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Whole health, whole you: a health series

National Nutrition Month reminds people how to ‘go further with food’

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News | Mar 01, 2018

*Editor’s note: This is the third in a four-part series that takes a look at a person’s health from head to toe and discusses how one aspect of an individuals health can have lasting affects in other areas.

March 1 kicks off National Nutrition Month, with a focus this year on how people can go further with food.

In the midst of cold and flu season, dietitians at Henry County Health Center (HCHC) believe that one way people can go further with food is by seeking out food and drinks that will boost their immune system.

As a dietetic intern at HCHC and a student at Iowa Wesleyan University, Joselyn Zerrusen is focusing this month on educating people to put aside the energy drinks and trade it for water or orange juice for an extra boost of vitamin C.

“Energy drinks and coffee are just caffeine, not much else,” Zerrusen said. Although coffee isn’t in and of itself bad to drink, Zerrusen said it’s the amount of caffeine people consume and the additives like sugar and creamer that give water an edge when it comes to people’s health.

“I don’t know a lot of people who like just black coffee,” Zerrusen said.

For the souls who do drink their coffee black, HCHC dietitian Elise Klopfenstein said that coffee beans do contain antioxidants, which decrease free radicals in the body. Klopfenstein explained that if free radicals are left to build up in the body, they can start a chain reaction, grouping together to produce cancer cells.

That doesn’t mean people should just drink coffee instead of water. The health benefits in coffee stop at about two cups a day. “That’s not a lot of milligrams of caffeine,” Klopfenstein said.

Other food and beverages containing antioxidants is fruits and vegetables — which Klopfenstein said a dietitian is always looking to push people to eat more of — red wine and green tea.

“Red wine has amazing health benefits, lots of antioxidants and it lowers blood pressure and blood sugars,” Klopfenstein said.

The vitamin C in orange juice too can be the perfect way for someone to boost their immune system. Zerrusen warned that sometimes juice, especially Sunny D or Capri Sun, is just a lot of added sugar. Instead, choose the orange juice that says 100 percent juice on the label.

Klopfenstein even said to go a step further and look at the ingredients list. “There’s a lot of tricks on the front, but you have to flip it over and look at the percent of juice contents,” she said. “When you’re looking at the label, make sure ingredients are natural rather than added sugars because there’s no nutritional value to added sugar.”

Water still is king, however. When it comes to fighting off a cold or flu bug, hydration is key. In theory, someone could drink so much water they deplete their body of electrolytes, such as the gallon water challenge where people drink a gallon of water as fast as they can. However, if someone is sipping water throughout the day, their body will self-regulate, Klopfenstein said.

“Look at your urine,” Klopfenstein said. “If you look in the potty and it looks like apple juice, you probably need to drink more water. It should look like a light lemonade.”

For people who tend to reach for the soda and energy drinks, Klopfenstein and Zerrusen suggested trying a carbonated water if the soda craving is for the carbonation. If it’s a caffeine boost someone is after, Zerrusen said to try green tea instead.

If someone does happen to find themselves with the sniffles, Klopfenstein said that chicken noodle soup isn’t just your grandmother’s remedy. It really is one of the best ways to treat a cold.

“There’s not a magic pill to fight cold and flu,” Klopfenstein said. “But chicken noodle soup has good vegetables, protein, sodium and it’s a warm beverage.”

When there’s no time to make chicken noodle soup from scratch, Zerrusen recommended grabbing the can with 300 milligrams of sodium or less.

“Campbell’s (chicken noodle soup) is pretty much just noodles, broth and high in sodium,” Zerrusen said, suggesting that someone could beef up a store-bought chicken noodle soup by adding their own celery and carrots to the broth.

Another suggestion in keeping a healthier diet is going for baked food instead of fried. “It’s going to taste different,” Zerrusen admitted, but said that different doesn’t mean bad. “It’s so much healthier,” she said.

When it comes to taking supplements to avoid the sniffles, Zerrusen said they can help, but should not be something people begin to rely on. Because supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FDA encourages people to consult with health care officials before using supplements.

Klopfenstein hopes that through talking with dietitians and being mindful about what they drink and eat, people can begin to look at food as a positive instead of a negative.

Talking about how people consume food reminded Klopfenstein of a scene in the animated Pixar movie “WALL-E,” where people are riding in their chairs with their drink of the day in their hand, no thought involved in what they’re consuming.

“Your food is energy. Eat it to enjoy it,” she said.

To learn more about how drink choices affect a person’s health, HCHC is hosting a class in the Health Education Center on March 6, at noon.

For more information about National Nutrition Month, visit EatRight.org, where there are resources for school activities, crossword puzzles for older students and other activities to learn about how to go further with food.

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