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Have some extra pounds to lose? Look at your plate

Tri Country Health Care Dietician Shelby Hunke recommends using smaller plates and portion control as two of the tools a dieter can use to control their appetites. Brian Hansel/Pioneer Journal

It is January and that chocolate fudge your sister-in-law brought on Christmas Day, those bite-size bits of Heaven, are hanging off your waistline like dumbells.

Data shows Americans are some of the worst eaters on Earth. Of the world's 196 nations, the United States has been ranked 177th. A study shows 74 percent of the population is considered obese.

Shelby Hunke is a dietician at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena. She works regular daytime hours but finds herself visiting patients on a daily basis. Her job is to help them eat smart.

"Usually what we recommend is following the half-a-plate method where half your plate is fruits or vegetables, so the idea is that you are filling up on things that are low in calories and high in fiber... and then the rest of your plate is split up between your full grains and your proteins."

Lunch and supper might find a lean slice of meat on your plate instead of something fatty or deep-fried, chicken without the skin instead of chicken with the skin. It might also be a full-grain pasta rather than a regular pasta or brown rice versus white rice.

Minnesota is a long way from the Mediterranean region where they follow the healthy Mediterranean Diet - the diet that routinely earns high praise from health experts. Despite the distance, the diet Hunke recommends is quite similar.

"That half-the-plate diet is kind of following the Mediterranean Diet where they eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, they eat healthy fats, they eat whole grains, they eat a lot of fish," Hunke said.

TCHC does not promote just the Mediterranean Diet because it is restrictive and they do not want to promote just one way to eat.

Hunke pointed out Europeans are leaner than Americans for other reasons as well.

"In Europe they typically walk a lot more, they are a lot more active than we are and usually they don't eat as big of portions as we do."

Portion control can start with something as simple as a smaller plate.

"If you use a smaller plate you are going eat less," Hunke said. "You can still fill it up, and you eat with your eyes first, so if you see a full plate, even if its a smaller plate you're satisfied when you're done eating."

A problem Hunke sees a lot comes from a fondness for sugary beverages.

"Most of it is our sugary beverages intake has gone up so much," Hunke said. "You see people who are drinking soda or ice tea, and they are drinking 600 calories a day. That's gone up so much, especially in kids. We definitely see a lot more (Type II) diabetes than we used to see."

Another weapon in the war on weight is eating mindfully, according to Hunke. Putting your fork down between bites while you are eating.

"Ask yourself why you are eating, is it out of true hunger or are you eating because you are bored or you are happy or you are sad or you're in the habit of it," Hunke said. "When people start focusing on why they are eating that usually helps them identify how much they are eating."