Lifestyle diseases can be treated through nutrition changes

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 1, 2021

By Tara Smith

Welcome to “Healthy Eating and You,” a new monthly column sponsored by Healthy Rowan. 

Healthy Rowan is a group of representatives from nonprofit and social service organizations; county, city and state programs; health care agencies; county and municipal departments; and more. We work to educate, encourage and create opportunities for Rowan County citizens of all ages to get and stay healthy. Healthy Rowan has led initiatives such as promoting the daily mile in our elementary schools, introducing “Exercise is Medicine” at health clinics, and collaborating on Healthy Food Pantry programs. The group of more than 50 representatives meet once a month.

Future columns will be provided by various agency representatives from Healthy Rowan. For anyone seeking information or resources for food, please go to 

As a member agency of Healthy Rowan, Meals on Wheels Rowan focuses on senior nutrition. It stays abreast of health trends in Rowan County and works to provide meals that keep seniors healthy. In 2015, our Rowan County health assessment cited four areas of health where Rowan County percentages exceeded the state average, including heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease and stroke. All four of these diseases are related to obesity and poor nutrition.

They are often called “lifestyle diseases” because they can be prevented, treated and reversed through lifestyle changes. Citizens ranked these diseases as areas of concern for our community. The health assessment illustrates that Rowan County citizens know our health issues. So, the question is, “What are we doing about it?” 

When it comes to food and nutrition, listen to your physician, consult with a registered dietitian and educate yourself using community resources like the Rowan Public Library. And you can read this column each month to find out more about nutrition and healthy eating. 

We know that healthy eating can be challenging for some and easier for others. Mixed messages about what to eat or not eat can leave many people confused. You can make healthy eating a little less challenging by carefully planning meals with health and nutrition as a top priority, choosing fewer processed foods and focusing on one change at a time.  

Nutrients in foods play essential roles in the body, so eating various nutrient-dense foods is an important foundation for healthy eating. One example is the Meals on Wheels meal template specific to portion sizes and types of foods offered to participants. Each home-delivered meal consists of: 

• 3-4 ounces entrée (protein) 

• Two vegetables, 3-4 ounces each 

• Two fruits, 3-4 ounces each 

• One grain, 1 – 1 and a half ounce each 

• One milk 

The monthly menu cycle contains various foods in each food group, contributing to a broader nutrient intake. For example, rice, pasta and bread are all grains but are not identical in the nutrients they provide. Variety prevents boredom from eating the same foods each day!  

Meals on Wheels Rowan also works with its food service vendor to ensure that salt and sugar aren’t added to menu items. A registered dietitian provides the nutrient analysis for each menu so that the meals meet state and national standards for proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, sodium and fat. The meal template for Meals on Wheels Rowan is just one example for planning a healthy menu. 

Supplementing meals with nutritious snacks, when needed, is a great way to establish and maintain healthy eating habits. Fruits and vegetables make great snacks and provide lots of health-promoting qualities like dietary fiber and antioxidants. Eating different colors of fruits and vegetables (think “rainbow”) will ensure various nutrients.  

Be sure to discuss any dietary changes with your health care provider to appropriately manage any medical conditions you may have, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or heart disease.  

Let’s take charge of our nutrition and health in Rowan County! It’s never too late to make healthy eating a priority! 

Tara Smith, RD, LDN, is a member of the Meals on Wheels Board of Directors and guest columnist.