Practice what we preach: A clinician’s guide to healthy eating

Superfoods for clinicians, nutrition

Clinicians understand the importance of good nutrition and setting the healthy lifestyle ground rules with their patients. All too often, in the business of the day-to-day, clinicians do not take the time for themselves. Here are 10 healthy tips for clinicians on the go:

1. Make half your meal veggies

Making half your meal veggies increases your intake of fiber and phytochemicals. Fiber helps you to feel fuller longer and promotes a healthy weight. Remember, potatoes, peas and corn are starchy vegetables and should be moved to the “grain section” of your plate. The Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, offers detailed guidance, in a simple format, to help people balance their plates better.

2. Go nuts!

Work one-to-two closed handfuls of nuts or seeds into your snack schedule. Nuts and seeds count as healthy fats, which promote good cholesterol levels, and also contain magnesium, fiber and vitamin E. Some grocery stores now sell natural nut and seed butters in individual packets for added convenience.

3. Carry H2O 

Carry a water bottle with you during the day. If you carry the bottle with you it will act as a visual reminder, making it easier to consume more water. Many places around the hospital or workplace offer water filling stations. Consider adding a few slices of fruit to your water bottle for a fun flavor.

4. Go for the grains

Try some less traditional grains like quinoa, wild rice and whole grain pasta, and add them to your salad. Keep them in the refrigerator so you can toss them in with any meal. Did you know popcorn counts as a whole grain? You can buy on-the-go bags. If you have a rice cooker, throw steel cut oats and water into the cooker in the evening, set the timer and your steel cut oats will be ready in the morning.  Add some frozen berries and a few nuts for a balanced breakfast.

5. Add the Omega 3s

Choose fresh and canned fish like wild salmon or sardines and add them to your meal planning two times per week. Canned fish are convenient and an excellent source of Omega 3s. Add it in your salads, sandwiches or as a side. You can buy the to-go tins or purchase wild salmon or sardines at your local deli. Some fish have more mercury then others depending on the fish and where it’s sourced. Use this helpful link to check your fish:

6. Grab-and-go fruit

Reach for the fruit — apple, oranges, clementines — it acts as a perfect-go to snack during downtime. Balance the fruit with a healthy protein (like a cheese stick or a Greek yogurt) or a fat (like nuts or seeds). For convenience and added freshness, you can buy plastic banana and apple holders to prevent bruising.

7. Opt for oil and vinegar

Go for the oil and vinegar on salads and skip creamy dressings. Olive oil, canola and other vegetable oil-based dressings contain healthy fats. You can also opt to make salad dressing for the week and store in a container in the refrigerator. Adding a touch of honey and mustard to your olive oil and vinegar will add a new flavor to the dressing.

8. Limit red meat

Red meat includes steak, ground beef, lamb, pork, goat and veal. Aim for white meats including chicken and turkey and other healthy proteins like fish or legumes. Skip the smoked and processed meats. Limiting red meat is not only better for you but also the planet.

9. Prep and store your veggies

Veggies are an excellent source of heart healthy, belly filling fiber. Think peppers, cucumber, broccoli, carrots and other vegetables. Pack a handful of veggies every morning in a bag or container and snack on them throughout the day.

10. Get moving

Get 10 minutes of activity three times per day — walking to your car (perhaps park in a further lot), walking to the cafeteria, taking the stairs or walking around the hospital/workplace. Physical activity has been shown to decrease chronic diseases, increase energy and mood and control weight.

Tips to pack a healthy snack

Knowing what to pack for snack can be overwhelming but it is an easy equation. A healthy snack should include a fruit or a whole grain and a protein or a fat. We tell our patients to eat more foods from the tree and the tree and ground, and fewer foods from the factory — and clinicians should do the same.

Nutrition-building a healthy snack

Here are some quick tips to build a healthful snack:

1. When packing a snack, try to include a protein or healthful fat.

2. Choose low glycemic index carbohydrates as these types of foods may prolong satiety and help maintain normal blood glucose levels.

3. Always try to include a fruit or vegetable. Here are some suggestions:

  • closed handful of almonds and 1 cup blueberries
  • apple and natural peanut butter
  • hummus plus one serving whole grain crackers plus raw veggies
  • fresh fruit plus Greek or plain low-fat yogurt
  • handful sunflower seeds and a few slices of unsweetened dried mango
  • an avocado and a handful of whole grain pita chips
  • popcorn and a handful of walnuts

Hidden sugars: Be a sugar detective

Did you know that a medium vanilla Frappacino contains over 17 cubes of sugar? Quick fact: By summer 2018 most manufactures will be required to have their food label include grams of both added/free and naturally occurring sugars. New American Heart Association and World Health Organization recommendations call for less than 10 percent of total daily calorie intake to come from free (added by manufacturer) sugars (ideally less than 5 percent of calories). Based on an 1800 calorie diet this is about 5 ½ teaspoons of sugar. The chart below shows how much sugar is found in some common go-to drinks and snacks.


Taking a page out of our own book

It is just as important for clinicians to follow a healthy lifestyle as it is for our patients. Making changes to your diet and exercise routine do not have to be extreme or time consuming. Simply incorporate small changes into your day to day routine. By integrating these small lifestyle changes, you will be practicing what we so often preach to your patients.

Learn more about the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition and Preventive Cardiology Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital.

About the authors:



Wendy Elverson, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutrition specialist with Boston Children’s Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition.





Skylar Griggs, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutrition specialist in Boston Children’s Preventative Cardiology Clinic.