Teaching our employees to make healthy food choices

By Kat Rondeau, RD, ID

Health Promotions Coordinator

Sherman Health Systems

Elgin, IL

(Editor's Note: In February, Employee Health & Fitness advisory board member Lewis Schiffman wrote a guest editorial warning against the dangers of certain foods. In this issue, dietitian Kat Rondeau offers her common sense response.)

As a registered dietitian and health promotion professional, I realize that a healthy foundation starts with what is on my plate. However, this could be achieved whether I choose brown rice and vegetables or a grilled hamburger with french fries.

It is almost impossible to read anything these days without another article on nutrition and health jumping off the page or the screen. In the quest to find a "miracle formula" for healthful eating, it seems we end up with a steady stream of headlines that contradict what we heard or read last week.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) urges consumers to take a common sense approach to reports, advice, books, and products. Nutrition is a science that evolves slowly, and as health promotion professionals, we must continue to encourage people to be cautious of claims that sound too good to be true; reports that ignore individual or group differences; and headlines that promote foods as either "good" or "bad" for health.

Scientific research reports may be contradicting themselves on the complex interrelationship of nutrition, health, and chronic disease. As health promotion professionals, we must use caution and common sense while digesting nutrition and health information to avoid drawing conclusions or recommending changes in eating habits based on one or two studies.

A healthy lifestyle is the cornerstone to looking good, feeling great, and being the best we can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for the majority of adults (excluding those who smoke and drink excessively), what they eat is the most significant controllable risk factor affecting their long-term health. But according to the ADA's 1997 Nutrition Trends Survey, 79% of Americans believe their nutrition impacts their health, yet only 39% attempt healthy eating habits daily.

As health promotion professionals, it is imperative that we empower employees to be proactive in their eating habits and to help them take control of their nutrition future. The theme for the ADA's National Nutrition Month in March is "Make Nutrition Come Alive - It's All About You." What better way to promote healthy eating habits than by promoting a personalized approach to nutrition? (See survey to help employees rate their eating habits, inserted in this issue.)

Today's dietary guidelines help lay the foundation for success, but making daily food choices that fit one's lifestyle is up to the individual.

In our journey as health promotion professionals, the following key messages are recommended by the ADA and should be used as we challenge our employees to build a foundation for healthy eating:

· Be adaptable. Realize that all foods fit in a healthy eating plan; be wary of any nutrition plan that eliminates one or more of the food groups.

· Be practical. Start with small steps.

· Be reasonable. Moderation, moderation, moderation! Control portion sizes rather than eliminating certain foods.

· Be adventurous. Variety is the spice of life. Explore new foods.

· Be energetic. Find a variety of physical activities that are enjoyable.

· Take charge. Aim to increase your fruit and vegetable intake to five servings a day.

Remember: Everything fits into a healthy diet. It is up to each and every one of us to teach our employees how to make their choices.

[Editor's Note: Kat Rondeau can be reached at: Telephone: (847) 429-6175. Fax: (847) 429-6139. E-mail: ckrondeau@aol.com.]