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Secrets from a Dietitian for Nutrition Month

Joy Weisner, RN/LDN, of Oxford, NC; Sobieta Jordan-King, RD, of Macon, NC; Jennifer Ferguson, RD, of Southside Virginia.

Joy Weisner, RN/LDN, of Oxford, NC; Sobieta Jordan-King, RD, of Macon, NC; Jennifer Ferguson, RD, of Southside Virginia.



What’s the best diet trend: fasting, keto, or Mediterranean? What’s the easiest way to lose weight: limiting calories or increasing exercise? What are some tips for healthy grocery shopping and eating out? Jennifer Ferguson, RD, is the Clinical Nutrition Manager at VCU Health Community Memorial Hospital (VCU Health CMH) and she shares her secrets from 28 years of experience in the dietetics field.

My Plate LogoMost folks remember the old food guide pyramid with the high carbohydrate foods at the bottom making you think it was ok to eat a lot of carbs. The USDA improved the education visuals to “My Plate” to simplify the message and focus the starches to plant-based diets. “Half the plate should be fruits and vegetables and the other half whole grains and protein. Instead of looking at the whole day, you look at each meal and plan accordingly with appropriate portion size,” explains Jennifer. Meat should only be the size of your palm. You only need a handful of nuts. Eat everything in moderation.

When it comes to dieting trends, there are some misconceptions. Intermittent fasting can have benefits but the research is still lacking. Jennifer said, “If you skip meals, you are more likely to overeat due to being extremely hungry; also it doesn’t allow you to get the nutrients you need and any changes in your schedule can adversely affect your plan.” Balance and consistency are the keys to a healthy lifestyle to be effective. The Keto diet is good in that it pushes vegetables but often the portions of meat are too high. “Any diet that keeps you from eating certain foods puts you in a position to not get the nutrients you need,” said Jennifer. “The best option is the Mediterranean diet because it is more plant-based with vegetables, fruits, beans and whole grains.”

Speaking of calories, to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you consume. “While exercise may seem daunting, it doesn’t mean you have to belong to a gym,” Jennifer added. “Walking around your neighborhood counts. We have so many options in this area for hiking and biking. There’s the Rails to Trails from La Crosse to Brodnax and the High Bridge State Park in Farmville. You can exercise in a safe environment at no cost.”

Another misconception is fat-free. Just because something doesn’t have fat, it still has calories that could cause you to gain weight. Your body converts that energy and stores it as fat.

When counting calories or sodium it is important to read labels carefully due to serving size. Jennifer explained, “A normal sodium diet contains 3,000 mg sodium per day. A low-sodium diet should only have 2,000 mg of sodium, also known as a 2 g sodium diet, which is confusing for us westerners not used to the metric system.” There are many apps available to help you keep track of your intake and progress, some have a cost and others are free. Most smart phones come with a health app. Some medical insurance plans have an app that comes with a coach, menus, recipes and a blog; check your policy for details.

In most grocery stores, the best plan is to stick to the perimeter and fill your cart with fresh fruits and vegetables. The items in the middle aisles are processed. Fresh is best but frozen (as long as it’s not the seasoned, creamed version) and canned are good too (make sure you choose low sodium or no added salt).

Most people eat moderate portions at home unless the meal is served family style. Restaurants often serve double size portions because they want people to feel like they are getting good value for their money. Combat that by asking for a to-go box at the beginning of the meal and separating it into two equal portions.

VCU Health CMH Dietitians see outpatients weekly. If you have a medical condition and could use nutrition counseling, ask your primary care physician to send a referral for a nutrition consult and you’ll get a private session to have all your questions answered. Jennifer explained, “For inpatients, educational consultations are limited because there are usually so many other things on a patient’s mind when they are hospitalized. They usually get take-home education and are told to follow up with their physician to get an order to come back for nutrition counseling when they can be more focused on their health.”

For an appointment with a primary care physician at CMH Family Care Center, call (434) 584-2273.