How to Make Informed Food Choices

National Nutrition Month is a good time to consider Duke's nutrition resources

The U.S. Government's
The U.S. Government's "MyPlate" graphic provides a visual cue about healthy eating habits.

Slightly more than half of Americans believe it's easier to do taxes than learn how to eat healthy, according to a recent survey by the International Food Information Council.

Most say the stream of often contradictory advice about carbs, fats, calories and nutrition makes it tough to know what - and how much - to eat.

"The mass of nutritional information and misinformation in our society often overwhelms people," said Kara Mitchell, registered dietitian and wellness manager at the Duke Health and Fitness Center. "People often latch on to questionable ideas and fads rather than going back to basics."

March is National Nutrition Month, a convenient time to consider nutrition resources offered by Duke. Consider tapping into some of these resources and tips for healthy solutions.

Get Personalized Advice

Andrea Munson visited a nutritionist at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine and changed more than just her diet.

"With help from the nutritionist, I was able to uncover some underlying health issues and learn how to use food to start healing myself," said Munson, a financial management analyst in Cell Biology.

All benefits-eligible employees can schedule two free nutrition consults each year with LIVE FOR LIFE, Duke's employee wellness program. The one-hour discussion with a registered dietitian focuses on ways to incorporate healthy eating into daily life.

In addition, Duke's health plans cover six nutrition visits each year to clinics such as the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine or the Duke Health and Fitness Center. Co-pays range from $0 to $25, depending on the plan.

Learn from the Experts

Cathy Dillehay, a medical assistant at Duke, picks up tactics for healthy eating by attending free monthly seminars sponsored by DukeWell, Duke's disease management program.

In the past year, she learned about mindfulness practices to change eating habits, tasted fresh produce at a seminar on eating local foods and collected tips for healthy holiday eating.

"I bring my husband with me so we can talk about the lectures later," Dillehay said. "We are using them to learn how to eat right." 

Eat Fresh

To increase fresh, local produce in your diet, consider attending the Duke Farmers Market during the summer or joining Duke's Mobile Farmers Market, which operates year-round.

"My family finds stuff in our weekly box we'd never go to the supermarket and buy," said Eric Lipp, a clinical trials information specialist at Duke's Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center. "The variety allows us to come up with new recipes to try while eating healthier."

Choose Snacks Wisely

Kelly LeSage, a registered dietitian with LIVE FOR LIFE, recommends planned snacking as a way to make healthier food choices.

"Snacking from a big bag of chips or cookies is likely to lead to trouble," LeSage said. "Planning ahead and eating small portions of nuts, low-fat yogurt, or fruit as a snack can give you important nutrients as well as keeping you from approaching the next meal over-hungry."

Visit the website for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, sponsors of National Nutrition Month, for tip sheets on healthy snacks with 200 calories or less.

Load Half a Plate with Fruits and Vegetables

Dietitians recommend filling half of a plate with fruits and vegetables.

"Eating more fruits and vegetables and controlling your portion sizes are two very basic and important steps toward a healthier diet," said Mitchell, the registered dietitian and wellness manager at the Duke Health and Fitness Center. 

Duke's resources can help combat misinformation and change eating habits, which in turn leads to a happier, healthy life, she said.

"Food is a very emotional topic," Mitchell said. "But the people who get the most pleasure from food are typically the people who have worked at having a good relationship with food. They are the ones who really taste what they are eating."