By Kellie Casavale, PhD, RD, Nutrition Advisor, ODPHP
The 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is filled with resources that professionals can use to help patients make healthier food choices and establish healthy eating patterns. Get started by reviewing For Professionals: Recommendations At-A-Glance (also available in Spanish). Then follow the tips below to help your patients get 2017 off to a healthy start!
- Meet your patients where they are. What are their routines, traditions, and cultural preferences? What’s their favorite thing to snack on or eat for dinner? Find out how to start a conversation about the things that influence their food choices. That way, you can help them understand healthy eating patterns and how to follow one that works for them. Celebrate successes, have empathy, and encourage your patients to keep trying.
- Help your patients shift to healthier choices. Guide them to think of small changes that will work for them over the long run. For example, shifting from whole milk to skim or low-fat milk in their breakfast cereal — or from soda with added sugars to water during lunch. The changes your patients make today and over time will add up to improve their health now and in the future.
- Explain the connection between sodium and blood pressure. Tell your patients it’s recommended to limit sodium intake. Adults should limit their sodium intake to less than 2,300 mg per day — and adults with prehypertension and hypertension may want to consider a 1,500 mg per day limit. Encourage your patients to use the Nutrition Facts label to find ways to limit sodium in their diet. Remind them that this can help lower their blood pressure — and ultimately, their risk of heart attack or stroke.
- Share strategies for cutting down on added sugars in snacks and meals. Help patients learn how to limit added sugars to support a healthy eating pattern without getting too many calories. When they want something sweet, encourage them to choose fruit instead of foods with added sugars, like cake or candy. Also let your patients know that, over the course of 2017, added sugars will start appearing on the Nutrition Facts label. Encourage them to use this information to choose foods with little or no added sugars.
- Help patients choose healthier fats to lower their risk of heart disease. Identify the saturated fats in your patients’ diets and explore ways to replace them with unsaturated fats. Encourage them to make heart-healthy choices — for example, they can replace some of the meat or poultry in their dishes with fish, nuts, beans, or other vegetables.
- Make physical activity part of the conversation. Along with following a healthy eating pattern, regular physical activity is one of the most important things your patients can do to improve their health. Encourage patients to follow the recommendations in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Adults need at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week — plus muscle-strengthening activities 2 days a week. Kids need 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
- Use visuals to explain key concepts from the Dietary Guidelines. Some concepts related to healthy eating may be new and difficult for patients to understand. The good news is that the Dietary Guidelines has free interactive visuals of foods and drinks that can help! Try sharing the graphics below with patients to help them understand important concepts about healthy eating.
- Cup- and Ounce-Equivalents can help patients get a better sense of how their portion choices relate to meeting their recommendations for the food groups.
- Hidden Components in Eating Patterns can help patients learn where to look for sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars in their food choices.
- Typical Versus Nutrient-Dense Foods and Beverages can show how to make choices packed with nutrients instead of extra calories, sodium, saturated fats, and added sugars.