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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Friday Health Focus: Body Fuel

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Friday, February 17, 2006

Kristin Civitella is a registered dietician at the North Adams Regional Hospital
North Adams - Healthy eating may seem more appealing if one thinks of one's body as a powerful, sophisticated machine that delivers peak performances when properly fueled.

"Your body is only as good as the fuel it's fed," said Kristin Civitella, a registered dietician at the North Adams Regional Hospital.

Civitella earned a bachelor's degree in nutritional sciences at the University of New Hampshire, and completed an internship at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst campus. She has been employed at NARH since 2003.

Tackle "MyPyramid"

Fueling the body with premium nutrition can produce a host of long-term benefits, Civitella said. Increased bone and muscle strength, improved concentration, and a stronger immune system are often associated with healthy eating habits, and for children, normal and appropriate growth and development is usually achieved when proper nutrition is delivered.

In 2005, the United States Department of Agriculture introduced a new nutrition "pyramid," titled "MyPyramid," which delivers a more personalized approach to healthy eating. The program emphasizes an approach focused on gradual improvements, food variety, and physical activity. The program offers advice and information for people age two and older with an eye toward promoting good health and reducing the risk of chronic disease.

A body that lacks proper fuel is more likely to develop health problems, Civitella said.

"Type II diabetes is an example of a condition that can be prevented with good nutrition," she said. "In this area, we see a lot of Type II diabetes. We see a lot of heart disease and a lot of high blood pressure."

Making Sense of Labels [Yeah, Right]

And while some health conditions and illnesses may have a genetic component which individuals cannot control, what goes into the grocery shopping cart and ultimately into the mouth can be monitored.

"We like to tell people that nutrition is an area that they have control of," she said.

Acquiring nutritional control can be confusing and frustrating in a world of slick advertising and often misleading product labeling, Civitella said.

"So many things come out on TV, on the Internet, in the newspapers, you have to really look and see if this stuff is coming from a reputable source," she said. "People sometimes get so confused by it all that they give up on it."

Learning nutrition basics may be very helpful to folks who want to improve their nutrition. High-fat, high-sodium foods are simply not as healthy as low-fat, low-sodium foods.

For example, canned soups are often very high in sodium content; most companies offer low-sodium versions and people may find that making a soup themselves with fresh ingredients creates a good-tasting, healthy meal. When selecting cold cuts from a supermarket deli, opt for the low-sodium versions most often available. Read product labels; ground beef packages, for example, are marked as "93 percent lean, 7 percent fat," or "85 percent lean, 15 percent fat," and boxed and canned goods are required to label products with nutritional information.

Read labels carefully, significant factors such as "serving size" may be identified differently by different products or even different brands of similar foods.

For example, a brand-name can of "butter cream-flavored" frosting label identifies a "serving size" as two tablespoons. One two-tablespoon serving contains 110 calories and 45 of those calories are designated as "fat calories." The label goes farther than that; the serving contains five grams of fat. Of that amount, the serving hosts two fats known as "bad fats:" "saturated" and "trans" fats.

The label also identifies the serving as having 13 grams of sugars.

The percentage of protein contained in the frosting? Zero.

A label pasted onto a can of "do not add water" tomato soup shows a healthier, but not healthiest, product. According to the label, a one cup serving contains 110 calories, with 10 calories coming from fat. The total fat listed is 1 gram, and here is where labels can become confusing; the fat-specific list states that there are no saturated,trans, polyunsaturated, or monounsaturated fats in the soup. Just where the 1 fat gram listed on the label comes from isn't clear.

The soup's posted sodium level is considered high at 980 mg, and the soup does contain 9 grams of sugars. The label also claims the soup provides 20 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin A and six percent of the recommended daily amount of iron, with those percentages based on a 2,000-calorie intake a day diet.

A brand-name can of spinach identifies a serving size as a half-cup. The serving size contains 30 calories and no fat calories, according to the label. Total fat is listed as zero, as is saturated fat. The sodium level is listed as 350 mg, and the serving size boasts 50 percent of the daily recommended amount of Vitamin A, 25 percent of the recommended daily amount of Vitamin C, 10 percent of calcium, and six percent of the recommended daily amount of iron.

An 80/20 Approach

Civitella stressed that healthy eating isn't about complete prohibitions on certain foods but an "80 percent, 20 percent" approach.

Making a genuine effort to eat healthy foods 80 percent of the time and nibble on the less healthy foods 20 percent of the time can make a nutritional difference overall. Common sense is also a factor. While much has been made of lycopene, a healthy substance found in tomatoes and tomato-based products such as ketchup, drenching a large fast-food order of french fries with ketchup won't make greasy, salty fries any healthier.

"Think of it as everything in moderation," she advised.

Teach By Example

Children may develop healthy eating habits with positive role models, and that includes parents.

"Kids learn by example," she said. "If you eat chips and drink sodas, that's what they are going to be doing."

Offering healthy snacks can be fun; a popular snack for children is "ants on a log," which is peanut-butter smeared on a celery stick and topped with raisins.

When introducing new, healthy foods to toddlers, do not force feed the foods but do not stop introducing the food after one or two tries, Civitella said. When introducing new foods, place a familiar food on the plate as an accompaniment, she said.

"Try to offer a variety of foods and put something they like on the plate as well as something new," she said.

Children may be more receptive to foods that they have helped prepare, or even helped cultivate. In 2005, students at the Adams Memorial Middle School worked with the REACH Community Health Foundation and produced a garden.

"The kids grew the food, harvested the food, and ate the food," Civitella said.

Additional gardens may be cultivated this year, Civitella said.

Offering smaller-sized portions several times a day can increase healthy eating for youth and senior citizens, she said.

Tips and Techniques

Adapting cooking techniques to fit specific needs can improve nutrition as well; cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli are considered very healthy when eaten raw, but dental or digestive issues may interfere with consumption of raw vegetables. Steaming the foods may make them easier to eat, Civitella said.

Canned fruits may be substituted for raw, but be certain to buy fruit canned in its' own juices or "light syrup" versions.

Older people who live alone may find "cooking for one" a bother.

Inviting friends and family to share a meal may create a more inviting, social, dining experience, Civitella said. One idea for older citizens may be gathering a few friends for a meal and asking each person to bring one favorite dish to share.

No "Miracle Foods"

There are no "miracle foods," she said.

"People may place emphasis on one food or one ingredient, but one food will not make everything better [with regard to personal health]," she said.

What may be helpful is healthy eating combined with other healthy lifestyle choices, Civitella said.

"You do have to think about overall life-style," she said. "Let's say someone is a smoker; that is not a healthy life-style. "

Vitamins may help but are not a substitute for healthy foods, she said.

"I look at multi-vitamins as that little bit of extra health insurance," she said. "I eat pretty healthy and I take a multi-vitamin."

Get Moving

Avoid viewing proper nutrition as an "all or nothing" venture, Civitella said.

"If you like drinking regular soda, have one every once in a while," she said. "And take a look at overall life-style. Take advantage of the activities in this area. We have the rail trail [Ashuwillticook Trail], we have hiking trails, we have Mount Greylock. We have skiing and ice-skating. I sometimes hear people say that there's nothing to do, but I have found lots to do. I think every season has something and people come here from other areas to do them. In the summer, we have the farmer's markets in the city and the towns, and people can buy fresh produce affordably. We do have outdoor activities that are free."

The free or low-cost regional resources that permit people to get out and get moving are enviable, Civitella said.

"There is a lot to do," she said. "And you don't have to have a gym membership."

Nutrition counseling is available at NARH and information can be acquired by calling 413-664-5267. Nutrition information may also be acquired at a www.nbhealth.org Internet web site "Ask the Dietician" interactive page.

Additional information about the MyPyramid nutrition program is available at a www.mypyramid.gov Internet web site.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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