Food Matters: Small changes in a diet can add up to big results

June 29, 2012 

Backyard barbecues are just the thing for the Fourth of July. Ribs or burgers, hot dogs or tri-tip -- these are all common fare for the feast. Not to put a damper on the event, but it is possible to enjoy fun and food with family and friends while still watching your weight and sticking with a healthy diet.

There is an alternative to the NYC Gov. Bloomberg-style regulation of eating habits to force people to eat more healthful. We should be able to make our own decisions about what we eat and drink. Unfortunately, we Americans tend to make terrible choices. As a society, we eat too much, drink an excess of sugary beverages, consume too much fat and not enough fruits and vegetables. To top it all off, we don't exercise enough.

Eating healthy is not rocket science. Most people can stick with a good diet for a short time, but beyond three or four weeks and they are off the wagon. The best thing to do is to stick with a reasonably good diet most of the time, and try to get better and better. Don't say you are not going to eat chocolate or ice cream ever again because you will eventually fail. If you want to have regular soda, have a smaller amount than usual and try to not have it as often. The idea is to make permanent changes that you can continue for a lifetime.

So what about special occasions? Holidays and special events occur all too frequently. Think about how many times someone has a birthday or anniversary, a graduation or a wedding, not to mention office parties, funerals and TGIF. Overdoing it on these occasions might seem justified, but it doesn't hurt to treat them a bit more like any other day. Appreciate the relationships more than the food.

Getting back to backyard barbecues, here are a few tips to help. Be careful of the hors d'oeuvres or snacks served before the meal. You can easily overdo it because you are hungry and they are convenient. You will most likely still eat the main meal and be filled past the brink. Restrain yourself.

Beverages can have lots of calories. Obviously, having water is the best idea. A good plan is to have the drink that you want but consume water in between. Whether it is soda, punch, beer or margaritas, save the calories by pacing yourself. Fit in a diet soda in place of the regular sugar and alcohol.

You may want to bring something to the event that you could eat if you think there will not be any good choices. If you have a small item that can be added to the serving table others might also appreciate it. You can't go wrong with a vegetable dish, fruit or a salad.

So enjoy the food and drink, visit with others away from the goodies and be smart about the choices you make. And enjoy the fireworks!

Chuck Newcomb, MS, RD, CDE is a consulting registered dietitian providing medical nutrition therapy services for Memorial Hospital Los Banos. He has a masters of science in Clinical Nutrition from New York University. E-mail questions to the Attention of ChuckRD at: or on his website

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