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Good nutrition can manage, and even improve, chronic conditions

We are what we eat.  With today’s processed snacks and fast foods, this old saying is more important than ever.  What we eat directly impacts our health, and medical experts agree that most diseases are diet related. From heart disease to diabetes, a poor diet can lead to a multitude of health problems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, adults who eat a healthy diet live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.  The good news is that healthy eating can help people with chronic diseases manage – and even improve -- these conditions and avoid further complications.

“So many of these problems can be prevented,” says Jaculyn McPherson, a registered and licensed dietitian with VNA of Ohio.  “First, go get your blood work. They can easily pick up and treat things like high cholesterol and diabetes before bad things happen.

“Unfortunately, many people fall through the cracks for years-- that’s when you end up with so many health issues,” she added.

McPherson individualizes her nutrition plans for her homecare patients based on their health condition, lifestyle, and bloodwork. With so many possible factors to monitor -- fiber, fluid, sugar, fats, carbs, sodium – she admits changing one’s diet can seem overwhelming at first.

“It’s a lot of information and it’s all important,” she explains. “Take your time and go through the information and develop questions. You don’t have to figure it all out yourself.” 

She typically follows up with patients a week or two after their first visit and she spends as much time as they need. 

“Some people have so many great questions, we can talk for an hour,” she said. “When they don’t have any more questions, that’s when we are done.”

McPherson says that reading food labels and making your own food at home, when possible, are strongly recommended for all health conditions. Her motto is to keep it simple and doable.

A few changes can make a big difference. Here are a few of her favorites.

  • You can “doctor” canned or jarred items from the grocery store at home to suit your diet.  Spaghetti sauce is a good example. Many sauces are high in sugar and sodium. She suggests adding a large can of plain crushed tomatoes to the sauce to dilute the sugar and sodium. Then adjust the taste with your own healthy seasonings, garlic or onion.
  • Serving size is one of the most important facts to check on the nutrition food label.  She explains that when most people open a can of soup, for instance, they typically eat the whole thing. However, the nutrition facts are based on 2 ½ servings, which can add up to a lot more calories, sodium, and sugar.
  • Deli meats are another hidden-sodium food that people often do not realize. Even deli turkey, which most people consider healthy, is full of sodium and preservatives. Instead, McPherson recommends buying a plain turkey tenderloin and cooking it in the crock pot for a few hours in water or low-sodium broth. Add garlic and any other seasonings that you like. Cook to 165 degrees and slice or leave it in longer and shred it for easy sandwiches or salad toppings.

Nutritionists like McPherson have lots of recipes, menus, tips and tricks like these to make healthy eating a realistic option.

“I try to help people feel more empowered. It’s not all or nothing,” she added. “Every little change you make is going to make a difference. Make doable lifestyle changes that you can live with and still be happy.” 

VNA of Ohio nutritionists are typically referred to patients who are diabetic or have heart issues like high blood pressure or congestive heart failure. People who are being treated with wound care or who have unintended weight loss also may need to see a nutritionist. If you are diagnosed with one of these conditions, please call the VNA of Ohio at (216) 931-1300.