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The home for VPR's coverage of health and health industry issues affecting the state of Vermont.

Good Nutrition Doesn't Have To Be Fussy, N.H. Dietitian Says

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It isn't complicated to eat healthy food in a way that doesn't break the bank, according to dietitian Mary Saucier Choate, the food and nutrition educator for the Hanover Consumer Society.

Whether it’s eating organic, trying supplements or jumping on board with trends such as the Paleo diet, it seems that everywhere we look there is advice on how to eat healthy. And frankly, a lot of the advice can be conflicting and confusing.

But dietitian Mary Saucier Choate, the food and nutrition educator for the Hanover Consumer Society, tells Vermont Edition that it really isn’t that complicated to eat well in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

So what’s most important? In general, the less processing, the better, she says.

“I would definitely say getting in whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, and whole grains,” Choate says. She explains that although whole grains have naturally occurring oils in them that are good for us, to look out for food items that say "made with" whole grains. “It means they may have put in a little whole grain, or a lot, so what I encourage folks to do is when they’re looking at a label, look for 100 percent whole grain or 100 percent whole wheat,” she explains.

Should everyone eat organic?

Choate recognizes that although eating organic as much as possible and supporting local farms is important, it can also be very expensive. “It’s better to eat fruits and vegetables, and plenty of them, than to eat organic food,” she says. “The benefits of eating fruits and vegetables are so deep and broad, when you look at populations of people who are eating the most fruits and vegetables, those are the ones who have lesser risk of … chronic diseases, whether or not they’re organic.”

"It's better to eat fruits and vegetables, and plenty of them, than to eat organic food." - Mary Saucier Choate, Hanover Consumer Society food and nutrition educator

Is eating fresh really that important?

Some feel guilty taking out the frozen peas or canned corn at dinnertime. But Choate says this is a common misconception. “A mixture is the way to go for a healthy diet and a healthy budget … When you cook a vegetable, you are able to better absorb some of the beta keratins and fat soluble nutrients that are released because the cell walls are sort of broken down,” she explains. Canned vegetables are already cooked, giving you these added nutrients, while fresh vegetables and fruits have the benefit of higher vitamin C levels.

Credit USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
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USDA Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
Choate says that mixing canned, frozen and fresh produce is a great way to eat healthy on a budget.

But overall, as long as you’re eating produce, Choate says you’re doing great. “Side by side, fresh, canned and frozen, the nutrients are very comparable. So it’s a good idea to mix those things up,” she says.

She explains that for many who are on a budget, or are busy with kids and a full-time job, frozen and canned vegetables can be extremely helpful. “For most of us, there are kids running around, commitments, you’re very short on time. It’s a way to mix it up. What I’m thinking is some fresh, some canned, some frozen, however it works for your meal for the night,” she says.

Giving the example of a pizza, Choate says even if you use store-bought tomato sauce, grated cheese and frozen vegetables for the toppings, you’re still controlling the ingredients of the food more than if you ordered from a restaurant. In fact, Choate is such a proponent of cooking at home that she’s created an extreme beginner cooking class to help those who are looking to learn how to eat healthy on a budget.

What about supplements?

“The jury is still out,” Choate says. “Supplements have a place for certain people under certain conditions.” She explains supplements are really for people who know they are missing out on a certain nutrient in their food – someone who is lactose intolerant, for example, would need to take calcium supplements. “Multivitamins can be helpful, they can also be fake insurance … a lot of times they are misleading,” she says.

"The jury is still out. Supplements have a place for certain people under certain conditions."

Choate is an advocate of trying to get all of the nutrients you need from food, which she says is easy and effective. “There is no substituting real food ... It is possible to get everything you need, pretty much, from food.”

Resources from Mary Saucier Choate, M.S., R.D.N., L.D.

Ric was a producer for Vermont Edition and host of the VPR Cafe.
Jane Lindholm is the host, executive producer and creator of But Why: A Podcast For Curious Kids. In addition to her work on our international kids show, she produces special projects for Vermont Public. Until March 2021, she was host and editor of the award-winning Vermont Public program Vermont Edition.
Amanda Shepard was a digital producer for VPR.
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