Spotlight on Nutrition

We’ve all been there. Pressed for time, we roll into the drive-through or reach for packaged snack foods to tide us over until meal time. Marketers are constantly looking for new ways to take advantage of exhausted, distracted consumers, which results in an estimated twenty thousand new foods on United States grocery store shelves each year. Ironically, though, we’re fat but we’re not full; we eat and eat, yet somehow we’re still hungry.

“Many of us, due to cost or convenience, aren’t eating food, we’re eating food-like products,” says Toni Sterry, registered dietitian at Dean Clinic. “Probably ninety percent of what we’re consuming is not even a natural food. It’s been altered, somehow, some way, to represent something real.”

These products are packed with preservatives and artificial ingredients the body doesn’t recognize or know how to digest. Even seemingly “healthy” items like protein bars just leave us hungry because the body still craves the nutritional value of raw, natural foods, such as an apple slathered with natural peanut butter, or carrots dipped in hummus.

“So many people come to us frustrated saying, ‘I’ve tried dieting, it just doesn’t work,’” says Sterry. “We have to change their mindset to nutrition, not calories.”

That’s just what Sterry and her colleagues do with their weight management programs, designed to lead patients in developing their own customized plans based on education, lifestyle, physical and emotional well-being. Most popular is the twelve-week, psychologist-led LEARN program covering everything from nutrition and exercise to attitudes and relationships. Even Dean Clinic’s three different bariatric surgery options require a minimum six-month commitment of a weight management program first. Sterry says they regularly hold free general informational sessions outlining the programs and offer free monthly support groups for patients.

“We all know what to eat,” says Sterry. “But we have to figure out how to incorporate what we know.”

More than exercise

Nutrition and a holistic approach to health play a fundamental role at the YMCA of Dane County, where members can take advantage of free wellness coaching, work with personal trainers, or choose from dozens of specialized group classes such as Moving Meditation and Yoga for Bigger Bodies. Members can also meet one-on-one with a registered dietitian.

“The YMCA has been in the health and well-being business in Dane County for over one hundred twenty-five years,” says Sharon Baldwin, senior marketing and healthy living director. “We have always focused on maintaining healthy lifestyles and we have a long history of really good, solid nutritional counseling.”

In 2012 alone, approximately 53,300 people across twenty-four Dane County communities took advantage of the YMCA’s wellness programming. The YMCA’s offerings range from its signature program Press Play, in which older adults reconnect with sporting passions from their younger days, to the Y5210 Youth Zone for kids.

Y5210 stands for five servings of fruits and vegetables every day, two hours or less of “screen time,” one hour of physical activity and zero sugar or sweetened drinks. Sugary drinks, which are linked to twenty-five thousand U.S. deaths each year, are nowhere to be found in YMCA vending machines. This includes popular energy drinks and juice. The YMCA has also implemented Y5210 in seven Dane County schools.

“Being healthy means more than simply being physically active,” says Baldwin. “It’s about maintaining a balanced spirit, mind and body.”

Aging and Nutrition

Nutrition is a key component of optimal health for all ages, but it’s critical in the older population. Seniors who live on their own are particularly at risk; according to the Nutrition Screening Initiative, eighty-five percent of adults seventy years of age and older who are not in some kind of assisted living have one or more chronic conditions that could improve with proper nutrition. Up to half have clinically identifiable problems that require nutrition intervention.

“One of the most important things we offer here is a balanced diet,” says Carla Durst, RN Administrator at All Saints Assisted Living on Madison’s west side. “Diet impacts how their medications work. It impacts their alertness and cognitive function as well as energy and mood. It’s essential fuel for body and mind.”

The menu at All Saints is planned around sound nutritional principles and includes low-sodium options and seasonal and fresh produce. From there, the needs of individual residents are addressed, such as requirements for diets specific to renal failure or gastrointestinal issues, gluten sensitivity or lactose intolerance. The social component of eating plays just as important a health role as its nutritive makeup does, so meals are served in the dining room. This gives residents the opportunity to meet new friends and even invite family to dine with them. Food is also incorporated into the social calendar with regular outings to restaurants and group trips to the grocery store.

“These are wonderful ways to keep residents connected to the community and living active, engaged lives,” says Durst. “That’s just as essential to health as the food they eat.”

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