Registered Dietitian with Sinai Health System in Chicago Catalina Ruz Gatica, RDN, LDN

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?
I love that we are using the word “relationship” here because we do have a relationship with food. It may be a good or a bad relationship, but we all have a connection with what we eat. I encourage my patients to think of food as a source of fuel. What you put in your body can give you energy, make you feel fantastic and accomplished — or it can make you feel sluggish, full of guilt, and negative emotions. It’s a great idea to hit the restart button here at the beginning of the year, and establish a healthy and committed relationship with what you eat. Rethink your food choices and the fruit of your relationship with food could lead to increased energy, improved health, and a longer life.

What rule of thumb would you recommend to people when they are bombarded with information regarding “food trends”?
Like any information circulating on the Internet and social media, it’s important to consider the source of the information. Is it reliable? Who is providing this information? Does it sound like it might provide “magical” results? Trained professional nutritionists and dieticians are careful to provide nutrition recommendations are based on scientific data. If the information sounds too good to be true, it probably is! Fad diets and miracle health products often make empty promises, and can even be hazardous to your health. Be an educated consumer. Do a little research to avoid falling into marketing traps.

Are there really any benefits to taking a multivitamin? And are there any possible negative effects of taking one?
Most Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs) agree that ideally everyone should obtain the nutrients they need from real food rather than pills or supplements. There is simply no substitute for the real thing! The best way to do that is by eating a variety of nutritious foods from all five food groups. You can get more information on this at However, there are some health conditions or cases that may benefit from nutrition supplementation (pregnancy, food allergies, gastric surgery, vegan/vegetarian diets- to name a few). As for negative effects, over consumption of some nutrients can cause health issues and therefore recommended intake levels should not be exceeded. Consult a professional if you have concerns about nutritional deficiencies or have questions about how to structure a healthy, balanced diet.

What’s the best way to make sustainable changes?
Creating a new habit is never an easy task. I think the key to making lasting dietary changes is to set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant (realistic!), and Time-sensitive. Start with something you are ready to tackle and give yourself clear boundaries for success. Only create three nutrition-related goals at any one time. Trying to do more than this can become overwhelming, and end up discouraging your efforts. Be kind and patient with your health journey; it is not a race! Go ahead and celebrate your small victories and build on top of your successes. Reassure yourself — You’ve got this!

What should people, regardless of age, consume daily? What should they eliminate from their diet today?
Vegetables, vegetables, vegetables! In talking with patients from all ages and different backgrounds, it’s rare to hear of people who eat the recommended amount of fruits and (especially) vegetables per day. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to add a little color to our plates to get better fuel for our bodies. Eliminating food items that provide little to no nutritional value can make a big impact on our nutritional status. These include things like soda pop, highly sugary beverages/treats, and highly processed foods. If eliminating these items causes your heart to break a little, think about portion control as a way to start on your way toward eventually eliminate these things from your diet. Remember those SMART goals!

What ways can families cut back on unhealthy fats?
A big portion of the unhealthy fats consumed as a family come from eating out, particularly at fast food restaurants. A good tip for cutting back is to think about what your family is eating the rest of the day. If your family has a tradition of eating pizza on Friday nights, think about intentionally eating healthy for breakfast and lunch. Watch those portions throughout the day to avoid overconsumption of unhealthy fats and feeling defeated by a whole day of unhealthy eating.

What tips would you share for motivating people to continue eating healthy throughout the year?
I believe it all comes down to believing that you are capable and worthy of a healthier and happier version of yourself. Eating healthy is a form of self-care. Giving your body the right fuel can have a tremendous impact not only on how you look and feel, but eventually transform your relationship with food to a happy and healthy one!

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