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Jennifer Samale, senior director of clinical care, CCA Health Rhode Island

Whether you’re cooking at home for yourself or heading out with friends and family to one of your favorite Rhode Island restaurants, the act of sitting down for a meal can serve as one of life’s greatest joys. Food is a common denominator that brings people together, but – for better or for worse – it can also be a core driver of a person’s overall health and well-being.

March is National Nutrition Month, making this a good time to think about how food can impact our health.

This is especially important today, as obesity rates are steadily increasing across the country and around the world.

Obesity is a medical condition, and it can lead to very serious, potentially life-threatening health complications, including diabetes, stroke, cancer, and heart disease, especially in older adults. Here in Rhode Island, local data shows roughly 30.1% of adults and 33% of children ages 5-17 struggle with obesity. What is one of the main contributors to obesity? Consuming more calories than your body needs. Studies show that approximately half of American adults and more than half of children have poor-quality diets.

Even small changes to your nutrition can add up to a big difference for your health. Here are a few simple tips to demystify balancing your diet. Give them a try if you’re looking to start making a change.

Rethink “Food on the Go” choices

There’s no denying that fast or processed foods offer an attractive level of convenience – especially when life is at its most hectic. However, according to researchers from Imperial College London, eating ultra-processed foods increases a person’s risk for developing all cancers, specifically ovarian and brain cancers. Packing snacks from home – like fresh cut veggies with guacamole, apple slices with peanut butter, or mixed nuts – for when you’re on the run can minimize your reliance on these faster, less healthy options. Try “meal prepping” on the weekends, so you can pack lunches for the week ahead rather than relying on what’s convenient or nearby on breaks. has some great recipes.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are a cost-effective way to include these healthy foods.  They are just as nutritious as fresh varieties and keep longer without spoiling.  They are often also pre-washed and prepped for cooking or eating.

Keep an eye on ingredients

One way to improve your diet is to keep an eye on your intake of salt, fat and sugar. In moderation, these ingredients can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet – but they’re also commonly overused.  It’s easy for extra salt, sugar and fat to find their way in through foods like ketchup or other condiments, soups and bullion, salad dressings, and seasonings or spices that contain sugar and salt in the ingredients.

Remember: It’s a marathon; not a sprint

Over the years, you may recall several fad diets, such as “low fat” or “low carb,” that call to drastically limit or remove a major category. Nutrition is an integral part of how we fuel our bodies and maintain overall well-being. Older adults, specifically, usually have lower calorie needs but specific nutrition needs, making it even more important to pay attention to what’s fueling our bodies. Consider your diet as your life routine, not a short sprint of deprivation or experiments.  If you have questions or concerns about your nutritional needs, talk with your primary care provider.  They may be able to offer guidance or can suggest additional resources.

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