Make every bite count. This is the call to action from the latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2020-25).
Catchy, and practical, this messaging is intended to encourage Americans to prioritize vitamin- and mineral-rich foods over less nutritious options. Not periodically, but every day. In other words, adopt a healthy eating pattern where 85% of your daily food choices are nutrient dense. Now, for the part you’d rather hear.
What about the remaining 15% of our diet? This is where you have about 300 calories a day for less healthy food/beverage options. To put this in perspective, 300 calories is one to two sugar-sweetened or alcoholic beverages, a medium order of french fries or one slice of cake. Yikes! I fear my holiday cheesecake and gingersnap cookies may have overextended my budget.
That’s what January is for, though, getting back on track. Or, perhaps, finding a healthier track than you were on before. Rarely is this an easy task.
Conveniently, the Dietary Guidelines have narrowed down three principles to help you achieve this goal: make food and beverages your primary sources of nutrients, eat a variety of foods and pay attention to portion sizes.
Honestly, this sounds like a win-win situation if you ask me. Even the worst cook can make a meal that tastes better than a pill or powder; variety is always the spice of life; and by paying attention to portion sizes, we can still make room for cheesecake and cookies. I know I will.
I wonder if there is a double meaning behind the slogan, “make every bite count”? That being, make it count nutritionally, but if it doesn’t, make it count emotionally. After all, the taste of food is arguably one of the greatest pleasures in life.
Therein lies the true value of paying attention to portion size. Portion control is an act of compromise between what we need and what we want.
Personal case in point. This week, I tested an Instant Pot cheesecake recipe to see if it would work. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it came out beautiful and tasted delicious.
As I began to plot my strategy for slicing into the dessert, my emotional brain insisted eight slices were appropriate. If it weren’t for the logical brain, I probably would have done just that. Begrudgingly, I agreed to pay attention to portion sizes, albeit, with a contingency. Cut the cake into twelfths, start with one slice and then reassess if I wanted more. In case you’re wondering, this seemingly crazy intrapersonal discussion is a normal part of making food choices. Listen closely, your own story can teach you a lot about habits.
Visually, the slice of cheesecake looked small. Secretly, I felt disappointed, even though I wasn’t hungry. I took that first bite and really tasted the cheesecake. You know you’ve tasted food when you can describe it in detail and explain what you like, or dislike, about it. I loved the light, creamy vanilla flavor, the crunch of the crust and the citrus from the bright red strawberries. (Remember principles one and two, add nutrients through food and variety.)
Long story short, one-twelfth of a slice was enough. Good thing, because that seemingly small slice ate up my entire 15% of less healthy food; and it was worth every bite. A satisfying finish to a day otherwise dedicated to more nutritious (and still delicious) choices. I think this is do-able!
Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at email@example.com or 382-6461.Nicole Clark