Dr. Mark Loafman, Chair of the Family and Community Medicine Department at Cook County Health& Hospitals System (CCHHS)

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Health

By: Ashmar Mandou

January has become the notorious month to begin anew; when people revive their healthy lifestyle.  This year, how would you advise people to rethink their relationship with food? 
Try to make healthy eating a positive, comforting part of your daily routine. Eating healthy food can and should be an enjoyable and rewarding approach to living, which makes it far easier to stick with over time. We recommend rethinking the notion of ‘no’ or ‘bad’ foods, and instead focus on healthy, enjoyable “everyday foods” and some “once in a while foods” that you learn to eat less often. Over time, this process can help reframe our feelings about “comfort” food and how to feel satisfied with a meal. It can help to remember that our bodies learn to crave high fat, high starch foods and sugary sweet drinks by consuming them regularly, and our bodies learn to like and want healthier foods the same way. It is far easier to stick with a healthy diet once we have learned to make healthy foods our “comfort” foods. Experimenting with healthy food options and preparations will help you find those you really like.

What rule of thumb would you recommend to people when they are bombarded with information regarding “food trends?” 
Despite the many “food trends” that have popped up over the years, the basics of what constitutes a healthy diet haven’t changed much at all: 1) Get plenty of produce (fruits and vegetables), whole grains and low-fat dairy products. This helps us feel satisfied at meal time with less need or craving for fatty, starchy foods to feel full. 2) Limit saturated fats, which are generally the fat that comes from animals rather than vegetables; and 3) Watch your intake of sodium, which can cause fluid retention, and added sugars, which have low nutritional value and are linked to weight gain, diabetes and a variety of other health consequences.  In fact, eliminating sugary beverages from our diet seems to be one of the best and most important steps we can take. It helps to know that the strong craving for sweet drinks gradually goes away when we skip them and drink water instead.

Are there really any benefits to taking a multivitamin?  And are there any possible negative effects to taking one?   
Multiple studies have shown that vitamins and nutritional supplements are rarely if ever needed for most people. Dietary sources of vitamins and minerals are packaged to be absorbed and used by our bodies, while most of the vitamin and supplement products pass through our system without being absorbed. Billions of dollars are spent each year on vitamins and supplements, and we strongly suggest spending that money on healthy food instead. Some studies have even shown that too much of certain vitamins can be harmful.  For instance, getting too vitamin A can cause headaches and liver damage and reduce bone strength.  Dietary supplements can also interact negatively with prescription drugs.  

How can people make sustainable changes? 
The key is finding what works for you, so you can keep it up. And start with small changes that you are likely to accomplish. It really helps to remember that our overall health and weight are the result of the way we live and eat every day, not what we do for a few weeks or months. So we recommend focusing on your daily routine before starting on an aggressive diet or exercise plan. Adding just a little exercise and a few diet changes to your daily routine will make a real, measurable impact over time. Once you have the day to day changes hardwired then you can ramp up efforts from time to time as your motivation and lifestyle allow. Again, focus first on making your daily routine a little healthier in ways you are likely to be able to stick with. For example, if you love carbs don’t choose a low carb diet. A more realistic change might be to decrease the portion size of the carbs you do eat (chips, potatoes, breads, ice cream, etc.), substituting more salad or vegetables instead.

What should people, regardless of age, take daily?  What should they eliminate from their diet today?  
We should try to consume fruits and vegetables along with some low-fat source of protein every day. This ensures we have fuel and nutrition. We should eliminate sugary drinks and sugary snack foods that cause harm without adding any nutritional value. While this may seem hard to do at first, it will become easy and feel normal after a few weeks of practice.

What ways can families cut back on unhealthy fats?  
Try eating more meals at home instead of fatty, starchy “fast foods” from restaurants.  Doing so can also save money. Experiment as a family to find and prepare healthy foods you like. Encourage kids to take an active role in meal planning and preparation, celebrating any and every success. One way to eat at home more often is to plan at least three meals in advance and take a list or recipes to the grocery store, so you can get what you need.  And while you’re at the grocery store, try to resist buying foods that have unhealthy sugars and fats — if they aren’t in your house, you’re less likely to indulge.  You should also avoid frying foods.  Instead, bake, roast or grill your food. Make it fun and rewarding. Have a contest to see who can go the longest without having a sugary drink.  Or challenge yourself to see if you can you include a large serving of vegetables and less starch/fat in every dinner for a week.

What tips would you share for motivating people to continue eating healthy throughout the year?  
Make small doable changes and don’t give up.  When you fall off your plan to make healthier choices, and we all do from time to time, don’t make that an excuse to quit. Instead, learn from what works and what doesn’t work. Use failed efforts as a valuable lesson. Small changes that you make in your diet, just like in your exercise routine, can ultimately result in big changes on your health if you stick with them.

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