Like Deseret News reader George Thornton, you may be tired of hearing about good nutrition. Thornton's definition of healthy eating habits takes just seven words: "If you like it, don't eat it!"

But for many people it's not that simple. Americans are notorious eaters: a snack, a nibble, then a snitch - all to compensate for a skipped meal. Then we tend to load up on dinner and munch through the television hours.We can't buy the notion that nutritious food is tasty, no matter how hard the sell.

But there is a growing segment of the population that exercises throughout the week, then carefully selects meals from complex carbohydrates, fresh fruits and vegetables, and a bit of protein.

Still another group of people, those limited by health problems, requires special dietary regimes.

During March, National Nutrition Month, the American Dietetic Association is asking Americans to consider daily food choices. Regardless of present dietary patterns, we can make healthier food decisions.

According to Darlene Dougherty, president of the ADA, "Improved nutrition education is the key to helping consumers learn to make positive food choices. By integrating simple changes in the daily diet, Americans influence their future health."

Medical research, including the recent U.S. surgeon general's "Report on Nutrition and Health," considers dietary habits in prevention and management of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure and stroke.

"If you are among the two out of three Americans who do not smoke or drink excessively, your choice of diet can influence your long-term health prospects more than any other action you might take," said Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

Sounds like a very positive statement about good nutrition!

You have the choice. Making the choice to regularly eat healthy foods may result in a different taste, flavor or recipe, but your body will respond differently, too. You will have more energy, both physically and psychologically.

Begin your new eating patterns today, but first consider the advice of the American Dietetics Association. Rather than change too many things in your diet at once and risk rebellion, alter your diet bit by bit: "If you make one important change a week, you will have accomplished 52 new things a year."

A positive change can be as simple as switching from white bread, with almost one gram of dietary fiber, to whole wheat bread with four times the fiber per slice.

Once you decide to increase the fiber in your diet, choose a variety of types, as they have different functions. Fiber is classifed generally as soluble or insoluble. Wheat bran is a type of insoluble fiber, along with whole grain corn, rye, vegetables and some fruits, which increase bulk and help promote normal bowel function.

Soluble fibers - found in oat bran, legumes like kidney beans, barley and some fruits - are now heavily promoted for their effect on lowering blood cholesterol and stabilizing blood sugar. "one-third cup of legumes or oat bran eaten five times a week or more is a good choice to help lower cholesterol and stabilize the blood sugar," Dougherty said.

The recommended daily fiber allowance for adults is 20 to 35 grams per day. On a 2000 calorie diet, that would be one or two grams of fiber per 100 calories.

The ADA president cautions consumers to carefully read nutrition labels: "Many of the foods we eat have no dietary fiber at all - milk, meat, eggs, fats, oil, sugars, sweeteners; and many processed foods, such as frozen dinners, potato chips and crackers, have a low fiber content. A cereal with four or more grams of fiber, therefore, could help make up for the deficit in other foods. In fact, some studies have shown that people who eat cereal for breakfast compared to no breakfast or other types of breakfast have a better daily nutrient intake in terms of more vitamins, mineral and fiber and less fat and cholesterol."

Dougherty further suggests starting "with whatever is easiest for you to do and give yourself plenty of time."

Controlled choices are easier at home, but there's no escape from the American "eating out" lifestyle. Eating out doesn't have to do your diet in, if you make careful choices.

Dougherty suggests, for example, a "fork-dip-stab" method of using restaurantsauces and dressings. "Order your dressing on the side, then dip your fork into the dressing and stab the food. You get flavor in every bite and considerably less calories."

Another eating-out problem is the "clean plate syndrome."

"Many Americans have been taught to clean their plates - not to waste food. Ironically, the food often still goes to w-a-i-s-t, due to eating unnecessary calories," Dougherty said. He also recommends the doggie bag strategy of putting the napkin over your remaining food. This will keep you from munching and will signal the waiter that you are finished.

Finish up National Nutrition Month with a new commitment to healthy eating. You may be surprised to discover you can eat nutritiously and like it!

Note: Thanks to Lorraine Liston and Lisa Freeman, dietitians at St. Mark's Hospital, for their assistance in preparing this story.


For healthier eating away from home...

Healthy eating habits may be a little harder to practice when you eat out, since you have less control over food preparations, but there are things you can do to make the most of meals away from home.

- Split an entree and share the calories.

- Forget the clean-plate club. Don't worry about eating every crumb.

- Use the fork-dip-stab method for dressings amd sauces. Order dressings on the side.

- Put your napkin over your plate when you are finished to remove the temptation to keep nibbling.

- Ask how food is prepared.

- Request bread served with the meal rather than before.

- Remove skin from poultry.

- Substitute fruit or salad for french fries.

- Replace sour cream with cottage cheese or yogurt.

- Don't add butter to vegetables.

- Consider your own "restaurant survival kit" - include a low calorie dressing, sodium-free seasoning and low calorie butter substitute.

- In a buffet, fill up on fresh produce and vegetables, then go back for the entree.

- Serve yourself half portions. Industrial-sized untensils can easily yield a mountain of food!

- Remember, the goal is not to get more than your money's worth.