Americans are in a food crisis. Daily headlines scream about rising rates of obesity. Supersized meal deals are plastered on billboards. And according to the New York Times bestseller Salt, Sugar, Fat, America’s food manufacturers are engineering addictive foods. How do you make healthy food choices in today’s food-obsessed society? Read on as mtl delivers the latest scoop on nutrition from the local experts.
NUTRITION FOR ATHLETES
As Director of Sports Nutrition at UPMC’s Center for Sports Medicine, Leslie Bonci’s clients include the Steelers, Penguins and Pirates. But since most people don’t play sports for a living, she considers an athlete to be anyone who engages in physical activity three to four times a week. Author of three nutrition books (Sport Nutrition for Coaches, Run Your Butt Off and Walk Your Butt Off ), Bonci says the key to good nutrition for athletes is timing, fluid and food. That means eating the right food before and after workouts, drinking enough healthy liquids and consuming the right amount and variety of nutrients. “Food is fuel,” says Bonci, and eating the right fuel at the right time can “improve speed, stamina and strength six to eight percent.”
For endurance athletes (anyone who works out longer than one hour) she recommends sipping 20 ounces of fluids and consuming a small amount of carbohydrates one hour before the workout. A handful of cereal, a granola bar or a small amount of bagel will do the trick. Post-workout, Bonci recommends a combination of protein and carbohydrates within 15 minutes of finishing—chocolate milk or Greek yogurt with granola. Carbs prevent muscle breakdown, and protein repairs muscles and builds bone, says Bonci. Without this post-workout snack, the body takes 24 hours to recover.
Her overriding advice for all athletes is “create a great plate.” This means one-third protein, one-third grains (slightly more than for sedentary adults) and one-third fruits and vegetables, which act as an anti-inflammatory. Top this off with a small amount of healthy fat—olive oil, nuts, peanut butter or avocados—and you’ve got a well-balanced athlete’s meal. “It’s not just about the pasta,” Bonci chides a room of would-be marathoners at Fleet Feet Sports.
In general, Bonci suggests choosing lean cuts of meat and encourages people to choose a simple supplement. “Supplements are supposed to complement what you are eating. They won’t replace a crappy diet.”
NUTRITION FOR CHILDREN
Every parent wants their child to eat healthy foods, but Jean Lewis, Clinical Dietitian at St Clair Hospital, says “We’re so busy these days, families are not always eating nutritious meals together. Some children are now developing health risks associated with obesity such as high cholesterol and diabetes,” she continues. “Fast food meals, abundant snacks and inactivity contribute to the problem.”
To combat that, Lewis recommends engaging the whole family to make healthier food choices and regular exercise a priority. “Plan regular family activities,” she says. Encourage your children to help plan meals from developing menu to shopping, preparing and serving the meal. Consider portion control when snacking. Make it a family affair.”
Lewis suggests websites with good nutritional information: kidnetic.com , choosemyplate.gov and eatright.org. Kidnectic helps parents and children learn more about health, fitness and nutrition through games, recipes and articles. ChooseMyPlate includes healthy recipes by children, activity sheets and how to get physical. Nutrition for the whole family can be obtained on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website eatright.org .
Many vigilant parents may think they are giving their kids healthy snacks when, in fact, they are not. Three of the most common culprits are protein bars, kids’ yogurt (higher in sugar) and fruit juice, which should be limited to four ounces.
The U. S. Department of Agriculture recommends children’s plates be half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter grains, one-quarter protein, with a side of dairy, such as milk.
WEIGHT LOSS NUTRITION
With over 69 percent of American adults either obese or overweight according to the Center for Disease Control, long-term weight loss is the most common health need for the majority of American adults. Sheree Kearns, Pittsburgh group leader and ambassador for Weight Watchers, knows this firsthand; she lost 100 pounds six years ago.
Voted the number one weight loss plan by U.S. News and World Report, Kearns says Weight Watchers teaches members all aspects of weight loss—food choices, exercise and group support.
Regarding nutritional guidelines, she says the program is “spot on” with the U.S. Government’s healthy plate recommendations: one-half fruits and vegetables, one-quarter whole grains and one-quarter lean protein, along with at least two teaspoons of healthy oil per day.
The program emphasizes nutrient-dense “power foods” (fruits, vegetables, lean proteins and nonfat dairy) that keep you fuller longer. Not all foods are the same, says Kearns, “Fifty calories of fruit is processed differently than 50 calories of fat.”
That being said, different strategies work for different people, says Kelli Coghill, a certified Specialist in Fitness Nutrition. One tactic is to check out the nutrition facts on packaged foods. “Educate yourself about serving sizes,” she says. “Look for things with less sugar and more fiber.”
Coghill recommends avoiding trans fat; it reduces good cholesterol, increases bad cholesterol and has a high correlation with heart disease. This processed fat lurks in some of our favorite foods: baked goods, Ramen noodles, margarine and fast foods. Check food labels and leave items with “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” oils and shortenings on the shelf.
If all this sounds too daunting, Coghill says, just “adding a little exercise and making a couple of small changes in your diet can make a big difference.”
Ready to get started? Cookinglight.com  has thousands of delicious, healthy recipes.
Most of all, Kearns says, “Take your time and learn what works for you. Quick usually means temporary.”