One of the more complex things about working with people who have challenging, chronic health conditions is putting together a cohesive plan they can execute and integrate into daily life.
It's not easy, in part, because Americans have been widely conditioned to accept that health can be reestablished with a prescription, and voila, things will get better. After taking dozens of prescription drugs to no avail — often the case, unfortunately — many people are motivated to try other approaches.
The nutrition prescription is a big step, but most people soon grasp that it's grounded in common sense. I generally put together plans that integrate significant dietary change and several supplements that can quickly boost the person over his or her most urgent health hurdles, along with suggestions for exercise and other lifestyle adjustments that will help over the long haul.
First steps may be baby steps. Give up the soda, juice and sugary energy drinks. They lead to obesity and set the stage for chronic diseases, including diabetes and cancer. Soda has zero nutritional value and a huge caloric cost. Diet drinks, though mostly calorie-free, also may contribute to weight gain, and artificial sweeteners may pose long-term risks.
Money spent on juice can be better spent on whole fruits that support blood-sugar balance and maintain healthy digestion. Whole veggies and fruits reduce the risk of diabetes and colorectal disease because they contain fiber and other nutrients.
Learn how to choose grain-based foods wisely, and vary them. Many of us spend our lives eating basic, staple grains such as wheat and corn. Aside from the fact that many people have developed intolerances to gluten in wheat, rye and other grains, there are many valuable, carbohydrate-rich foods from which to select.
I steer people toward buckwheat, a grainlike food unrelated to wheat that's great with sauteed vegetables and in soup. I also recommend quinoa and wild rice.
Emphasize whole grains, saving bread — especially white bread — for special occasions and visits to restaurants or gatherings. Just because bread is beige or brown doesn't mean it's truly whole-grain. Read the label and look at the quantity of fiber relative to sugar. Better yet, get to know a local baker.
There are countless other healthful, starchy foods that are rich in fiber and plant-based nutrients. Toss chopped root veggies such as beets, turnips, parsnips and yams with some olive oil, salt and herbs, then roast them. Then, try others such as celeriac, rutabaga, fennel and daikon radishes.
Be mindful of portion sizes. Many people actually have no idea of a sensible portion size. We've seen so many super-sized advertisements that our perception of size is skewed.
Snack on healthful foods and save desserts for weekends or special nights. Or make a simple, delicious dessert such as homemade applesauce with the skins on and some cinnamon.
What was that about an apple a day?
Michael Altman is a nutritionist at Ventana Wellness and teaches at Southern Oregon University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.