Smart Plate

By Mary Beth Schwartz

With health concerns and obesity on the rise, increasing numbers of Americans are finding the importance of a healthy diet

You start your morning with a greasy breakfast sandwich and a calorie-laden designer coffee drink. Your supersized lunch-on-the-go includes a double cheeseburger, fries, shake, and oh, let’s add a chocolaty dessert. For dinner, you will have several courses talking with clients at an Italian  restaurant. It is no wonder that Americans are experiencing epidemic rates of obesity, and racking up a laundry list of health concerns.

“By 2020, half of Americans will have type 2 diabetes. Obesity and type 2 diabetes are a growing epidemic. In Pennsylvania alone, 24 percent of people are considered obese. With obesity, patients are at increased risk of prediabetes, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hip and knee problems,” says Patricia LaSalle, MS, RD, CDE, LDN, Medical Nutrition Therapy Coordinator, Lehigh Valley Health Network.

According to LaSalle, the Lifestyle Management Center at Lehigh Valley Hospital provides patients with diabetes education, individualized lifestyle programs, and even gastric bypass surgery. When LaSalle is working one-on-one with a patient, she stresses the importance of sticking to a food program when dining out. “Preplanning is always the best. Have a game plan before you go out to eat. If you are in the restaurant and smell the food, see people eating, you may not make the best food choices. is a helpful site to look up calorie and fat information for food types. It also is important to be aware of terms in ordering food. “Choose dishes that are baked, broiled, roasted, and steamed. Avoid crispy, breaded, creamy, fried, cheesy,” LaSalle says.

Here are some other helpful tips from LaSalle.

Find low-calorie, low-fat options. Chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef, pork tenderloin. Do not be afraid to ask how it is prepared.

Portion control is key. If you get a huge portion, have half boxed up ahead of time. You also can share your dinner with a friend. Or, simply order a smaller portion. Many fine dining restaurants serve smaller portions.

Consider your dining out meal in your total daily caloric intake. “Limit your carbohydrates. You need to look at the calories and fat as well. If you want pancakes, get the short stack. If you want a cheesesteak, only eat half. Stay away from buffets. You can get in real trouble. People feel compelled to eat more than one plateful,” LaSalle says.

Ask for sauces on the side. “A red sauce for pasta is better than a creamy parmesan or Alfredo sauce. Avoid gravies.”

Watch condiments. Opt for ketchup and mustard over mayo.

Take care when ordering a salad. “Avoid loading salads with heavy dressings and lots of fatty toppings. A lighter or low-fat dressing is best, lots of veggies, and some protein.”

Last but not least, drink. “I prefer my patients to drink water or water with lemon. Water is needed for body health. Do not waste calories on juices, iced tea, soda, lemonade. When having an alcoholic beverage with dinner, have a glass of wine or a light beer. Remember that fruity drinks are full of sugar and high in calories.”

For stops at convenience stores and coffee shops, consider some of LaSalle’s suggestions. “Many convenience stores and sandwich shops have prepackaged healthy options for customers. Fruit plates, a salad, cut up veggies, or a sandwich with whole wheat bread, turkey or chicken, lots of veggies, low-fat cheese, and light condiments,” LaSalle says. For a coffee shop, LaSalle advises to choose fruit cups, oatmeal, or a low-cal breakfast sandwich. Black coffee has no calories. It is all of the extras that are being put in. “Some of the specialty drinks can have hundreds of calories—they have a lot of fat and sugar.”

Whitney Butler, RD, LDN, Easton Hospital, offers outpatient counseling for diabetes, obesity, food allergies, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular disorders. “Obesity puts you not only at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease and hypertension, but asthma, cancer, depression, and increased cholesterol,” Butler says.

Easton Hospital offers the Create Your Weight program. It meets every week for three-month increments. “We offer healthy eating tips for both adults and adolescents ages seven through 12. The next session will start in January 2012,” Butler says. “When I do individualized counseling, I like to help patients make realistic lifestyle changes. It is not a one-diet-fits-all approach. Learning about healthy eating and applying it every day should be enjoyable, not torture.”

Butler has a few more suggestions to add to LaSalle’s helpful list:

Customize your order. Substitutions can easily be accommodated. For instance, if a dish is served with fries, ask for steamed veggies or a small garden salad. If ordering a hamburger, bulk it up with lots of veggies—tomato, lettuce, onion, green pepper.

If you want to go out for sushi, avoid tempura. Instead, stick with fish and brown rice.

If you just are running in for a smoothie, make sure it is made with fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt. Premade mixes are usually higher in sugar.

St. Luke’s Hospital & Health Network has the Heart Smart Program to help those who want to dine out healthy. St. Luke’s is working with area restaurants to design and offer heart smart meals. Restaurants in the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas have been provided with heart smart recipes, serving suggestions, and food substitutions. Special food offerings are available at 16 local fine dining establishments, such as Marblehead Chowder House, GIO Italian Grill, The Farmhouse Restaurant, Pearly Bakers Ale House, Prime Steak House, Sette Luna Tuscan Trattoria, and the Historic Weaversville Inn.

Another useful tool is the USDA’s MyPlate Website, It provides practical information to individuals, health professionals, nutrition educators, and the food industry to help consumers build healthier diets with resources and interactive tools for dietary assessment, nutrition education, and other user-friendly nutrition information. After a visit to the site, users will be better informed about how to balance calories, reduce sodium, and increase fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy.

Remember that your day of bad nutrition does not have to be repeated tomorrow. With the abovementioned resources, healthy eating habits are well within your reach.

SOURCES:; 610-402-CARE; 610-250-4000; 877-610-6161

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