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Nutrition makeovers take hold

November 16, 2009|By Jeannine Stein

About a month ago we gave nutritional makeovers to two families -- with an assist from Emily Ventura, a nutrition expert and research associate at the USC Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine. Now we're checking back in.

Duncan MacLeod and Rafael Navarro

The Los Angeles residents were partial to calorie- and fat-laden lunches, regular fast-food meals and snacking that sometimes continued late into the night.

Their makeover included advice to eat a more plant-based diet, maybe frequenting local farmers markets for top-notch fresh produce, and to cut back on diet sodas.

Now, the two regularly trek to farmers markets, using the produce in casseroles and other dishes. A few times a week, they pack lunches that are lower in fat and calories instead of eating out and, when they do eat out, they make better choices, substituting extra vegetables for French fries, for example. Their homemade dinners are more nourishing and lighter as well. Instead of buying pre-breaded tilapia as before, Navarro recently created the dish himself using only fresh, low-fat ingredients.

MacLeod and Navarro haven't done a complete 180. They took Ventura's suggestion of mixing sparkling water with fruit juice -- then went back to diet soda. And they haven't forsaken desserts altogether, occasionally indulging in small splurges.

But overall, the changes have paid off. Navarro says he's lost five pounds, and MacLeod has started working out. "I have more energy," he says. Adds Navarro, "I'm not eating as much and I feel a lot better."

Says Ventura: "It takes a while to get used to certain things. . . . There are going to be some suggestions that sound appealing and some that don't, but it sounds like they're figuring out what works for them."

Anita Fuentes and kids Jaylen, 5, Simone, 13, and Amber, 18

For the South L.A. family, discovering the fresh produce at farmers' markets has been something of a revelation. "The fruit tastes so much better," Fuentes says. "It's so amazing."

After using up the last of the pre-sweetened oatmeal, Fuentes has shifted to the unadulterated kind -- and her son, Jaylen, likes it. Daughter Simone now incorporates MultiGrain Cheerios into her breakfast routine (before, grilled cheese sandwiches were a favorite) and, while she still doesn't eat much during the school day, her after-school snacks have improved. Fuentes used to be only able to coax her daughter into eating a piece of fruit; now she might have a tuna sandwich.

The nutrition makeover visit (which occurred just before dinner) was interrupted by a passing ice-cream cart, but Jaylen now snacks on carrots before dinner, and Amber has given up soda. Low-fat string cheese is now a favorite family snack. Fuentes has upped servings of vegetables, even introducing some new ones, such as asparagus.

She also traded 100% juice for fruit punch, but she hasn't completely given up chips -- she does buy tortilla chips, but serves them with salsa, which could count as a serving of vegetables. Fuentes says she's even started exercising. "Why would you change the way you eat and not exercise?" she says.

That's not unusual, Ventura says. "Eating better pulls you in a positive direction," she says. "Also, when you eat a lot of sugar you go through energy highs and lows. When your blood sugar evens out, you feel like being more active."

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