Keto or paleo? Low-carb or whole grain? From fad diets to science-backed research, today’s world offers a lot of ideas about healthy nutrition. March is National Nutrition Month, so Williamson Health’s Lisa Mathews, R.D., is setting the record straight, reminding us about the basics, offering heart-healthy eating advice and sharing tips for mindful celebrations.
Back to the Basics
With so much nutrition advice readily available, Lisa admits that figuring out what’s healthy and what’s not in today’s world can be a bit confusing. She offered a few important reminders:
There are no “bad” foods. “There are no ‘bad’ foods unless you are allergic; there are healthy foods and then there are ‘fun’ foods,” Lisa said. Healthy foods are foods you should eat regularly, while fun foods should be eaten in moderation.
Follow the 80/20 rule. “Eighty percent of your diet should be made up of healthy, good-for-you foods and only twenty percent or less of the ‘fun’ foods,” Lisa advised. At meals, she recommends filling half your plate with colorful, non-starchy vegetables, rather than just protein and carbohydrates.
Take it slow! When eating, Lisa recommends slowing down and paying attention to fullness cues. “It can take up to twenty minutes for your belly to tell your brain you’re full,” she said. “If you finish a big meal in less than fifteen minutes, you’ve likely overeaten.”
Move your body. “Get at least thirty to sixty minutes of intentional exercise each day,” Lisa said. “That might look like a walk after a meal, yoga or Pilates to start your day or even a hike with a friend.”
“Most of the major risk factors for heart disease—high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, uncontrolled diabetes and obesity—are directly impacted by the foods we eat,” Lisa said. For a heart-healthy diet, Lisa advises:
Eat more whole foods. “Rather than processed, packaged foods and foods high in saturated fat, eat more whole foods,” she said. These include fruits, colorful, non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy products as well as nuts and seeds.
Lower the sodium in your diet. “The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day,” Lisa said. “That’s about one teaspoon of salt. The typical American diet consists of roughly 4,000 mg of sodium each day!” Easy ways to lower your sodium intake include:
Avoid processed or packaged foods that usually contain higher amounts of sodium, sugar and saturated fat.
more fresh fruits and vegetables. Canned goods can sometimes be high in sodium and sugar.
Limit cakes, cookies and other sweet treats. These ‘fun’ foods should be eaten in moderation, since they can cause blood glucose to spike.
Put away the salt shaker. “Always taste your food before adding salt,” Lisa advised. Instead, flavor foods with fresh herbs, garlic, ginger, vinegar and peppers.
In the south, food and drinks are often at the center of our celebrations, but Lisa says it is possible to enjoy a special event and still eat healthfully. She offered a few tips:
Make healthy choices. As a guest, fill your plate with fruit, vegetables and nuts. “Then you can have a small serving of the higher-fat items,” Lisa said. If you’re hosting, make sure your menu includes a colorful selection of these healthier items.
Get out of the kitchen. It’s tempting to hang out in the kitchen or next to the food table, but Lisa advises stepping away.
Plan ahead. If you’re hosting, use small plates rather than large platters. Pre-cut desserts and other treats into bite-sized servings and don’t restrict your calories prior to the party. “Eat healthfully during the day, go for a walk and have a light snack prior to the event so you don’t overindulge once you get there,” Lisa said.
Ready for a healthier diet but don’t know where to start? The physicians and healthcare providers of Williamson Health can help. To find a trusted medical provider close to home, visit