Frequently Asked Questions

Do small changes in my diet really work and how can I make effective healthy lifestyle changes?

When it comes to diet, small changes can really make a difference. Whether it is changing from 2% milk to fat free, choosing more whole grains or reducing portion sizes, any positive change will improve your diet over time. Making just one successful change will often lead to other changes.

A good way to start a change is to think about why the change will be positive. Most people need a source of motivation to have a successful change. This may include achieving a healthy weight, being a good role model for your children or preventing onset of disease. Once your motivation is in place and you are ready for a healthy lifestyle change, here are a few tips for putting it into action:

  • Become aware of your current habits, and think about the area you’d most like to change.
  • Get educated! Many people attempt lifestyle changes without seeking guidance. The world of health and nutrition is overwhelming and shouldn’t be navigated alone.
  • Set achievable, measurable goals.
  • It is hard to make a change on your own, and support is a key component of success. Examples of support include your family, friends, support group or medical professionals.

Are there different kinds of sugar and how much should I have?

Like most parts of a healthy diet, sugar should be consumed in moderation. The majority of the sugar in your diet should come from naturally occurring sugars found in fruits, vegetables and milk.

Excess sugar intake, especially from added sugars, can lead to excessive calorie intake and weight gain. This is especially true with sugar sweetened beverages like regular soda or juice, candies, cookies and cakes. These foods are often called "empty calories", meaning they have a lot of calories but don’t provide our body with important nutrients or help us feel full after eating them.

The average woman should limit her total added sugar intake to 150 calories per day, or about 10 teaspoons. The average man should limit his added sugar intake to 200 calories per day, or about 13 teaspoons.

Some easy ways to reduce sugar intake include:

  • Switching from regular soda to diet soda or water.
  • Eating a piece of fresh fruit instead of drinking fruit juice.
  • Choosing whole grain toast instead of a donut.
  • Using non-nutritive sweeteners in your coffee or tea.
  • Switching to unsweetened breakfast cereals like oatmeal or plain shredded wheat.
  • Looking for no-added sugar products.

What is the difference between a serving size and a portion size?

A serving size is a specific, standardized amount of food used to help plan and judge your meal portions. You may consume more than one serving of a food group per meal depending on portion size. For example, a pasta dish with one cup of pasta counts as two servings of grains. The numbers of servings per day recommended by ChooseMyPlate.gov are broad recommendations for how many servings of each food group you should have. They will help you meet basic nutrition needs without exceeding calories and fat

You will also see serving sizes used on the Nutrition Facts of a food label. These serving sizes refer to the actual amount of food meant to be consumed, not necessarily the recommended Dietary Guideline serving size.

While all fats have the same amount of calories, they do not all act the same in the body. Healthy fats, like those that come from fish, nuts, seeds and plant oils should be chosen more often. They help improve cholesterol and decrease inflammation in the body. Unhealthy fats, like those from animal sources and processed foods, should be chosen less often. These include saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol. They’ve been shown to increase risk for heart disease and diabetes. They should make up 10% or less of all the fats you eat. To do this, look for foods that have less than five grams of saturated or trans fat per serving

How can I eat healthy while dining out?

It can be challenging to stay committed to a healthy diet while dining out. Below are some basic tips for keeping with your healthy lifestyle while enjoying a meal out. Before you go out, try to keep with your health goals by choosing a restaurant that fits with your healthy lifestyle. Avoid restaurants that advertise "Extra Large" portions or "All You Can Eat" specials. Also, review the restaurant’s menu online so you can look for healthy options. Many restaurants now offer the calorie, fat and sodium content of their meals online too.

Finally, do not go to the restaurant extra hungry since this can lead to over-eating and encourage you to order based on cravings. Try and fit in a small, healthy snack before heading out.

When ordering your meal, try the following to limit bad fats, manage portion size and decrease calories:

  • Ask your server what is in the dish and how it is prepared.
  • Try an appetizer as your meal or ask for half your meal to be packed before it arrives.
  • Share your meal with a friend or ask for smaller portions.
  • Request your meal is prepared in a heart healthy way. For example, you can ask them to go "light on the cheese" or "cook with olive oil rather than butter". 
  • Request any sauces, salad dressings or gravies be kept on the side and use them sparingly.
  • Choose low calorie dressings, lemon juice or vinegar to flavor a salad or vegetables.
  • Order healthy sides such as a plain baked potato instead of fries, an extra serving of vegetables rather than mashed potatoes or a side salad instead of coleslaw.

Unlike serving sizes, portion sizes are not standardized, and can vary from meal to meal. They are used to describe the amount of food that is offered. It is important to be aware of appropriate portion sizes, because they often exceed our dietary needs, which leads to excessive calorie intake. Many foods, even those considered "healthy", like salads, may become excessive if eaten in large quantities. On the other hand, foods traditionally considered "unhealthy", may fit into a healthy diet if consumed in the right portion.

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