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Eat Neat

A dietician shares her tips for healthy dining By Kelly Twedell

Carla Caccia spends a lot of time talking about food. As a dietician for Cape Fear Valley Health System’s Health-Plex, Caccia helps members get on track towards finding healthier choices that will work in their lifestyles.

But nutrition means more than just eating healthy food, Caccia said. She also educates. She plans two nutrition and health education events each month for both Health-Plex members and non-members. Past events have included recipe demonstrations, grocery store tours or just workshops.

One of the many skills that Caccia helps others to develop, and a technique she uses in her counseling, is called ‘mindful eating’. This includes noting when you are full during a meal and determining when you want food because of true physical hunger or if the craving is due to what she calls “head hunger.”

“Sometimes we are not hungry but we want something warm or crunchy,” Caccia said.

She explained that mindful eating is about evaluating your habits and working towards your personal goals and choices. Triggers that occur with eating can be environmental, emotional or based on past habits.

Many of Caccia’s clients bypass cravings and bad habits by using smartphone apps. One popular one that tracks a host of information each day is called My Fitness Pal, though Caccia is quick to say that she does not endorse any particular fitness or nutrition app.

“I don’t recommend reliance on external cues, but counting and numbers can bring awareness in the beginning of the process,” Caccia said. In some cases, she explained, that counting and tracking numbers might not be helpful if food and eating is tied to a negative emotion and causes you to beat yourself up if you indulged over your given caloric value intake that day.

Furthermore, what works for one sex might not work for another, she said. Men and women are talk differently about food and feelings. Research has shown that women are likely underestimate their food intake by 30 percent, even when tracking their consumption in a food journal or on an app because of the guilt or shame they feel about overeating. The different approaches men and women have toward nutrition can make getting healthy difficult when someone who is trying to get healthy is part of a couple.

“I’ve seen when in a relationship, one person is more on board to make healthier changes than the other person and that can be tricky,” said Caccia. “One person is more open to trying different foods, or one person is more willing to spend the time grocery shopping and cooking whereas the other person is relying on eating out.”

Fast Food Culture

Caccia stresses that it’s important for people to be aware of what they eat. She recommends that clients get familiar with the ingredient lists and calorie counts many restaurants now post on their web sites, but she warns that it is like going down a rabbit hole and it can make you crazy if you let it. She reverted back to the Public Health message: balance, moderation and variety.

“Eating out is a way of life for most people,” said Caccia. “Some have gotten in the habit of eating out or are not aware of the sodium, added sugars and unhealthy fats in restaurant food.”

The dietary guidelines prescribed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for Americans over the age of two is a good starting point, Caccia said. “Every time you are eating: do a quick visual check, is half of what you are eating fruits and vegetables?” asked Caccia.

Sharing about organic foods, Caccia thinks organics are great, but also stressed that not all foods that claim to be organic truly meet the meaning of the word. “I encourage parents to be educated,” she said. “There is also no direct evidence that consuming an organic diet leads to improved health,” she said. “If you can find organic foods that fit into your budget, then pursue that option — especially if you have children who are undergoing rapid stages of development or are a woman of child-bearing age.”

What’s it All Mean?

You’ve decided to eat organic. Now to figure out what that means...

“Organic” foods are grown without artificial pesticides, fertilizers or herbicides. Organic meat, eggs and dairy products are obtained from animals that are fed natural feed and not given hormones or antibiotics.

“Made with organic ingredients” means the products have at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

“Natural” or “All-natural” foods are free of synthetic or artificial ingredients or additives.Natural is not the same as organic. “Natural” is not regulated at all. High fructose corn syrup, one of the most highly processed and controversial foods, is often used in products labeled “natural” because it is derived from corn.

Anti-biotic-free protein. Chicken, turkey, pork and lamb are produced without the routine use of antibiotics as a feed additive; cattle are not injected with antibiotics. Cage-free eggs are laid by hens that are not kept in battery cages. Cage-Free is not the same as USDA Certified Organic eggs or “Free Range” eggs, which are inspected.

Free range refers to poultry that has access to a barnyard, as opposed to chickens who spend their lives caged. According to U.S.D.A. regulations, the birds must have access to the outdoors throughout their lives, whether they choose to go out or not.

Fair Trade Certified means the farmers were paid a fair price for their product — at least 5 cents more than their cost per pound, and are able to earn earn 3 to 5 times more than conventional farmers.

Green refers to products made from materials that are recycled, renewable or otherwise environmentally-friendly.

GMO, or genetically modified organism, is one whose genetic material has been deliberately altered. Many people consider GMOs to be harmful.

The Dirty Dozen

Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases a Shopper’s Guide. The top 12 fruits and vegetables— the produce found to contain the highest amount of pesticides — are called the Dirty Dozen. These are the 12 foods that they recommend consumers always purchase in their organic form. So if your budget is tight, here’s where you’ll get the most for your organic spending buck:

1. Apples 2. Celery 3. Sweet bell peppers 4. Peaches 5. Strawberries 6. Nectarines 7. Grapes 8. Spinach 9. Lettuce 10. Cucumbers 11. Blueberries 12. Potatoes