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World Food Day: Understanding a Healthy Diet

Monday, October 11, 2021

What comes to mind when you think of the word “diet?” A quick Google search on diet reveals several definitions. Two of which involve the terms “restrict oneself” and “to lose weight.”

However, this misconstrued version of the word is not what diet actually means.

“A lot of people have a negative gut reaction to the word diet and instantly think weight loss, restriction, and deprivation,” said Amanda Downs, registered dietitian at Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center.

“As a dietitian, I think about diet simply as the way we eat or the foods that we are choosing to include on a regular basis,” she added.

So, rather than negatively thinking of the word diet, you can think about it as the food you eat daily. Yet, this is not to say the food you eat does not matter — the food you eat, your diet, is important so that you may live a healthy life.

“Unfortunately, we live in a culture where the ‘diet’ industry sometimes misleads people in a detrimental way. I find that this leaves consumers feeling confused and overwhelmed by what a healthy diet looks like for them and realistic, sustainable ways to put it into practice,” said Downs.

A healthy diet can help you meet your unique needs and health goals, but this varies by person.

As part of World Food Day, observed on October 16, take the time to make a healthy, positive change in your diet.

Benefits of Eating Healthy
According to Downs, good nutrition is the foundation for good health, healthy aging, and for managing illnesses, both acute and chronic.

Eating healthy can help manage high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and excess body weight, all of which are risks for heart disease.

Additionally, nutrition plays a valuable role in immune health. Downs stated that eating a balanced diet that includes protein, iron, and antioxidants, along with exercise and regular sleeping habits, can help support your immune system.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several benefits of healthy eating for adults, including:

  • Supports muscles
  • May help you live longer
  • Boosts immunity
  • Keeps skin, teeth, and eyes healthy
  • Strengthens bones
  • Lowers risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
  • Supports healthy pregnancies and breastfeeding
  • Helps the digestive system
  • Helps achieve and maintain a healthy weight

“When we enter our 40’s, we generally start losing muscle mass as part of a natural aging process. Combatting that with a healthy diet and regular activity can add many quality, active years to our life,” said Downs.

Starting a Healthy Diet
While healthy eating depends on your individual lifestyle, including income and food availability, there are general steps you can take to start eating healthier.

How do you start eating healthy? Downs recommends starting small.

“Even baby steps in the right direction will help get some momentum going. Set small, realistic, achievable goals,” she said. “For example, drink at least 48 ounces of water a day, walk for 10 minutes at least three days per week, and include a vegetable at dinner every evening.”

One step at a time, you can gradually change your diet.

Cutting out unhealthy fats, scaling back on your sodium intake, packing in nutrient-rich produce, and using sugar sparingly can get you started on the path to healthy eating.

“For most individuals, a well-balanced meal consists of lean protein, non-starchy vegetables, unsaturated fats, and healthy carbohydrates. However, this also needs to be balanced with enjoyment,” said Downs.

“Food should never be a source of stress,” she added.

To start a healthy eating plan that aligns with your specific lifestyle, make sure to reach out to your primary care provider or registered dietitian. They can help you determine what foods are best for you at that particular point in your life.

Amanda Downs practices at Iredell Wellness & Diabetes Center located at 235 N Main Street, Suite D, in Troutman. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Downs, speak with your primary care provider about a referral. To learn more, please call the wellness center at 704-878-4556.