Unlock Your Potential with Good Nutrition

October 27, 2023

We know that food and nutrition are important to you and your overall health. Based on your interest, we interviewed a BayCare Registered Dietitian to answer your most requested nutrition questions.

Angela C. is a Registered Dietitian with five years of experience. Coming from the world of Business, becoming a Registered Dietitian is Angela’s second career. Angela also holds additional training in holistic health, reiki, and health coaching. When asked what part of being a Registered Dietician she is most passionate about, Angela stated, “I am most passionate about helping people. I love it when I am working with someone, and I can actually see the light bulb go off - they get it. Then they make the changes, feel better, and achieve their goals. That is the best feeling in the world.”

You can read the full interview with Angela C., MS, RDN, LDN below.

Based on your recommendations, what are some basics for healthy eating that you think our members can benefit from? 
Keep healthy foods on hand. Don’t wait to eat until you are so hungry you rummage through the cabinets and eat anything you can find. Eat when you start getting hungry and stop when satisfied. Put thought into the weekly meals and groceries. Meal prep if you have a busy schedule or don’t really like to cook. Include 3-5 cups of vegetables and 1-2 fruits in your daily diet.

Is there a such thing as good and bad foods? If so, what are a few on the top of each list?
When we label foods as good and bad and we eat “bad” food, it can cause an emotional struggle, like feeling we have done something wrong. On the flip side, you may feel accomplished by eating “good” foods. Since we are never going to eat “good” or “bad” foods 100 percent of the time, it is better to avoid the emotional roller coaster associated with labeling foods as "good" and "bad".

I like to follow the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of the time, eat a variety of foods that provide good nutrition and health benefits. These are foods low in saturated fat, high in omega-3, and high in fiber. They seed your gut with pre and probiotics and are a source of protein and healthy carbohydrates. These foods include leafy greens, mushrooms, and a variety of vegetables in all colors: red, green, yellow, and orange. Good sources of protein include lean poultry and fish, lentils, beans, hummus, seeds like sunflower, chia, pumpkin, almonds, walnuts, and Brazil nuts, and whole grains such as quinoa, barley, and faro. Eat a variety of fruits, for example, berries, apples, pears, melon, avocado, lemons/limes. Other nutrient-dense foods include garlic, onions, leeks, olives, and olive oil. 

Lastly, 20 percent of the time is set aside for less nutritious foods such as favorite foods and treats.

Can you talk about Organic vs. Non-Organic and Processed vs. Non-Processed Foods?
Foods labeled organic must not be genetically modified, 95 percent of the ingredients are organic, and the other 5 percent of the ingredients are allowed to be from a USDA approved list of non-organic ingredients. Organic foods may be treated with a biodegradable natural herbicide. A non-Organic or conventional food product can be treated with chemically engineered pesticides and may be genetically modified.  The top genetically modified food crops in the US are corn, soy, cotton, potato, papaya, beets, canola, summer squash, including oils made with canola, soy, or corn. For these foods, look for a label that says non-GMO or organic. Read the ingredient labels on any packaged foods you buy; you’ll often find the product includes one of these GMO ingredients.

The type of processed foods to put in your 20 percent box (based on the 80/20 rule discussed above) are ultra-processed foods. These are packaged and frozen foods with added ingredients. They are usually high in sodium, with added sweeteners, preservatives, emulsifiers, flavor enhancers, and artificial or “natural” flavorings or colors. Foods like frozen meals, most prepared beverages, deli meats, ice cream, packaged cakes, cookies, crackers, breakfast cereals, and chips are all processed foods. Processed foods often contain trans fats, and refined carbohydrates, are low in fiber, contain sugar, and have minimal nutrition. 

Check all packaged foods for sodium content, they are usually very high in sodium. Less than 2300mg is the daily recommendation for sodium intake in normal healthy adults. On the other hand, non-processed foods are whole foods, for example, fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes. If you want a cracker or chip or cereal, buy ones that are whole grain and are unfortified, free of additives, sweeteners, colorings, and flavorings. Make your own pancakes, waffles, and home fries instead of buying frozen or packaged. Eat fresh fruit and vegetables instead of canned. Most frozen fruits and vegetables do not have added ingredients.

Source: Medical News Today

Are there any organic foods that should be eaten more regularly compared to non-organic foods?
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) publishes two lists a year, one called the Clean Fifteen which is a list of the top 15 conventionally grown foods with the least amount of pesticide residue. The second list they publish is called The Dirty Dozen, this is a list of foods with the most pesticide residue. The recommendation is to buy the Dirty Dozen in an organic form but the Clean 15 can be eaten in the conventional form, though avoid a genetically modified version, especially with corn and papaya.

According to the EWG, for 2023, the top 5 dirty dozen are:

  1. Strawberries
  2. Spinach
  3. Kale, collard, and mustard greens
  4. Peaches
  5. Pears

The top 5 clean 15 are:

  1. Avocado
  2. Corn
  3. Pineapple
  4. Onion
  5. Papaya

Source: Environmental Working Group (EWG)

What about sugar-free or diet foods? Can you talk about your recommendations for each?
Did you know that some artificial sweeteners are between 200 and 700 times sweeter than sugar? Stevia is a processed food. The sweet compound is extracted from the leaf and then it is refined to make a sweet powder. Stevia is 200-400 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame has been linked to an increased incidence of cancer (cancer.gov). Erythritol, xylitol, maltitol, and sorbitol are all chemically made sugar substitutes that are less sweet than sugar and found in most low-carb, diet, diabetic friendly or sugar-free foods. Some of these can cause GI issues and other health problems. Choose artificially sweetened products that don’t disagree with you and try to have them sparingly.

What are good sources of protein? 
Some great sources of protein are lentils, beans, nuts, seeds, yogurt, fish, poultry, quinoa, edamame, tofu, and eggs. 

What kind of fat is “OK” to eat? 
The best type of fats are unsaturated fats. Monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats include omega-3. Great sources of fats are avocado, nuts, seeds, fatty fish, flax, olives, and olive oil.

For Seniors, can you talk about medication and food interactions?
Certain foods can affect absorption or alter the way certain medications work. For example, grapefruit eaten with statins can increase the level of the statin in your blood and enhance side effects. The absorption of thyroid medication is reduced when taken within 1-2 hours of eating. Vitamin K alters the effects of warfarin (blood thinners) i.e., Coumadin. Alcohol can prolong or increase the effectiveness of diabetes medications which may lead to low blood sugar levels. Therefore, it is important to understand possible food interactions for all medications and alter your diet accordingly. Consult with your Provider with any questions you may have related to your personal health and the impacts foods may have on your specific medications. 
How can fiber be added to a senior's diet? 
As always, the best way is to eat whole foods such as fruits and vegetables. One apple contains 4.4 grams of fiber, one pear 5.5 grams, a cup of broccoli is 2.4 grams. But as we age our appetite often decreases, so if you are unable to get your fiber by eating whole foods, try dissolving some psyllium husk in water, a known source of psyllium husk is Metamucil. Fiber is important in maintaining a healthy bowel and it also aids in clearing our arteries. 

What helps with a poor appetite? Is there a certain number of meals that “should” be eaten daily? 
If you have a poor appetite, it may be linked to an underlying cause. Find out if there is anything medically, emotionally, or mentally affecting your appetite. Choose foods that tantalize your sense of smell or taste. If you have a loss of taste or smell, find foods that are most appealing visually. Eating with other people can also aid in boosting your appetite.

There is no requirement for the number of meals, but make sure you are satisfying your caloric and protein needs. Protein is important in preserving and building muscle, aids in healing, and is present in cell structures. In general, you should eat every 3.5-4 hours to maintain blood sugar and energy levels. Traditionally, that means 3 meals with 2 snacks, but everyone is different and sometimes it means 6 small meals or 2 larger meals with one snack. Have protein with meals, this could be in the form of beans, lentils, animal products, nuts, seeds, or dairy products.  It is important that you get adequate nutrition. If you are having issues eating enough speak with your doctor for guidance.

How can fluids be added to a diet? 
Most fruits and vegetables contain water. Snacking on fresh fruit will increase your fluid intake. Also, try flavoring your water with lime or lemon juice, floating some berries or orange wedges in your glass, or having a popsicle. A cup of herbal tea is a great way to add fluid to your diet, have it hot or cold. Broths, soups, puddings, and Jell-O are also options that contain water. 
How should a beginner approach reading nutritional labels and know what to look for? 
The first thing is to read the ingredient label and find products with real ingredients you can pronounce and are familiar to you. Next, check the serving size and the calories. Is the serving size adequate or do you think you will need two portions? If you think the serving size is small and you’ll eat two portions, then you will need to double all of the other information, double calories, double sodium, etc. This is often true in the case of breakfast cereals or chips. Try to choose foods with zero trans-fat, less than 2g saturated fat, sodium less than 200mg, and preferably no added sugar, if sugar is added it should be <11g. Aim to find products with 3 or more grams of fiber per serving. 
Do you have any final food or nutrition recommendations you would like to leave our members with?
My final recommendation is to eat a diet lower in processed foods and higher in whole foods. Eat a balanced diet with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lean protein. I recommend your members keep grains whole in their diets and reduce sugar and sodium. Also include unsaturated fats and omega-3 in the diet. If you don’t like eating alone, find some friends to have meals with. Lastly, always remember the 80/20 rule. 

If you would like to learn more, BayCarePlus® members can access their Healthy Aging Coaching using their Silver&Fit® benefit where you can speak with a health coach regarding topics like nutrition. Go to SilverAndFit.com or call (877) 427-4788 (TTY: 711) Monday through Friday, 8 am to 8 pm for more information.

Members with specific medical conditions such as diabetes and renal disease have access to additional benefits, talk to your primary care doctor about getting a referral for medical nutrition therapy.