Clean Your Plate

Despite a growing focus on nutrition, we seem to be more clueless than ever on what foods can actually provide a balanced diet. So how can we make sure we’re eating healthy and still getting the nutrients our bodies need to operate at their full potential?

“It’s a pretty intriguing question because needs vary quite a bit and have a lot to do with what kind of a lifestyle people lead and what kind of dietary intake they have,” says Dr. Mitch Dunnick of Family Medical Care, which is affiliated with St. John Health System.

“We’re finding out a lot about vitamin D. Studies and research show that people who don’t get outside a lot are seeing vitamin D deficiency, and it’s becoming more common.”

Fran Olsen Sharp, a dietitian at Peggy and Charles Stephenson Oklahoma Cancer Center, recommends introducing vitamin D-fortified foods as a way to increase the consumption of the nutrient.

“Things like vitamin D-enriched milk can really help boost those levels,” she says.

Olsen Sharp also recommends working toward adding fiber to the daily diet to increase our overall nutrient intake.

“Most people need 25 to 30 grams of fiber a day from food sources,” she says. “Once we increase the foods that are naturally high in fiber in our diet, we automatically increase the amount of vitamins and minerals.”

She says small changes, such as eating brown rice instead of white rice and consuming the skins of vegetables such as potatoes and cucumbers, can make a large difference in the amount of fiber taken in daily.

“When we eat whole grains like barley, quinoa and farrow; cornmeal rather than plain old flour; beans and nuts; and fruits and veggies with seeds in and skin on, all of a sudden we have great fiber sources.”

Iron deficiency is often found in women of all ages.

“Women in their teens and older, because of natural hormone and menstrual cycles, are deficient in iron, which results in anemia,” Dunnick says.

Introducing more lean red meat and vegetables rich in iron, such as spinach, is a natural way to increase iron in the diet.

Both Dunnick and Olsen Sharp agree that eating a diet that contains a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole grains is a great way to increase intake of vitamins and nutrients, but that sometimes a multivitamin or other supplement is appropriate.

“You should get vitamin levels checked by a doctor before beginning a multivitamin or supplement,” advises Dunnick. “These levels are measurable. You can also get a bone scan to see if there’s any osteoporosis, which would indicate low calcium intake. We encourage people to look at their parents, siblings and grandparents to see what health issues they have, because they may be at risk for some of the same types of disorders.”

“Which is more fun: to take a supplement, or to eat food?” asks Olsen Sharp. “I love to eat and would much rather eat a diet that helps me gain those nutrients than to swallow a pill.”