10 Things You Need to Know on the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines webpage or

What about Water?

From a small age, I have always loved being around water. I learned to swim by literally jumping in the pool at age 5 or 6 and just taking off much to my mom’s dismay. Water has such a calming effect on me that I recently moved to be able to access the Trinity River Trails at a moments notice. Now, there is research being done regarding the therapeutic value of “blue space”.

Trinity River
Trinity River

In looking at the health benefits of water, scientists have been able to combine the calming effect of the green-scape which shows stress levels are lowered according to how much greenery present with the calming effect of water. Using images combining the two, starting with a pond progressing in size to a coastline increasing amounts of water in each image, people showed a strong preference for more and more water in the images in self-reported feelings of calm. So, research is indicating that being around “blue space” has emotional and mental benefits but at the same time dietitians know that water offers physical health benefits as well.

Enjoy some "Blue Space"
Enjoy some “Blue Space”

As we head into the summer months, paying attention to water can play an important role in balancing health as per the World Health Organization (WHO) definition. The WHO defines health as the complete state of mental, physical and social wellbeing. In the summer, we tend to socialize more outdoors and around water. These provide great outlets for our mental and social needs. However, many of us forget that as the temperature rises and we perspire more especially with exercise, we need to mind our water intake.

Water is often the forgotten nutrient. The human body consists of approximately 50-75% water and since we cannot store water, we need adequate amounts daily. Water is needed for many basic body functions as well as being a part of lean muscle mass, bones and fat stores. Each person will require different amounts of water based on body size, climate, weather, physical activity, foods eaten and individual metabolism.

Children require anywhere from 4-5 cups per day and adults 6-10 cups based on age and gender. Like all other nutrient needs, a Registered Dietitian can help determine the amount of water optimal for individual needs and lifestyles. Consuming too much or too little water can both have adverse effects especially for active people and athletes of any age. Research shows just a 1-2% level of dehydration can impact athletic performance and overall wellness.

Water is a Nutrient
Water is a Nutrient

Sources of water can include milk, plain water, coffee, tea, soup, juice and other beverages even soft drinks. However, sugar sweetened beverages should be limited due to the additional calories with generally limited nutrient content they provide. Foods with high water content can also contribute to total fluid intake such as watermelon, pineapple, celery and other fruits and vegetables. Alcohol as a beverage should be limited to recommended levels. Since alcohol can have a diuretic (dehydrating) effect, a good habit is to drink a glass of water for every serving of alcohol consumed when consuming alcohol. This helps to abate not only dehydration but also adverse effects of alcohol or hangovers, the next day.

As I write this post, the day outside is beautiful. Having survived another stressful semester of my doctoral program, I covet every moment of “blue space” to rejuvenate my spirit and refresh my mind before we start back to studies. So, I will end now and head out for a walk on the river…with a bottle of water in hand!

Are You Health Literate?

Teresa 2013
Do you “Talk the Talk”?

This Friday, I will have the privilege of speaking at the North Texas Dietitian Spring Seminar on Health Literacy. Additionally, I am coordinating the Health Literacy Conference sponsored by the United Way of Tarrant County, UNT Health Science Center and Texas Health Resources to be held in April for health professionals. This emerging topic impacting health outcomes is of utmost importance to all health professionals. For registered dietitians, translating our language into understandable, actionable terms not only from the medical but also the culinary world can mean help our clients and patients succeed when it comes to optimizing their health and wellness.

Quality health care depends on effective patient communication. The effectiveness of health care communication has received increased focus with the advent of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requiring that consumers receive clear, consistent and comparable health information from health plans and insurers. At the same time, the ACA emphasizes patient-centered care using methods to improve patient understanding of complex medical issues.

Do you hear what I hear?
Do you hear what I hear?

Health literacy is the ability of the public to obtain, process and act on health information to optimize and maintain their health. A growing body of research indicates that limited health literacy can lead to adverse health outcomes due to patients’ inability to follow instructions on medications, labels and health messages. This is especially important in preventative care such as nutrition and physical activity.

Research estimates indicate that between one-third and one-half of all adults struggle with health literacy. This may lead to limited overall health and wellness, increased and longer hospitalizations, trouble managing chronic conditions, increased use of emergency care and higher mortality rates especially among the elderly, ethnic minorities and people of lower socioeconomic status. Limited health literacy costs the U.S. between $106 and $236 billion annually.

Health literacy issues have been traditionally viewed as individual patient deficits in knowledge and skills affecting their ability to manage health issues. Recently, adverse outcomes have been recognized as a health care system issue involving the complexity of navigating technical health information and exceedingly complicated health care systems. In this emerging view, much more of the responsibility for patient knowledge is borne by the health care system rather than by the patient. For many people, food procurement, preparation and nutrition are a foreign country with their own language, customs and mores. Registered dietitian’s translate for our patients to help them navigate food and nutrition and become successful in protecting their health.

National Nutrition Mom

March is National Nutrition Month. As a mom and a registered dietitian, I feel it is important when packing lunches for school or teaching your kids to select school lunch that the My Plate concept can serve as an easy visual to teach kids to eat healthy.

The new school nutrition guidelines should help make this simple by having more fruits, vegetables and whole grains available and serving milk with all meals.

Choose whole grains such as the white wheat bun with lean turkey and low-fat cheese. Those serve as your protein and grain. Then, fill your plate with fruits and vegetables like the pineapple and broccoli/cauliflower with low-fat ranch dip featured on the tray. The re-sealable container of white milk serves as the dairy serving. These fresh foods make this meal not only nutritious but entice kids to eat their food.

If packing lunch, choose proteins that are lean such as white meat chicken nuggets that are baked and breaded with whole grain. Serve with lots of vegetables and fruits such as the whole grain vegetable wrap with reduced-fat cheese and cherry tomatoes. Add the apple wedges and a container of flavored milk. Flavored milk is a great option for children who might not prefer plain milk and has the same nine essential nutrients such as calcium, potassium and vitamin D.

These three nutrients were called out by the dietary guidelines as nutrients of concern as they lack in the American diet along with Fiber. Fiber can be obtained from the fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The vibrant colors make this meal visually appealing and appetizing!

At the same time, adults and moms like me can watch our portions and ensure that we are eating for good health, energy and a productive day by following the same concept. The lean beef on the plate with seasoned brown rice comprise the protein and whole grain while the carrots and blackberries round out the plate with fruits and vegetables and served with milk as the low-fat dairy. In the breakfast scenario, the mushroom cheddar squares contain egg as the protein with a variety of vegetables in the dish which are accompanied with a baked pear topped with vanilla yogurt sauce and a whole grain blueberry bagel for the grain. The dairy serving is a fruit and yogurt parfait. Lots of fruits and veges here! This breakfast will fill you up with fiber and nutrients to get you through a busy day at work, in the car pool line or both!

The bottom line is that by “Getting Your Plate in Shape” the My Plate way, people can easily “Enjoy Your Food, but Eat Less” and watch portions in order to have more energy, enjoy good health and be more productive every day.


Q: I have been working out trying to get 6 pack abs. I am at a healthy weight for my size but I wanted abs. I heard you have to lose weight to get a 6 pack through diet and cardio. I did resistance training as well. I have this last bit of stubborn bodyfat on my lower belly despite the fact my percent body fat has decreased. I do not wish to lose any more weight. Is there any advise you can give me about losing this last bit of unwanted bodyfat? I would like to be at 8% body fat minimum. I am in the 30-40 years age range and a male.

A: Congratulations! Sounds like you are doing a great job with your fitness goals. You are actually classified in the athlete category for percent body fat. Being unsure if your “six pack ab” goal is for vanity or sports performance, I will answer your question in a couple of ways. If you truly want to get in sports performance shape, I can refer you to a registered sports dietiitan who would help you craft a specific meal plan to follow and work with you on an on-going basis. Secondly, it may be heredity and/or age holding you back. Sorry about those two variables.

Yet, most of the time in this scenario, people need to clean up their eating and take out most processed foods and try to focus on single foods like lean protein (chicken, fish, round or loin beef etc..), low-fat milk, cheese and Greek yogurt, nuts, natural peanut butter, beans, avocado, fruits, vegetables and carbs like oats, quinoa, fruit, sweet potatoes and maybe brown rice. So basically, nothing that is packaged with tons of veggies and water. Divide this into 6 small meals of carb and protein…with a good workout. You might also have a trainer evaluate your workout regimen if you have not already done so.

Weight Issues

Q: I have an under active thyroid. I am currently taking medication but this is not helping my weight gain. I have tried exercise and diets. I have been told I need to see a dietitian. I have no idea where to start or what to eat to help me.

A: Yes, it does seem that your best course of action would be to see a dietitian. You can Find a Dietitian in your area on the American Dietetic Association Website.


Q: After I exercise, I always seem to dryheave. It seems to be calming down but often I will vomit green liquids after exercise after dryheaving several times. This has really frightened me and was wondering if you have any idea of the cause? One thing I know I need to do is drink more water.

A: As you mentioned, you may be dehydrated in general and particularly after exercise. The green liquid may be gastric juices however, could be more serious. If this has been going on for some time, I am surprised you have not seen a physician.

If you do need to just hydrate more effectively, here is a good article on hydration to help you meet your needs before, during and after exercise.

I would highly encourage you to have a physical to be on the safe side.