Just as a sports car thrives with premium fuel, healthy food can boost our bodies, minds and spirits.
“We are finely tuned machines, like a Ferrari or a Lamborghini, and what we put in as our fuel makes all the difference,” says Sherri Flynt, RD, manager of AdventHealth Orlando's Center for Nutritional Excellence.
And you don’t have to reorganize your whole life; small changes can have a big impact, she adds. Taking baby steps toward filling your diet with whole foods like fresh fruits and whole
grains can help us look and feel better.
Chef Edwin Cabrera sees firsthand how changing someone’s diet can transform their life.
“When people lose weight or reduce their blood sugar, they’re able to start being physically active and that’s when the changes start for them,” said Cabrera, executive chef with AdventHealth’s Center for Nutritional Excellence. “They’re happier, sleeping better, less tired, and that’s something beautiful.”
Just as healthy nutrition can help you thrive, the opposite is also true.
An April study published in The Lancet found that improvements in diet could prevent one in every five deaths around the world. The researchers found these three dietary risk factors were responsible for most of the early deaths:
- High-sodium (salt) diets
- Low amounts of whole grains
- Low amounts of fruit
By the way, when nutritionists talk about a “diet,” they don’t mean restricting what you eat to lose weight. Instead, they’re referring to a person’s total food intake. In other words, you can have a healthy diet without dieting.
Seeing healthy food as an opportunity to feel whole is a philosophy shared by AdventHealth. Our CREATION Life philosophy teaches that nutrition drives our health and that small changes can produce profound results.
These beliefs are put into practice at the AdventHealth Diabetes Institute and the Center for Nutritional Excellence. Our nutritionists work with patients to create personalized plans that help them meet their health goals.
Flynt, the center’s manager, emphasizes small changes the nudge us away from processed foods toward whole foods. Each client has unique eating habits, so each has their own eating plan.
“A dietitian is kind of like an investigator, digging down and finding out what our clients can do and what’s realistic for them,” she says. While some diets can lead to weight loss, long-term health takes lifestyle changes.
And chefs like Cabrera help patients come up with the recipes to make it happen.
“I work with patients to make specific recipes and teach them to make this food for themselves,” he says.
For example, white rice can lead to blood sugar spikes for those with diabetes, but less starchy vegetables can counteract this effect. Flynt and Chef Cabrera literally wrote the book on healthy recipes for diabetes.
It’s called “Simply Healthy: The Art of Eating Well, Diabetes Edition,” and it’s dedicated to the idea that food can taste good and be good for you. That includes its recipe for Southwest Pepper, Squash and Carrot Huevos, a low-fat, high-fiber omelet with vibrant taste combinations like cumin and zucchini.
(To download five healthy and delicious recipes from Chef Cabrera’s book, visit this site.)
Think of nutrition like a cookbook. It’s about finding opportunities to eat right rather than assembling a list of foods to swear off.
Putting the Focus Where It Belongs
We often think of eating right in terms of what to avoid, especially foods rich in fat, salt and cholesterol. But The Lancet study found that a lack of healthy food, rather than an excess of unhealthy food, is the biggest problem.
A lack of whole grains in particular was found to be the biggest dietary risk factor in the United States, the study found. A grain is “whole” when it has all three of its major parts intact:
- Bran, or outer shell
- Germ, the nutrient-filled core
- Endosperm, or vitamin-heavy middle layer
Refined grains — like white rice, white flour and white bread — have removed the bran and germ, leaving only the endosperm.
Because many breads, pasta and other foods are colored to look like they’re whole grain, finding them in the grocery store isn’t simple.
As this AdventHealth blog post on nutrition explains, you’ll want to look at the ingredient list. If “whole grain” (or “whole” followed by the name of a grain) isn’t the first ingredient, it may not be a whole-grain food.
The word “whole” doesn’t refer only to grains. Flynt says the simplest way to separate healthy foods from unhealthy food is to seek out whole foods. Food that has been processed — like macaroni, cereal and any junk food — is often simpler to prepare and may be cheaper. But it carries a hidden cost to our health.
The best eating plan is often tailored to each individual’s health needs.
When Chef Cabrera is developing a recipe, he looks at the nutritional value of each ingredient and uses it to calibrate for a person with a given condition. Someone with heart trouble may, for example, get a low-sodium recipe with no saturated fats.
For diabetes patients, moderation is often the key.
Fitting Healthy Food in Your Life
Diabetes doesn’t need to come with a list of “never-again” foods. AdventHealth Diabetes Institute teaches people how to incorporate their favorite foods into their lives while reaching their health goals.
That means participating in family get-togethers, dinners with friends and a loved one’s wedding.
Often, carbohydrates — or carbs, the sugars and starches in foods like potatoes, fruit and bread — get the most attention because they turn into sugar in the body. Someone with diabetes should control how many carbs they eat but they don’t need to avoid them altogether.
To read more about how people with diabetes can still eat what they love, in moderation, check out this post. Here are some suggestions from Cabrera and Flynt about how to make changes in your own life:
- Read the Labels: The nutritional facts on food labels refer to a single serving size, but many of us overestimate how much a serving actually is. A 20-ounce bottle of soda, for example, is generally two and a half servings.
- Add Healthy Food Slowly: Healthy eating is not all or nothing. If you don’t like the taste of brown rice, mix it together half and half with white rice and let your taste buds adjust over time.
- Make Small Goals: Instead of piling on several major goals at once, AdventHealth nutritionists work with their clients to start with manageable objectives.
- Make Substitutions: Chef Cabrera is adept at suggesting substitutions to make a meal more healthy or more tasty. That could mean simply switching out white rice for quinoa or swapping out some pasta for zucchini.
- Pick an Eating Plan That Works for You: Because the best eating plan is the one you stick to, it’s important that you actually enjoy your food. AdventHealth nutritionists tailor a plan around what their clients are willing and able to do.
Our busy lives often don’t leave much time for food preparation. That’s why the AdventHealth Diabetes Institute offers Dining with Diabetes, a series of community classes that teach learners new recipes, techniques and cooking tips. The classes, which are also helpful for people without diabetes, are held during both day and evening hours to accommodate different schedules.
Similarly, the institute offers Thrive, a corporate-based program that gives employees the quarterly appointments, progress tracking, one-on-one consultations and other support they need to change their habits.
People with diabetes have special needs, but they have most of the same nutritional requirements as everyone else.
We All Need Healthy Food
People tend to come to AdventHealth for healthy recipes to help them overcome a health challenge. And there are specific eating plans for heart health, diabetes, even to prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
But nutrition is a universal goal, and just about anyone could benefit from taking a closer look at what they eat. Good food is good medicine, and AdventHealth believes that giving its patients the tools to take control of their diets puts them closer to feeling whole.