Solutions to eating healthier

AMC food and nutritional services director gives a how-to at library series

Carl Bowen, director of Food and Nutritional Services at Adirondack Medical Center, talks Thursday during the Library Lunch Series at the Saranac Lake Free Library. (Enterprise photo — Jesse Adcock)

SARANAC LAKE — Portion distortion, unknown additives and calorie content — just a few worries for the modern consumer when deciding what to eat. But there’s strategies to stay healthy and educated, often as simple as flipping a product over, and eyeing the nutrition facts when available.

That’s what Carl Bowen, director of Food and Nutritional Services at Adirondack Medical Center, came to talk about in the final lecture this season of the Library Lunch Series at the Saranac Lake Free Library.

Many of the strategies Bowen advocated for are mirrored in AMC’s “Farm to Patient” initiative.

“We’ve gone down the route of doing a big local push where we’re currently getting food from 12 local farms,” Bowen said. “Getting away from processed food.”

But that can be hard to do with both parents working, Bowen said, as trends change and home cooked dinners become rarer. With no time to make breakfast, maybe the whole family goes out to Dunkin Donuts before work and school. That has consequences.

A compounding factor Bowen mentioned is portion distortion. A serving size of soda was 7 ounces, a can about the size of a fist, in the 1950s, Bowen said. Now at most fast food joints, the small is 12 ounces, with options for larger volumes into the 32 and 44 ounce range.

Burger and fry options have become similarly engorged — pushing this narrative that more is better, Bowen said. And despite what some may consider being the healthier option for eating out, a sit-down restaurant may not be better for you than the drive through.

“There’s more calories in that meal that you’re eating out in than you should be eating in the full day in some cases,” Bowen said.

Part of this has to do with the diameter of plates.

“Growing up, my parents used to say, ‘You’re going to eat what’s on your plate,” Bowen said. “Well, the plates used to be 7 inches. Now, a dinner plate is 12 inches, and you go some places, on some of the national chains, and they’re serving you on a 14-inch plate — which is considered a platter by regulatory rules.”

Patrons don’t like to see an empty plate, Bowen said, so on these platters with, for instance, some chicken parmesan, you can expect three to four servings of pasta, chicken, cheese and sauce.

“You’re eating the equivalent of 3 to 4 people’s worth of food on that plate. But again, it’s perceived value,” Bowen said. “If you don’t get that plate filled, you’re not getting your money’s worth.”

These and other factors have led to steadily increasing rates of obesity, and chronic diseases like diabetes in the U.S. According to the Centers for Disease Control, around 40 percent of U.S. suffered from obesity between 2015 and 2016 — affecting 93.3 million adults. That’s up from around 30 percent of adults in 2000.

Solutions and strategies

Bowen’s not saying don’t eat out — just try not to do it five times a week. Additionally, if a menu doesn’t have calorie or dietary information on it, ask or use some rough measurements. A normal portion of protein, should only be 3 to 4 ounces.

“Three to 4 ounces is going to fit in the palm of your hand,” Bowen said. “That should be the size of your meat. … A cup is about a fistful. A tablespoon is roughly the size of your thumb.”

Typically a serving of salad dressing is an ounce, Bowen said, but often restaurants will serve a patron two to four ounces of dressing, mixed into the greens. An easy solution for saving calories there is to order the dressing on the side, and stab and dip your greens as needed.

“Eat slowly,” Bowen said. “If you’re cramming it in faster than your body can start digesting, and get that sensation that you’ve had enough, you’re going to eat more.”

Keep it simple, moderate your diet and go after the whole grains, Bowen said. Whole grains maintain nutrients like fiber and protein, which are lost in the refining process for white flour. But, keep an eye on the nutrition facts — even some whole grain manufacturers add sugar to their products.

Which leads to another important tactic — flip the packaging over. Typically on the front of a food’s packaging, there will be calorie counts that may mislead.

“That Snickers bar only has 140 calories? I’m going to eat that,” Bowen said. “Well, it’s larger, and its got two pieces and it’s per serving.”

Focus on the fruits and vegetables, and get protein from seafood and fish, if the source is trustworthy — mercury levels in seafood, as well as other pollutants, can cause health concerns.

“We warn people to be careful of the fish,” Bowen said. “Just be mindful of where you’re getting your food.”

Like the farm to patient initiative Bowen is leading at AMC — he said to seek out your food from local, trustworthy sources whenever possible to avoid chances of pollutants, preservatives and additives.

Lastly, you don’t have to cut out your cravings, just plan around them and practice moderation. He said at the hospital, if a patient is hankering for one particular indulgent food, a dietary technician will help to plan out that meal, and others, to accommodate it.

“You can kind of eat around what you want just by moderating some of the things in your other meals,” Bowen said. “If you’re going to have butter on your roll, you may not want to throw sour cream or butter on your baked potato.”

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