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Building A Healthy, Balanced Plate

Eating healthy is important for more reasons than you might imagine. It can boost your energy, increase your brain function and even help you to live longer.

In this segment, Jill Rolfson, a registered dietitian, shares the top tips and best advice for healthy eating throughout your lifetime.
Building A Healthy, Balanced Plate
Featured Speaker:
Jill Rolfson, registered dietitian
Jill Rolfson is a registered dietitian.

Melanie Cole (Host): Eating healthy is important for more reasons than you might imagine. It can boost your energy, increase your brain function, and even help you to live longer. My guest today is Jill Rolfson. She’s a registered dietitian at Bryan Health. Welcome to the show, Jill. What is this year’s focus for National Nutrition Month?

Jill Rolfson (Guest): Each year, during March, we celebrate National Nutrition Month by focusing on the importance of making healthy food choices and developing good eating and physical activity habits. This year, “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” is the theme for 2017, which serves as a reminder to each one of us that we hold the tools to make healthier food choices.

Melanie: So people hear that phrase, “Build a balanced plate,” but they don’t even really know what that means.

Jill: A healthy plate looks like a nine-inch plate. Most of our dinner plates that we purchase at a store are actually larger than that. It’s more like a salad-sized plate. It helps us manage appropriate portion sizes and then when we’re building healthy, or balanced plate, we want to focus on a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy. Building a healthy plate starts with making half of our plate half fruits and vegetables is a good place to start. All vegetables are important. We’re recommending that children have one to one-and-a-half cups per day, and most adults need two to three cups a day. As far as fruits go, we want one to two cups per day, depending on our age and gender, but choosing a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables helps us gets the nutrients we need. Next, the other half of our plate we should devote to grains and lean protein. There are two types of grains that we often hear about, whole grains and refined grains. We choose whole grains as half of our grains because they promote healthy fiber, which can have the benefits of healthy digestion, also reducing the risk for heart disease because of that dietary fiber. Whole grain options like brown rice, oatmeal, wheat bread, and quinoa are great options to help increase your whole grains. Then, the other fourth of your plate, we focus on lean proteins including meats like skinless chicken and turkey, sirloin or pork loin, fish, seafood, beans, nuts and nut butter. A great variety of lean proteins helps promote nutrients that our body needs to build and maintain healthy bones and healthy muscles. Last, we focus on a source of low-fat dairy to balance out our plate. Three cups of dairy are recommended because it’s a good source of calcium to promote strong bones and strong teeth. Low-fat dairy options like one percent or skim milk, low-fat yogurt, part-skim, or low-fat cheeses or even sources of calcium non-dairy alternatives like soy milk and almond milk are great options, too, to round out our plate.

Melanie: So you mentioned brown rice as one of the grains, and there’s quinoa and lentils. There’s all kind of fun things we can put on those plates to get that variety, but where do the breads and pastas fall in, or do they not fall in anywhere?

Jill: The bread, pasta, rice, can all be great options for grain. We focus on a fourth of our plate being those grains, making sure that throughout our day we’re choosing at least half of those grains as whole grains. The fiber can help us stay fuller longer, and can help with that G-I regularity, too to help us have normal bowel movements, and also helps prevent heart disease. As far as pasta and rice, choosing a whole grain pasta, or even switching half of your regular pasta and mixing in half of whole grain pasta can help us get accustomed to the taste of whole grain pasta. Doing the same thing with white rice and brown rice, and then mixing them half-and-half and then preparing it can be a great way to increase your whole grains and also make an easy adjustment to increase the variety of those grain products.

Melanie: And where do beans fit into that picture?

Jill: Beans are a great option for protein and for fiber. They actually go two-fold. They count as a vegetable and as a protein. It can be a great thing to add as a side dish to your meals, to add to casseroles, or to add to soups. It can be a great way to help you stay fuller longer because of the fiber and help you maintain healthy muscles because of the protein.

Melanie: We heard back in the 70s and 80s, “Stay away from fat,” and then it was the carbohydrates that were the enemy – so what about lower fat options now? Are we still looking to eat lower fat, or are we not as afraid of fat anymore? What about things like butter, and olive oil, and avocados that are high in fat, but maybe not the bad fats?

Jill: Absolutely, we need fat in a good diet because it’s important to eat the right amounts and the right types of fat to keep your heart healthy. Fats like saturated fats and trans fats that we’re trying to avoid because we know they can contribute to excess body weight and higher blood cholesterol levels. You talked about avocados – those are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, what we consider to be good, heart-healthy fats, same with olive oil and canola oil. We want to use those in moderation, of course, but can be a better choice than some of our saturated and trans fat that we find in things like lard, butter, bacon fat, some of those that can contribute to increased cholesterol levels. Saturated fats are often found in fatty meats and higher-fat dairy products, whereas the trans fats are often found in prepared foods, baked goods, some margarine, often the things we find that are in our package we can treat in the middle of the grocery store.

Melanie: And now, let’s talk about the labeling for a minute because it recently changed. What do you want listeners to know about the labels as they see them now and what’s on them that’s important to take note of, and what should they be looking for?

Jill: The labels are now changing to put an extra focus on the calories. It’s now a larger, bolder print. It puts an extra emphasis on the correct portion size for us to take notice to that and it also is going to list a portion for added sugars, so underneath the sugar column, we’ll be able to recognize how much of those are added sugars. We know the American Heart Association has put some new guidelines out to help us restrict those added sugars, not sugars that are coming naturally from fructose and lactose from fruits and milk, but it can be difficult when we see a yogurt, for example, to understand what sugars of those are natural form lactose, and what sugars are added sugars that we’re putting in there to maybe make it taste sweeter, or add some flavoring to it. We know, for men, we’re trying to stick to 25 to 30 grams of extra sugar a day, and for women, closer to 25. Having those new things on the nutrition label can help us manage our calorie intakes, and also take notice to the importance of added sugars and where those are coming from.

Melanie: And what about sodium? There’s a lot of high blood pressure in this country today. People look at the sodium levels, and right away they think table salt, but sodium and table salt are two different things. What should they be looking for when they’re reading labels and looking for sodium content?

Jill: Our bodies need sodium to control the amount of fluid in our body and the beating of our heart, but most of the time we get more sodium than we actually need. Most Americans get over the recommended 2300mg a day and then if you are somebody that’s older than 51, have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, we know your goal is closer to 1500mg a day. One pinch or one little dash of salt is actually 240mg of sodium, so it adds up really quick, and it’s less than one teaspoon of salt that equals 2300mg a day. Trying to look for those high sodium foods, looking at the nutrition label to see how much sodium is in your products, especially canned soups, bread frozen meals. Those options, including lunch meat, are usually pretty high because they’re processed and have extra sodium in to preserve them. Looking at those nutrition labels, trying to choose foods with lower numbers, choosing lower sodium options, can really be beneficial for our heart health.

Melanie: So wrap it up for us, with your best advice about really building that healthy plate, and building that balanced plate, what you want people to know about eating a variety of foods, trying a variety of foods, reading labels, and even looking up recipes and trying new things as they’re going about trying to eat healthy.

Jill: At every meal, focus on filling half your plate with a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables. Making at least half of your grains whole grains is a great option as well, to help you promote good fiber intake. Choosing healthy protein sources like lean poultry, seafood, beans, eggs, nuts and seeds are great options to fill a quarter of your plate as well. Low-fat dairy options come in for our last little portion of our plate promoting calcium-fortified beverages if you’re doing something lactose-free. And lastly, really focusing on limiting the foods that have added fat, added sugars, and excess sodium, trying to remember that nutrition labels can be a great resource to help us identify what the contents of food are and focus on rounding out a balanced plate.

Melanie: Thank you, so much, Jill, for being with us today. That’s great information. You’re listening to Bryan Health Radio, and if you’d like to learn more about healthy living, you can go to, that’s This is Melanie Cole. Thanks, so much, for listening.