Little Steps

By Charlyn Fargo

August 19, 2016 7 min read

One thing I've learned in the 25 years I've been a dietitian: Little steps/everyday decisions make a big difference in a healthy diet — whether it's what you order at the fast food restaurant, or whether you choose to eat fruit instead of a sweet. Those little steps become the big thing that helps you maintain, gain or even lose weight.

Here's further proof from a study done at Virginia Tech:

If people replace just one calorie-laden drink with water, they can reduce body weight and improve overall health, according to Kiyah Duffey, Virginia Tech researcher.

"Regardless of how many servings of sugar-sweetened beverages you consume, replacing even just one serving can be of benefit," said Duffey, an adjunct faculty member of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and independent nutrition consultant.

Consuming additional calories from sugary beverages like soda, energy drinks and sweetened coffee can increase risk of weight gain and obesity, as well as Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Duffey's findings, which were recently published in Nutrients, modeled the effect of replacing one 8-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage with an 8-ounce serving of water, based on the daily dietary intake of U.S. adults aged 19 and older, retrieved from the 2007-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys.

Duffey, along with co-author Jennifer Poti, an assistant professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, showed that this one-for-one drink swap could reduce daily calories and the prevalence of obesity in populations that consume sugary beverages.

The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that no more than 10 percent of daily calories come from added sugar and that calorie-free drinks, particularly water, should be favored.

"We found that among U.S. adults who consume one serving of sugar-sweetened beverages per day, replacing that drink with water lowered the percent of calories coming from drinks from 17 to 11 percent," Duffey said. "Even those who consumed more sugary drinks per day could still benefit from water replacement, dropping the amount of calories coming from beverages to less than 25 percent of their daily caloric intake."

Duffey found that a reduction in the amount of daily calories coming from sugary drinks also improved individual scores on the Healthy Beverage Index — a scoring system designed to evaluate individual beverage patterns and their relation to diet and health based on standards set forth by the Beverage Guidance Panel and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Duffey developed this index in 2015 with Virginia Tech nutrition researcher Brenda Davy, a professor of human nutrition, foods and exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and a Fralin Life Science Institute affiliate. Their preliminary data showed that higher scores correlate to better cholesterol levels, lowered risk of hypertension, and in men, lowered blood pressure.

The broader goal of the index is to help people identify what and how much they drink each day, as drinking habits can impact eating habits.

Higher calorie drinks, such as sweetened soda and high-fat milk, have been associated with diets rich in red and processed meats, refined grains, sweets, and starch, according to a 2015 review study by Duffey, Davy, and Valisa Hedrick, an assistant professor of human nutrition, foods, and exercise in the same college at Virginia Tech. Lower-calorie drinks, such as water and unsweetened coffee and tea, were associated with alternative diets rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and poultry.

Diet drinks are also healthier alternatives to sugary drinks, explained Duffey, but other research has shown that people who drink water over low-calorie alternatives still tend to eat more fruits and vegetables, have lowered blood sugar, and are better hydrated.

The bottom line? Take small steps to better health — choose water over soda, choose fruits over cookies and cakes and choose a salad over a burger sometimes.

Q and A:

Q: How do I know if a cereal is healthy?

A: Follow the 5-5-10 cereal rule, says the editor of Cooking Light magazine. Make 5 grams of fiber the baseline (daily goal 25g to 38g); more is better. You can increase the count with fresh fruit or nuts. For protein, aim for at least 5 grams. Naturally occurring proteins found in whole grains, nuts and seeds are best, instead of added proteins like highly processed isolates. For sugar, look for varieties with no more than 10 grams sugar; less is better. Any more than that, and you're in glazed donut territory. Added sugars should be low on the ingredient list, never first. — Cooking Light.


Ever made your own hummus? Williams Sonoma "Healthy in a Hurry" offers a quick and easy version that is worth giving a try. Roasted red pepper lends a sweet, smoky taste and warm color to the classic chickpea dip. Spread it on a sandwich or dip fresh veggies in it. The chickpeas are high in protein and fiber and the red bell peppers are a great source of vitamins A and C as well as contain cancer-fighting anti-inflammatory compounds.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

1 (15 ounce) can of low-sodium chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 jar roasted red bell pepper, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 teaspoons tahini

1-teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika

1/2-teaspoon sea salt

Fresh lemon juice from 1 lemon

In a blender or food processor, whirl chickpeas, bell pepper, olive oil, tahini, cumin, paprika, salt and lemon juice until smooth. Serve right away or transfer dip to an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes about 1 cup (8 ounces); 6 servings.

Per serving: 120 calories, 5 g protein, 15 g carbohydrate, 9 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 5 g fiber, 280 mg sodium.

Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Ill., and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @Nutrition Rd. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Like it? Share it!

  • 0

Nutrition News
About Charlyn Fargo
Read More | RSS | Subscribe