FINDLEY LAKE — The CHautauqua County Office of Aging Services is taking its “Eat Healthy, Be Active” message on the road.
“We eat plate by plate, meal by meal, what’s in front of us,” said Carey Skelton, registered dietician for the Chautauqua County Office of Aging Services.
Skelton presented the first of four workshops recently at the Findley Lake Community Center. The series is titled “Eat Healthy, Be Active,” and it is aimed at helping Chautauqua County residents, especially senior citizens, to develop healthy eating lifestyles.
The first two workshops are designed to teach basic nutritional facts, Skelton said.
“Nutrition 101 is what I call this,” she said.
In weeks three and four, participants learn to make quick meals and snacks, especially for households of two people or less, she said.
Skelton noted that the models for good nutrition have often changed and this can be confusing for people.
“I get this all the time. People say, I never know what to eat because they change everything,” she said. Part of the reason for this, she went on to explain, is that dietary science is relatively young and is based on observational data gathered over many years.
Skelton pointed out that when she was young, people were taught the four food groups that people should have every day. Then, later on, a pyramid approach to nutrition was promoted.
“But we don’t eat a pyramid, we eat portions,” she said.
The current model is known as “My Plate,” Skelton said, and it focuses on what a person eats in a meal. A good meal should consist of fruits and vegetable, grains, protein and dairy, she said.
Out of this, half of the “plate” should be fruits and vegetables, Skelton said. However, this can be a problem, especially for older people because most fruits and vegetables are marketed in family size packages, she said. One way to get around this is to purchase good canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
Of the remaining plate, more than half should be whole grains, Skelton said. A whole grain food, she explained, has three parts: the outer bran shell, which has fiber and B vitamins; the germ, which contains healthy unsaturated fatty acids and B vitamins; and the endosperm, which contains starchy calories (carbohydrates).
Unfortunately, many manufacturers remove the bran shell and the germ “because they know people prefer the white stuff,” Skelton said. Removing the ger also gives the product a longer shelf life, she added.
Some foods, such as oatmeal, brown rice, wild rice, quinoa and unprocessed corn are just naturally whole grain, Skelton said. She cautioned people that multi-grain just means there’s a mixture of grains in the product, not necessarily whole grains.
Skelton also pointed out that whole grains also contain fiber, which is a very important part of good nutrition.
“When you eat fat with high fiber foods, the fiber binds to the fat,” she said. “Since fiber is not digested and absorbed, the fat is also not digested and absorbed.”
Regarding protein, the message has changed, Skelton said. “It is no longer called the meat group. The focus is on other protein sources such as plant-based protein and seafood, she said.
In fact, it is a very healthy practice to not eat meat at least one day a week, Skelton said. She cited a study which discovered that people who do not eat meat at least one day during each week, reduce their chance of heart disease by 30%.
“Thirty percent — that’s huge,” Skelton said. “One small change can make a big difference.”
Finally, there is the portion of dairy products in a meal, Skelton said.
“The message here is the same, choose low fat dairy foods,” she said.
Skelton also noted that color on the plate is important.
“Your plate should not be monochromatic,” she said. “Color gives you vitamins, minerals and fiber.”
With all this in mind, it can be very difficult to select healthy foods when grocery shopping. Skelton advises people not to look at the nutrition facts so much as to look at the ingredients.
“It is really the ingredients that are going to tell us if this food is healthy,” she said.
For instance, when looking at wheat ingredients, “you need the word whole in front of the grain,” Skelton said. Some manufacturers will write on the package, “Made with Whole Grains,” she said, but that does not necessarily mean that whole grains are a main ingredient. The main ingredients are always listed first, she said.
Many manufacturers add sugars to their products. Because of this, the law requires that all foods contina an “added sugar” line in the nutrition facts.
Skelton said she understands that many people have trouble switching to whole grain foods because they enjoy the taste and texture of refined grains. “To those who say ‘don’t mess with my cake,’ I would say, go with a thinner whole grain cake and then move up,” she said. “You get used to the texture and you will come to like it better.”