Nutrition: Tips for Improving Your Health
Good nutrition is one of the keys to good health. You can improve your nutrition by regularly eating foods that have a lot of vitamins and minerals in them, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low- or nonfat dairy.
Do I need to change what I eat?
If you answer yes to any of the following questions, you may need to talk about improving your nutrition with your doctor:
- Has your doctor talked with you about a medical problem or a risk factor, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol?
- Did your doctor tell you that this condition could be improved by better nutrition?
- Do diabetes, cancer, heart disease or osteoporosis run in your family?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you have questions about what kinds of foods you should eat or whether you should take vitamins?
- Do you think that you would benefit from seeing a registered dietitian, a member of the health care team who specializes in nutrition counseling?
Won’t it be hard to change my eating habits?
Probably, but even very small changes can improve your health considerably. The key is to keep choosing healthy foods and stay in touch with your doctor and dietitian, so they know how you are doing. Here are a few suggestions that can improve your eating habits:
- Find the strong points and weak points in your current diet. Do you eat 4-5 cups of fruits and vegetables every day? Do you get enough calcium? Do you eat whole-grain, high-fiber foods regularly? If so, you’re on the right track! Keep it up. If not, add more of these foods to your daily diet.
- Keep track of your food intake by writing down what you eat and drink every day. This record will help you see if you need to eat more from any food groups (such as fruits, vegetables or dairy products) or if you need to eat less of a food group (such as processed or high-fat foods).
- Think about asking for help from a dietitian, especially if you have a medical problem that requires you to follow a special diet.
Can I trust nutrition information I get from newspapers and magazines?
Nutrition tips and diets from different sources often conflict with each other. You should always check with your doctor first. Also, keep in mind this advice:
- There is no “magic bullet” when it comes to nutrition. Short-term diets may help you lose weight, but they are hard to keep up and may even be unhealthy in the long run.
- Good nutrition doesn’t come in a vitamin pill. Only take a vitamin with your doctor’s recommendation, as your body benefits the most from eating healthy, whole foods.
- Eating a variety of foods is best for your body, so try new foods!
- Stories from people who have used a diet program or product, especially in commercials and infomercials, are advertisements. These people are usually paid to endorse what the advertisement is selling. Remember, regained weight or other problems that develop after someone has completed the program are never talked about in those ads.
What changes can I make now in my diet?
Almost everyone can benefit from cutting back on unhealthy fat. If you currently eat a lot of fat, try just one or two of the following changes, or those suggested in our handout on healthier food choices:
Balanced nutrition and regular exercise are good for your health, even if your weight never changes. Try to set goals that you have a good chance of reaching, such as making one of the small diet changes listed above or walking more in your daily life.
- Rather than frying meat, bake, grill or broil it. Take the skin off before eating chicken or turkey. Eat fish at least once a week.
- Cut back on extra fat, such as butter or margarine on bread, sour cream on baked potatoes, and salad dressings. Use low-fat or nonfat versions of these condiments.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables both with your meals and as snacks.
- When eating away from home, watch out for “hidden” fats (such as those in salad dressing and desserts) and larger portion sizes.
- Read the nutrition labels on foods before you buy them. If you need help reading the labels, ask your doctor or your dietitian.
- Drink no- or low-calorie beverages, such as water or unsweetened tea. Sugar-sweetened drinks, such as fruit juice, fruit drinks, regular soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk and sweetened iced tea can add lots of sugar and calories to your diet. But staying hydrated is important for good health.
- Taking a Nutrition History: A Practical Approach for Family Physicians by L Hark, PH.D., R.D., and D Deen, Jr., M.D., M.S.( 03/15/99, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990315ap/1521.html)
- Nutritional Assessment and Counseling for Prevention and Treatment of Cardiovascular Disease by B Olendzki, M.P.H., C Speed, M.N.D., F Domino, M.D.( 01/15/06, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20060115/257.html)
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.