Healthy eating on a budget

Stephanie Jenkins (left) and Emily Thompson are dieticians at Kodiak Area Native Association. 

While buying healthy food on an island like Kodiak is often more expensive than in other places, two locally based experts offered simple advice for living a healthy lifestyle without breaking the bank. 

“Get vegetables on the plate,” whether they be fresh (in season for cheaper prices), frozen or canned, said Stephanie Jenkins, a dietician at the Kodiak Area Native Association. She works with KANA’s Woman, Infants and Children Program that provides nutrition assistance to families. 

Frozen vegetables, which are sometimes cheaper than fresh vegetables, are cut at peak season and therefore often have a similar level of nutrients as fresh vegetables. 

However, people should avoid frozen vegetables that contain added sauce, extra sodium, sugar or fat, Jenkins said.  

Another way to shop on a budget is to buy canned fruits and vegetables. Although they sometimes are lower in nutrients than their frozen or fresh counterparts, having vegetables in any form is better than nothing, Jenkins said. 

“If this is what you can afford and have access to, that’s great,” she said.  

When buying canned fruit or vegetables, Jenkins urges people to avoid products that contain syrup and added sugar. 

Emily Thompson, KANA’s dietetics intern, said she uses an online tool called MyPlate to help break down healthy portions of each kind of nutrient at each meal. 

With MyPlate, the United States Department of Agriculture recommends that half of a plate should consist of fruits and vegetables, while one-fourth of the meal should consist of grains and one-fourth protein, followed by a dairy source, Thompson said. 

While having a colorful diet with a range of fruits and vegetables is important to living a healthy lifestyle, developing a positive relationship with food is just as important, said Jenkins. 

A healthy relationship with food is one in which people eat to fuel their body, not to fill a void or to satisfy boredom, she said, adding that obsessing over every calorie can also be unhealthy. 

“Our bodies are happiest when we are eating several small meals and snacks throughout the day and are getting a mix of fats and carbs.”

The food culture in the U.S. revolves around diets, Thompson said, noting that not everyone should be on a diet. 

“It can actually be detrimental to certain populations to be on low carbs and low fat,” such as diabetics who need to eat consistently throughout the day and watch their glycemic index, Thompson said. 

According to Jenkins and Thompson, people often quit their diets if there are too many restrictions. 

“Is this going to be a long-standing thing? Are you going to be able to continue with the meal plans? If the answer is no, maybe it’s not the best thing for you,” Jenkins said. 

People also often quit their diets and lifestyle changes because they set their expectations too high, make unrealistic goals or are too hard on themselves afterward. 

 “People might have one bad day when they don’t exercise or they overeat, then they kind of just throw the towel in,” Thompson said. “This is a lifestyle change. We are all going to have bad days, we are not always going to be perfect, but … over time things will get easier.” 

Jenkins said people should not expect to lose weight in just a couple weeks after implementing the changes. People often want results for little effort. 

“We want immediate gratification,” she said. “When it comes time to change … we want a magic pill,” Jenkins said. “Lifestyle changes need to be forever.” 

Like diets, some health food trends are not for everyone. 

One popular trend is gluten-free food. According to Jenkins, some people need to avoid gluten for health reasons, but for the general population eating gluten-free foods could be counterproductive to losing weight. 

“A lot of gluten-free products tend to be higher in fat and higher in sugar because (food companies) are looking to replace that yummy taste of gluten,” Jenkins said. Gluten-free “doesn’t always mean lower in calories.”

Thompson advises people to incorporate 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity activity into their lives in addition to eating enough nutrients.

“A little huffing and puffing is okay,” Thompson said. “Our bodies were made to move and work hard sometimes.”

According to Thompson, excess weight can often indicate underlying conditions. When patients are suffering from obesity, diabetes or other medical conditions, excess weight is often a symptom of a larger problem. 

“A  lot of what we are doing is getting to the root of why this person is overeating, why they have an unhealthy relationship with food,” she said, adding that stress, hectic schedules and not taking time to take care of oneself often affect a person’s relationship with food. 

Because not all health professionals are dieticians — the latter have to take rigorous science classes, and typically have a master’s degree as well as a certain amount of intern experience — Jenkins advises people to seek out a licensed dietician rather than someone who is merely knowledgeable about nutrition. 

She recommends that if people are looking to meet with a dietician, they should first talk to their health care provider who will put in a referral to a dietician in town.

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