Thursday, November 1, 2012

Fooled by Food: Strategies for Healthy Eating in a Country of Food Confusion

In a culture where a cheeseburger is cheaper than an apple, sometimes it is not easy deciphering what to eat, how much to eat, or even where to eat. Our nation is confused and overwhelmed with food. Unfortunately, the food industry’s misleading marketing has led to misinformed consumers, resulting in an astronomical prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. These diseases have crept into our children, escalated health-care costs, and done a number on our aging bodies. With all of this confusion, the popular answer is to turn to the Internet, where we inevitably get more confused and deceived by self-proclaimed “experts”. Well, fear no more! Below are five simple (evidence-based) tips to navigate you through the confusion of fast food and restaurants. And the next time you are seeking advice about nutrition, pursue reliable information from a Registered Dietitian or credible health website, such as,, or Use these sources to become an educated consumer and role model to children. Be skeptical of advertisements and media persuasion until you do your own research!

1. Know the Facts: Plan ahead! Look at restaurant’s online nutrition facts and make a selection before you go to the restaurant. This way you won’t feel rushed at the restaurant or temped to get the 30oz steak a waiter just walked past your table. Prepare for long car trips and bring snacks to keep you and your family satisfied. Choose fruits, vegetables, low-fat string cheese, unsalted nuts, and granola bars.

2. Portion Distortion: Restaurants typically provide far more food than your body needs for one meal. Put half your meal in a box right away, split a meal with someone, or select a smaller, kid-sized portion.

3. Think your Drink: With huge cups and free refills, it is easy to drink extra calories without even thinking about it. Stick to water, unsweetened iced tea, or low-fat milk. Add lemon or lime for extra flavor! Avoid diet drinks, because they can increase hunger and cravings, making you eat more.

4. Pick your Indulgence: Only choose one indulgence, whether that is fries, dessert, or a cocktail. Pick only one guilty pleasure so you don’t go overboard with calories, fat, or sodium.

5. Little Changes Make a Big Difference: Only a small amount of additional calories every day can cause weight gain! Fortunately, little positive changes can really add up for your benefit! Start your meal with a veggie packed salad; Skip the croutons and cheese. Ask for dressing, sauces, butter, gravy, and condiments on the side. Choose whole-wheat bread or pasta. Try fruit and low-fat yogurt for dessert. Ask for steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes. Opt for low-sodium options. When ordering Chinese food, ask for brown rice, extra veggies, and sauces on the side. Top pizza with vegetables.

By: Cierra Neiswender, Penn State Dietetic Intern

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