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Small Changes in Your Food Choices Can Make a Big Difference

Small Changes in Your Food Choices Can Make a Big Difference

Washington Hospital Dietitian Offers Tips for Healthier Eating

You are what you eat. You’ve probably heard that before. The truth is what we eat can have a significant impact on our health. But changing the way we eat can be difficult because food is a source of comfort and pleasure for many people.

“Eating a healthy diet can reduce our chances of chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and some types of cancer,” said Nachal Bhangal, MS, RD, CNSC, a registered dietitian at Washington Hospital. “Sugar, salt and saturated fat are some of the biggest culprits. But change can be hard, especially when it comes to food. It’s important to keep it simple and focus on making small changes that can make a big difference over time.”

For example, reducing the amount of sugary beverages you consume such as sweetened tea and coffee drinks, soda and juice can make a big difference. “If you drink a lot of those beverages, switching over to water or sparkling water can significantly cut the amount of sugar and calories you consume in a day, which adds up over time,” Bhangal noted. “Sugar is very addictive because it gives you a good feeling, but it doesn’t last. It can create a cycle of ups and downs that can affect your mood and actually cause you to eat more.”

She encourages people to read food labels so they know how much added sugar, salt and saturated fat they are consuming. “Some things may not taste salty, but when you read the label you might be surprised at how much sodium there is,” Bhangal added.

Processed foods and fast food items tend to be higher in added sugar, salt and saturated fat. Cutting back on the number of times you eat at fast food restaurants can make a big difference, according to Bhangal. When you do eat out at a restaurant, she suggested going online and checking the nutrition information so you can make a more informed choice.

“People have busy lives, and they don’t always have time to shop and cook,” Bhangal said. “Try to start with some basic meal planning so you can avoid the pitfall of grabbing a takeout meal or going to the grocery store and trying to wing it. When you go to the store with a list, it really helps you avoid impulse buys.”

What’s on Your Plate?

When thinking about meal planning, Bhangal encourages people to use the plate method. That means half the plate should be filled with fruits and vegetables (don’t count potatoes because they are too starchy), one quarter with whole grains, and one quarter with lean protein.

“An easy way to ensure that you’re eating a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients is to eat a colorful range of fruits and vegetables,” she added. “Different colors provide different nutrients. For example, red and orange vegetables are high in vitamin A.”

Whole grains could be brown rice, whole grain pasta, quinoa or a whole wheat roll, for example. Lean protein might include fish, chicken breast, turkey, whole beans, lentils or tofu.

“Lentils are a great source of protein, carbohydrates and fiber,” Bhangal said. “There are a lot of vegetarians in the Tri-City Area, so it’s important to have non-meat protein options, and lentils are a good one.”

She said moving to a healthier plate may take time for some people, but you can start by making incremental changes such as switching to brown rice or leaner cuts of meat.

“An easy change you can make right away is to stop eating before you feel full,” Bhangal suggested. “You should feel satisfied, but not uncomfortably full. Eating slower can also help you keep from overeating, because often people are full before they realize it.”

While change can be difficult, making small but healthier choices over time can improve your diet and your health, and you may even lose weight.

“I really don’t want people counting calories or measuring food,” she added. “It’s really about eating healthy and moving your body.”

For information about nutrition services offered at Washington Hospital, visit