March is National Nutrition Month, which brings attention to the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
Jillian Mancha, a registered dietitian who practices at Las Palmas Medical Center, is sharing advice on how to improve your nutrition this spring.
As a dietitian, what issues do you typically see in patients and work on with them?
Mancha: In El Paso, we see many patients with Type 2 diabetes, so we try to prevent complications that arise from diabetes while working closely with the Kidney Transplant Center since many of our patients are on the waiting list for a transplant. Dietitians also provide supporting evidence when a doctor diagnoses malnutrition. Being able to diagnose and provide evidence for malnutrition is fairly new across the board, so that is exciting for us.
What tips do you have for people looking to improve their nutrition?
Mancha: Everyone wants a magic formula for losing weight, but there isn’t one. Improving your diet is about eating in moderation, choosing a variety of foods that meet your nutritional needs, limiting junk foods and focusing on your portion sizes. For example, if you have dried fruit as a snack, you should pay attention to the serving size. If you eat the whole bag, you may as well have eaten junk food.
What constitutes a healthy diet?
Mancha: You can make your diet healthier by adding more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, decreasing your concentrated fats and processed foods, and by limiting sugars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently issued the 2015-2020 dietary guidelines. The three main takeaways are limiting saturated fats, decreasing the amount of sugar in your diet and decreasing your sodium intake. You can visit health.gov/dietaryguidelines for a more detailed look.
According to a recent study, flavonoids are natural compounds found in plants that help keep bodies from gaining weight. What are some quick and easy ways to incorporate flavonoid-rich foods into your diet?
Mancha: It goes back to increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables you eat. Foods like bananas, strawberries, grapes, pears, onions and green tea are flavonoid rich. In El Paso, starchy foods, like beans and rice are common, so you need to find ways to increase fruits and vegetables. That may mean trying new recipes, swapping your normal dessert for fruits or having vegetables as a snack. It’s about finding what works best for you and your family.
The study also says that flavonoids can increase energy expenditure, decrease fat absorption and work as anti-inflammatories. How can flavonoids achieve these results?
Mancha: We’ve known for a long time that flavonoid-rich foods have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Those effects help detoxify your liver, and when your liver is detoxified it makes the metabolism process more efficient. That efficiency is a key component in keeping your body from gaining weight.
Nutrition is still an emerging science, so it is best to avoid supplements or weight loss pills and instead follow a healthy diet across your life, not only when you want to lose weight quickly.