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NIFS Healthy Living Blog

Are You Eating Too Much Sodium?

GettyImages-525359720Sodium is a mineral and electrolyte that helps balance the amount of fluid and other minerals in your body. It also plays an important role in nerve and muscle function. The terms “sodium” and “salt” are typically used interchangeably; however, sodium is a mineral and one of the chemical components found in salt (also called sodium chloride). Sodium is found naturally in some foods, and added to others for flavor or preservation.

While some sodium is necessary for the body to function (~500 mg/day), over time consuming too much sodium can have undesirable health effects. One of the most notable consequences of consuming too much sodium is high blood pressure. High blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the U.S., as well as kidney disease, loss of vision, and many more health complications.

Where Is Sodium Found in Foods?

Although most people believe their sodium intake mainly comes from salt they add to food by hand, only around 10% of the average American’s sodium intake comes from salt added while cooking or eating. Instead, more than 70% of the sodium consumed by Americans is from packaged and processed foods and food from restaurants. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the largest contributors of sodium in the American diet include sandwiches (including burgers and tacos), pasta and other grain dishes, soups, pizzas, and meat and seafood dishes.

How Much Sodium Can I Consume?

The American Heart Association recommends consuming no more than 2,300mg (1 teaspoon) of sodium per day; however, consuming less than 1,500mg is preferred, especially in those with preexisting high blood pressure. Despite these guidelines, the average adult in the U.S. consumes close to 3,400mg of sodium each day.

How Can I Reduce My Sodium Intake?

To help reduce your sodium intake and promote overall health, try some of the following suggestions:

  • Compare Nutrition Facts labels of various packaged foods and choose the one with the lowest sodium content.
  • Select canned foods, such as vegetables and beans, with “no salt added” or “low sodium” listed on the label.
  • Use herbs, spices, and other sodium-free seasonings to add flavor to food, rather than salt and salty seasoning blends.
  • Limit foods that are pickled, cured, or smoked, as these tend to be high in sodium. Foods that are grilled, poached, or roasted may be better options.
  • Choose whole, unprocessed foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. These foods tend to be very low in sodium.
  • Minimize the amount of salt added during cooking and at the table.
  • If you currently eat a lot of salt/sodium, try gradually reducing your intake to give your taste buds time to transition.

Sodium and Exercise

The recommendation to consume less than 1,500mg per day does not apply to everyone, particularly individuals who lose excess amounts of sweat, such as competitive athletes or outdoor construction workers. Sodium and potassium are the two major electrolytes lost in sweat, although the amount lost varies from person to person. Typically, it is appropriate to replenish these electrolytes after intense exercise (typically >60 minutes) or excessive sweat loss.

When choosing electrolyte replacement drinks, select one with about 14–16g of carbohydrates and between 100 and 165mg of sodium per every 8 ounces for optimal recovery. And as always, it is important to talk with your physician or registered dietitian to determine how much sodium is appropriate for you based on your health status and other contributing factors.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition healthy eating sodium hypertension

Five Nutrition-Focused New Year's Resolutions That Aren’t About Weight

GettyImages-1358382035While having a New Year’s Resolution to “lose more weight” isn’t a bad thing, it’s not easy. And depending on how much you want to lose and in what time frame, it’s not always realistic. To benefit your overall health without focusing on your weight, try setting (and sticking to) some of the following nutrition-related resolutions going into 2022.

Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

About 80 percent of the US population doesn’t meet their fruit intake recommendations, while close to 90 percent do not meet their suggested vegetable intake (source: CDC). The Dietary Guidelines for Americans encourage adults to consume around 2–2.5 cups of fruit per day and 2.5–3 cups of vegetables per day. Although this may be a lot for some, simply aiming to eat one additional fruit or vegetable each day is still beneficial.

Drink More Water

Water is essential for the body. It aids in digestion, regulates body temperature, cushions joints, and helps remove wastes from the body. Not drinking enough water increases the risk for dehydration, which can cause dizziness, confusion, fatigue, headaches and dry skin and mouth (source: CDC). A general rule of thumb is to consume at least 1 milliliter of water for every 1 calorie consumed. For example, if you consumed 2,200 calories per day, you would want to aim to consume 2,200ml, or 2.2 liters of water per day.

Consume Less Alcohol

Excess alcohol intake has both short- and long-term health consequences. In the short term, drinking too much can result in risky behaviors, injury, or violence. Over time, excessive alcohol use can lead to the development of high blood pressure and heart disease, certain cancers, weakened immune system, learning and memory issues, and social problems. Most professional health organizations such as the CDC and WHO agree that men should limit alcohol intake to less than two drinks/day, while women should aim for less than one drink per day (source: CDC).

Decrease Sodium Intake

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day to promote optimal health and reduce the risk of heart disease, the leading cause of death for adults in the US. However, in the US, the average sodium intake for individuals older than 1 year of age is ~3,400mg/day. Strategies for reducing sodium intake include cooking at home more often, using herbs and spices to season foods rather than salt, and consuming fewer packaged/prepared foods.

Limit Saturated Fat Consumption

Like sodium, excess saturated fat consumption is linked to an increased risk for heart disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest limiting saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily calories, while the American Heart Association recommends even less, at less than 5–6% of daily calories from saturated fat per day. Saturated fat is found in most animal-based foods such as beef, poultry, pork, full-fat dairy products, and coconut and palm oils. To cut back on saturated fat, reduce your intake or eat smaller portions of the foods listed above and replace them with healthier options, such as fat-free or low-fat dairy and lean cuts of meat.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Recker, MS, RD, NIFS Registered Dietitian. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition resolutions weight loss healthy eating hydration goals new year's sodium alcohol dietitian fruits and vegetables fats healthy living

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 2)

GettyImages-165661895In part 1 of this blog, I showed you how to interpret the nutrition information on the front of your favorite packaged foods. Now let’s get into the back of the package!

Serving Size and Servings Per Container

This doesn’t necessarily tell you how much to eat, but all of the values on the label apply to this chosen serving size. You might be surprised to see that many items you thought were individually packaged really are telling you that two cookies are 160 calories. Let’s say you eat the entire package (it happens!). You can take the “servings per container” and multiply that by all of the listed values. If two cookies are the serving, but you actually ate the entire bag, just take your 10 servings and multiply it by 160 calories to calculate that 20 cookies would be 1,600 calories.

Calories

For anyone trying to lose weight, it helps to cut back on calorie content, especially calories from packaged foods because they are often empty calories: the food gives your body a lot of calories but provides very little nutrition.

% Daily Values

Unless you are sticking to a strict 2,000-calorie diet, these numbers might not be very helpful for you, so don’t look into these values too much. For instance, 5% DV of fat provides 5% of the total fat you want to eat on a 2,000-calorie diet. In some areas you may need more or less than the 2,000 calorie % Daily Value. Low is 5% or less—aim low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. High is 20% or more—aim high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber.

Total Fat

Total fat sums up all of the following values. Type of fat is extremely important. Often, items that are “reduced fat” end up increasing your sodium and added sugar to make up for what fat would have brought to the table—taste and body. So don’t shy away from fat completely. Just be mindful that fat packs a punch in terms of calories, so you want to practice everything in moderation.

Saturated Fat

The American Heart Association recommends keeping saturated fat to less than 5–6% of your total caloric intake. This means that if you eat about 2,000 calories per day, you will want to keep saturated fat at 13g or less per day. In general, about 3g of saturated fat per serving is a good goal to aim for, but make sure to try and stick to no more than 13g per day. The majority of saturated fat comes from animal products such as beef, pork, poultry, butter, cream, and other dairy products.

Trans Fat

The goal is 0g of trans fat. Keep an eye out in the ingredient list for partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. A trans fat ban is going into effect; however, the grace period means you may still have to watch for this harmful type of man-made fat. If a small enough amount exists, the serving size can be altered, and manufacturers may list trans fat as 0g even if there is a tiny amount of trans fat in the product.

Polyunsaturated and Monounsaturated Fat

The “healthy fats!” These fats may not always be listed. There isn’t a big reason to limit them other than they can add a large amount of calories fairly quickly and contribute to weight gain. However, these healthy fats don’t raise cholesterol like the saturated and trans fats do. These fats are found in nuts, nut butters, olive oil, fish, and vegetable oils. We won’t put a limit on these healthy fats because, in general, the more the better because they help increase your good cholesterol (especially if you are replacing an unhealthy fat with a healthy fat—think olive oil for cooking instead of butter).

Cholesterol

The body is capable of making its very own cholesterol from dietary fat intake, so current nutrition recommendations do not emphasize limiting dietary cholesterol; rather, they talk about limiting saturated and trans fat (dietary cholesterol is seen as impacting body cholesterol levels less so than dietary fat does). However, because the science is always changing, try to keep cholesterol to no more than about 200–300 mg/day because any dietary cholesterol is ingested and taken in as simply cholesterol.

Sodium

The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. The American Heart Association recommends sticking to 1,500mg or less.

Total Carbohydrates

The sum of your starches, fiber, and sugar (added and natural) [see below]. Carbohydrates have somewhat of a bad reputation, but you ideally want most of your diet to stem from carbohydrates. So don’t shy away from these just because you might see a number you think is too high. Carbs provide your body with most of its energy needs, give your brain all of its energy supply, decrease chronic disease risk (fiber!), are key for digestive health (more fiber, yes!), and help with weight control (complex carbs!).

Dietary Fiber

Most experts agree that the average American should aim for a minimum of 25–30g of fiber per day. On average most of us come in at around 12g/day. See if you can get your 1–2 slices of bread to come in as close to 5g or more of fiber if possible!

Sugars

We aren’t sure if these are natural sugars (natural fruit sugars we don’t worry about!) or added (cane sugar), but we can sometimes deduce from the ingredients list whether most of the sugars are added or natural. If you see high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar/juice, honey, or maple syrup (there are many different names for added sugar!) near the top of the list, the sugar value is likely all added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that men keep daily added sugar intake to less than 36g (9 teaspoons) and that women aim for less than 25g (6 teaspoons) daily. The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines are more lenient and recommend 48g or less daily for adults and 30–35g or less for children.

Added Sugars (optional)

Again, somewhere between 25-48g of added sugar daily or less is recommended (see above).

Protein

In general, the recommendation (dietary reference intake) is to consume about 0.36g of protein per pound of body weight daily. Anywhere from 10–30g of protein per meal is a good number to aim for. If you weigh 150 pounds, this means that you will want about 54g of protein daily (about 18g at each meal).

Vitamin D

600 IU or 15 mcg for most adults is recommended (aim for a higher %DV).

Calcium

1,000mg/day for most adults; women age 50+ 1,200mg/day.

Iron

Adult males and women over age 50 need 8mg per day. Women age 19–50 need 18mg. Pregnancy increases this need to 27mg daily.

Potassium

Aim for about 4,700mg of potassium per day (Dietary Guidelines for Americans).

Ingredients List

Pick items that have fewer ingredients—this usually means that they are less processed. Or bonus if the first three ingredients are whole foods. Ingredients are listed from highest weight to lowest weight. When it comes to crackers or bread, look for “WHOLE wheat” as opposed to “enriched flour” to pick breads that contain the entire grain. Whole grain, whole wheat, whole [other grain], brown rice, oats/oatmeal, or wheatberry means the grain is WHOLE. Wheat, semolina, durum wheat, and multigrain mean you might be missing some parts of the grain. Enriched flour, wheat flour, bran, and wheat germ mean there are no whole grains.

***

It’s no wonder that we are so confused by labels—there is a lot of information to try and remember and process! The best way to avoid being misled is to avoid most processed foods. With most whole foods (apples, potatoes, oats, etc.), we can be certain that we are not getting too much or too little of any one nutrient. But even dietitians enjoy the convenience (and taste) of packaged foods every now and then, and we hope that the tips in this article help clear up some confusion for you.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories fiber whole foods carbs sodium sugar fat carbohydrates food labels

Nutrition Label Reading 101: How to Read Your Food’s Package (Part 1)

GettyImages-955049998Standing in the bread aisle, flipping over the seventh loaf of bread, scanning the fine print, asking yourself which brand is best… Giving up trying different bread after five minutes and just picking what we usually go for—we’ve all been there! I want to help clear up the confusion by offering some recommendations on what numbers to look for and the most important places to look on the label to decide what brand is healthiest, whether that be crackers, bread, peanut butter, granola bars—you name it!

Whole Foods Are Best When Practical

I do recommend, if possible, trying to avoid packaged foods because they generally are more processed or refined than alternative options. For instance, veggie “straws” may be a good option every so often or for packing a quick side option in a lunch. There are some really great packaged options like Larabars that are often less than 7 ingredients and provide a really easy and filling snack, too. But try to make the most of your meal and opt for the real deal: baby carrots, celery, slices of bell pepper, etc.

Being realistic, however, how many of us will actually make the effort to make fresh, homemade bread every day? Of course it’s easier to just pick up this staple at the store and put your time to even better use by going for a walk or spending more time with family and friends, right?

The Front Label

Let’s take a look at the front of the package. In 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama invited the Grocery Manufacturers Association to introduce Facts Up Front. This voluntary labeling system takes a few key components of the larger nutrition facts label on the back and makes it easier for people to take a quick glance and decipher what they need to.

The Facts Up Front Label displays PER SERVING how many calories and how much saturated fat, sodium, and sugar is in each serving. Some labels may have other nutrients listed such as fiber, calcium, and potassium. Everything that we will discuss about the back of the package (in part 2 of this blog) applies to the front—this just breaks down everything into an easy-to-find, “per-serving” layout!

Nutrition Definitions

There are also a few definitions that are clearly laid out by the FDA that you may see on the front of the package:

  • Low calorie: 40 calories or less per serving.
  • Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 2 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.
  • Reduced: At least 25 percent less of the specified nutrient or calories than the usual product.
  • Good source of: Provides at least 10 to 19 percent of the Daily Value of a particular vitamin or nutrient per serving.
  • Calorie free: Less than five calories per serving.
  • Fat free/sugar free: Less than .5 grams of fat or sugar per serving.
  • Low sodium: 140 milligrams or less of sodium per serving.
  • High in: Provides 20 percent or more of the Daily Value of a specified nutrient per serving.

In part 2 of this blog, I’ll go into detail about the information on the back of the package.

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This blog was written by Lindsey Hehman, MA, RD, CD. To learn more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories whole foods sodium sugar fat food labels

Five Questions About Healthy Eating Habits for Your Heart

GettyImages-643764514mnew.jpgFebruary is Heart Health Month! Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One of the most important things you can do to increase your heart health and decrease your risk for heart disease is to take a look at your diet. Are you eating the foods that are good for your heart and sparingly consuming the foods that aren’t?

Here are five questions to ask yourself about your diet.

  • How much sodium are you eating? Hypertension or high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. One of the best ways to decrease your blood pressure or to prevent high blood pressure is to watch the amount of sodium in your diet. It's in everything these days. However, it is not in fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, and lean meats. The worst foods are those that are typically processed and packaged, and food when you are dining out. When grocery shopping, try to stay on the outside aisles of the store and avoid purchasing a lot of items down the center aisles. This tends to be the area where the higher-sodium foods are located. Try to decrease how many times you eat out per week. When you do dine out, be sure to drink plenty of water to help flush out the excess that is bound to be in your food.
  • Are you choosing low-fat animal protein sources? Saturated fat is the fat that is found in animal products and is directly linked to elevated cholesterol and increasing the risk for heart disease. Most individuals get their protein from meat, resulting in high saturated fat consumption. The best way to watch the amount you are taking in is to choose lower-fat protein sources such as those from fish that is grilled or baked, white-meat chicken and turkey without skin, center cuts of pork, and lean cuts of red meat such as filet or sirloin.
  • Are you eating fruits and veggies with every meal? Prepare them any way you like, and shoot for a few portions at each meal. Toss fruit into your oatmeal or yogurt and add veggies to your eggs at breakfast. At lunchtime it’s easy to grab a veggie as your side to your sandwich. Fruit is an easy and portable snack any time of day, and half of your plate should be covered with vegetables at dinner! These nutrient powerhouses are loaded with fiber. Fiber helps to decrease the cholesterol in your body, which can be very heart protective.
  • Where are the high-fiber carbohydrates? Carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap in recent years, mainly due to the increased intake of highly processed and unnatural carbohydrate sources. Carbs are important and help supply the body with energy it needs to run various systems of the body. Portion control is key here (1 to 2 cupped-hand-sized servings) and so is choosing the kind of carbohydrate. Choose whole grains, beans, lentils, and fruits that are unprocessed the majority of the time.
  • Are you eating the right kinds of fat? Fat in your diet is important; however, the type of fat you are choosing is key. Remember that animal fat is the not-good-for-your-heart fat, along with foods that are packaged to have a long shelf life and those that are deep fried. The good fats are those from vegetable sources such as nuts, olive oil, avocado, and fatty fish like salmon. Choose these types of fat the majority of the time, being aware of portion sizes though, since they carry a lot of calories with them also.

If you have a family history of heart disease, you should definitely be asking yourself these five questions and working toward healthy eating habits. Take time this month to reflect on your heart health, decrease your sodium intake, and increase your fiber and good-for-you fats!

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: healthy eating protein heart disease fiber sodium hypertension fruits and vegetables portion control heart health eating habits

Back-to-School Nutrition with Lunch Makeovers

ThinkstockPhotos-528974268.jpgIt’s that time of year again…back to school! This means busy evenings or early mornings getting lunches packed for the kids. What’s in a child’s lunch is important because it’s in childhood that eating habits are formed—and heart disease, obesity, osteoporosis, and other diseases begin to develop. Fatty buildups, the beginnings of clogged arteries, are seen in the arteries of children as young as 10 years old.

So even though that prepackaged meal is the quickest and easiest thing to throw in a lunchbox, consider these 10 ways to help your child eat a more balanced lunch.

  1. Encourage your child to choose 1% or fat-free milk. Milk is the biggest source of saturated fat in children’s diets. Choosing 1% or fat-free milk instead of whole or 2% is an important strategy for keeping children’s hearts healthy and arteries clear.
  2. Switch from bologna, salami, pastrami or corned beef, and other fatty luncheon meats to low-fat alternatives. Supermarkets sell many good-tasting, low-fat or fat-free brands of turkey breast, chicken breast, ham, bologna, and roast beef.
  3. Include at least one serving of fruit in every lunch. Try buying a few new types of fruit each week to let your child discover new favorites and to give him or her more healthy eating choices. In addition to apples, oranges, or bananas, try pears, sliced melon, cups of applesauce, grapes, or pineapple (fresh or canned in its own juice). Try serving fruit in different ways: whole, cut into slices, cubed, or with a yogurt dipping sauce.
  4. Sneak vegetables onto sandwiches. Try lettuce, slices of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, roasted peppers, zucchini, or sugar-snap peas. Eating fruits and vegetables reduces your child’s chances of heart disease, cancer, blindness, and stroke later in life. Putting veggies on a sandwich is one way to get more into your child’s diet.
  5. Use whole-wheat bread instead of white bread for sandwiches. Choose breads that list “whole wheat” as the first ingredient. If the main flour listed on the label is “wheat” or “unbleached wheat flour,” the product is not whole grain. Most multi-grain, rye, oatmeal, and pumpernickel breads in the U.S. are not whole grain.
  6. Limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies, and other sweet baked goods. Sweet baked goods are the second leading source of sugar and the fourth leading source of saturated fat in Americans’ diets. Low-fat baked goods can help cut heart-damaging saturated fat from your child’s diet, but even fat-free sweets can crowd out healthier foods like fruit. This nutrition rule does say LIMIT and not eliminate. The key is moderation when it comes to sweets!
  7. Pack baked chips, pretzels, Cheerios, breadsticks, or low-fat crackers instead of potato, corn, tortilla, or other chips made with oil. Avoid empty calories from artery clogging fried chips. Also, beware of Bugles, which are fried in heavily saturated coconut oil. One ounce has as much artery-clogging fat as a McDonald’s Quarter Pounder.
  8. If you pack juice, make sure it’s 100% juice. All fruit drinks are required to list the “% juice” on the label. Watch out for juice drinks like Sunny Delight, Hi-C, Hawaiian Punch, and Capri Sun. With no more than 10% juice, they are just as sugary as soft drinks.
  9. Don’t send prepackaged lunch trays. Oscar Mayer’s Lunchables that come with a treat and a drink get two-thirds of their calories from fat and sugar. They also contain over 1000mg of sodium, which is half the recommendation for the whole day. Making your own healthy alternative is as easy as packing low-fat crackers, low-fat lunchmeat, a piece of fruit, and a box of 100% juice in your child’s lunchbox.
  10. Let your child help pack their lunch. If your child is excited about the foods they are eating, they will be more likely to finish their energy-packed lunch. Allow them to help pick and choose items to put in their lunchbox each night or morning, teaching them the importance of meal planning and responsibility.

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This blog was written by Angie Mitchell, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here. (And to see what she brings for her lunch, click here!)

Topics: nutrition healthy eating calories lunch kids sodium

USDA Guidelines: Making the Nutrition Recommendations Work

ThinkstockPhotos-501294518.jpgEvery five years, the USDA releases new Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Typically people get their idea of what healthy eating is and what they should be doing from all kinds of sources. Maybe it’s from a magazine, a TV news report, something a friend or family member suggested, or from reading blogs. Wherever you get your information, know that a team of researchers put together the most recent scientific evidence to come up with their recommendations for Americans. Here’s what they found, with some of the most important takeaway tips.

Strive for a Balance Over Your Lifespan

The current guidelines shift away from recommending foods you should or shouldn’t eat, and instead emphasize the importance of a balanced overall eating pattern. Here are the specific recommendations:

  • Follow a healthy eating pattern across the lifespan. Eating patterns are the combination of foods and drinks that a person eats over time.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient-dense foods, and amount.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats, and reduce sodium intake.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage choices.
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all.

Watch Sugar, Fat, and Sodium Intake

The new guidelines also put a cap on sugar, saturated fat, and sodium that can lead to heart disease and obesity, and are easy to overeat. The limits are as follow:

  • Less than 10% of calories per day from added sugars.
  • Less than 10% of calories per day from saturated fats.
  • Less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) per day of sodium for those over age 14.

A couple issues that have arisen after the release of the most recent guidelines is the lack of straightforward numbers for sugar and saturated fat. For example, most people are not aware what 10% of their calories would be from sugar and saturated fat (most sources from sugar are in sodas and juice drinks, and saturated fat is from red meat). Instead, an easier recommendation for the public to follow would be to drink more water instead of sugary drinks, and to eat vegetarian meals two to three times per week instead of red meat.

Moderation Is Key

Overall the new Dietary Guidelines for Americans are a helpful tool in reinforcing what we already know: a balanced diet with all of the food groups in moderation is the best one to follow.

If you need help planning your meals or knowing what to eat, consider a personal nutrition coaching session with our Resident Nutritionist, Lindsey Recker by email or by phone at 317.274.3432
ext 239.

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This blog was written by Angie Scheetz, RD, Wellness Coordinator. To find out more about the NIFS bloggers, click here.

Topics: nutrition calories hydration sodium sugar