Wellness tip: Food for thought on building healthy eating habits

Developing and sticking to healthier eating patterns could be a first line of defense for preventing certain chronic diseases.

Like most things in life, a healthy diet is all about balance. And while everyone deserves a sweet treat every now and again, maintaining that balance could help you prevent the development of chronic disease later in life. Today’s food landscape is rife with indulgence, highly processed foods and copious levels of sugar. Being mindful of how nutrition impacts long-term health and wellness — and what is at stake if poor dietary habits are sustained over time — has never been more important.

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), roughly 117 million Americans — nearly half of all adults — have at least one preventable disease abetted in part by poor diet, lack of exercise, or both1. These include heart disease, diabetes and even some types of cancers.

There is a plethora of research on the ineffectiveness of dieting for the general population, especially with fad diets that restrict certain types of foods or food groups. These approaches often aren’t sustainable, and can sometimes even be unhealthy. Luckily, there are also plenty of other ways to go about healthier eating, starting with some nutritional education.

One of the best things a person can do for their diet is provide variety. This involves eating foods across all major food groups — proteins, vegetables, fruits, grains and dairy — and, to take it a step further, broadening the menu to include several items from each food group2. Adding variety to your diet is an easy way to ensure your body is receiving the nutrients it needs to support your overall health.

Expanding your palate to include a greater variety of foods is important, as is limiting foods that may taste good, but probably aren’t doing your body any favors from a nutritional standpoint. For example, the ODPHP recommends a daily diet that does not exceed 10% of calories from saturated fats (butter, cheese and high-fat meats) or added sugars (sweet treats, candy and soda). Additionally, sodium, which tends to be higher in processed foods and restaurants, should be limited to under 2,300 milligrams per day for the average adult2.

These changes don’t need to be sweeping, and they will vary based on a person’s specific dietary needs and daily caloric intake recommendation. Starting small can be a way to gain confidence with healthier eating patterns. Would a sandwich hit the spot? Reach for whole-wheat bread instead of white. Feeling peckish? Try a handful of fruit or nuts, rather than potato chips. Instead of overhauling your entire diet from the get-go, start small and with intention, working yourself up as you go.

Perhaps the most important part of establishing healthy eating patterns is perseverance. This is why it can be beneficial to make healthy eating a part of your everyday routine. In the words of the ODPHP, “Think of every day and meal as an opportunity to make a healthy choice.”

Building on all this, the following meal planning tips can be a great place to start to help establish healthier eating patterns that last3:

  • Map Out Your Meals: Outline meals you plan to eat for the week and use it as a guide. Be sure to list beverages and snacks, too!
  • Find Balance: If you have veggies, dairy and protein at one meal, include fruit and grains in the next to cover all 5 food groups over the course of a day.
  • Vary Protein Foods: Choose different protein foods throughout the week. If you have chicken one day, try seafood, beans, lean meat or eggs on other days.
  • Make a Grocery List: Start by writing down all of the ingredients for the meals you plan to make. Just be sure to cross off items you already have on hand.
  • Love Your Leftovers: Prepare enough of a dish to eat multiple times during the week. Making leftovers part of your plan can save money and time.
  • Be Mindful of Portion Control and Sizes: Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. If you are trying to manage weight by reducing total daily calories, only eat half of the amount of the carbohydrates that you would normally eat.
  • Drink Plenty of Water: Avoid sugary beverages such as soda, iced tea, lemonade, coffee and tea (especially made with sugar and creamer) as well as overuse of sports drinks and juices. To stay well-hydrated, enjoy plenty of water throughout the day, with and between meals and snacks.
  • Bonus: Meal planning makes it easier to eat healthy on a budget!

Minute changes in diet can have supersized effects on overall health and wellness. In all, being more mindful of eating patterns and understanding which dietary approach works best for you — whether it be preparing meals in advance or having a plan when grocery shopping — is the key to unlocking healthier mealtimes and staving off the risk of preventable diseases.


[1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. December 2015. Accessed Feb. 18, 2024, at https://health.gov/our-work/food-nutrition/previous-dietary-guidelines/2015.

[2] Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 8th Edition. “How to Build a Healthy Eating Pattern.” Accessed Feb. 18, 2024, at https://health.gov/sites/default/files/2019-10/DGA_Healthy-Eating-Pattern.pdf.

[3] Medikeeper. “Meal Planning Tips.” Accessed on February 16, 2024, from https://my.wellsparkhealth.com/.

Universal nutritional guidelines, with a cultural twist – celebrating healthy eating and diversity during National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month®, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and this year’s theme is “Personalize Your Plate.”

It’s a celebration of culture, highlighting how there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health—a concept that WellSpark actively embraces throughout our programs.

As we discussed in our prior post, WellSpark’s Commitment to Cultural Competency – Understanding Workplace Culture and Beyond, we believe the best way to help people make lasting changes to their health is to make sure our coaching is relevant to their culture and life. So, topics like nutrition education need to focus on what a participant eats in their everyday life, not just lessons about the standard programming of the western American diet.

That said, there are some universal truths about how to create a healthier diet—or healthier plate—that apply to everyone:

  • Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies. Get creative with produce by trying an assortment of colors and textures.
  • Experiment with different grains. Try substituting whole grains for refined grains in recipes.
  • Choose lean protein foods. Vary your choices to include seafood, beans, peas, and lentils, as well as eggs, lean cuts of meat and poultry prepared in a healthful way, such as baked or grilled instead of fried.
  • Complete your meal with dairy. Include low-fat or fat-free options like milk, yogurt, cheese, calcium-fortified soymilk, or lactose-free milk.

Keep things fresh by trying different meals
Following the simple guidance outlined above can not only make a big difference in a person’s overall health, but it can be fun and flavorful too. Here are some delicious ideas to change up your breakfast, lunch, and dinner that reflect some of the many cultural cuisines found in our own communities. These healthy alternatives highlight the importance of cultural competency in coaching and the amazing range of options we have for personalizing our plates, together.

Latin AmericaAsian IndianFilipino
BreakfastScrambled egg with tomato, onion and peppers in a corn tortilla or arepa with cheeseBesan cheela (savory pancakes made with chickpea flour and vegetables) with extra tomatoes and spinach on the side, and a cooked eggArroz caldo (chicken and rice porridge with ginger and garlic) with boiled egg, sautéed leafy
greens, and fruit
LunchBean and cheese empanada (stuffed pastry) with a mango and jicama saladRajma (kidney beans in onion, tomato sauce and spices ) with brown rice and a green, leafy vegetable of your choiceKare-kare (beef oxtail soup with peanut butter
and vegetables) with steamed brown rice and
DinnerA cup of sancocho (meat and root vegetable stew) with green salad and yogurt and berries for dessertLaal maas (lamb in hot garlic sauce) with brown rice, vegetable raita (yogurt dip), and a nonstarchy vegetable like cauliflowerGinisang gulay (sautéed vegetables), with shrimp, steamed brown rice and melon

Healthy alternatives highlight the importance of cultural competency

Learn more about National Nutrition Month
National Nutrition Month is an opportunity for everyone to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits that they can put to use throughout the year.

For more information about the annual event, you can visit

We also encourage you to check out our recent post on culture at

WellSpark’s Commitment to Cultural Competency – Understanding Workplace Culture and Beyond

An employee struggling with their health isn’t just a person with a weight problem or a diabetes diagnosis.

Factors like support systems, mental health issues, socioeconomic struggles, and cultural differences, to mention a few, can seriously affect someone’s health. A lot of wellness programs ignore these factors that make up the totality of a person’s life. They may try to fit people into a one-size-fits-all box. But we know this isn’t the best way to go about making lifestyle changes that last, in this case, for everyone.

Everyone, and every job, has a different culture. With culture comes unique languages, diets, schedules, environments, beliefs, and general practices. So, when wellness programs introduce a ‘one size fits all’ program for a workforce, how do we expect these programs to succeed for everyone? Everyone’s health is their own. It’s personal. Every program designed to help people get and stay on a healthy path needs to connect with each individual’s life.

At WellSpark, we believe that to engage people in health programs, you must make the program relevant to that person’s culture and life. Nutrition education needs to be about what people eat in their everyday life, not just lessons about the standard programming of the western American diet. Typical exercise and activity programming needs to be more than going to a gym. It could include things like dancing with your extended family after a holiday meal. And while you might conjure up thoughts of a holiday meal served on plates, at a table gathering, with everyone conversing, for others, it might look different – served in a communal bowl, sitting on the floor, with minimal conversation – creating a connection to one’s culture.

What is culture? When we think about the culture of a workforce at Wellspark, we go beyond what, when, and how employees may eat or exercise. We think about culture in terms of the workplace, the workday, and the actual work itself. Is it conducive to living a healthy lifestyle? Does the work itself make a person sick? Is the work sedentary? Does it impact a person’s sleep patterns? Is it lonely?

The physical workplace also factors into our cultural programming. What if you don’t work in an office? What if you are in a delivery truck, on a shop floor, or working the night shift doing patient care? Programs must be relevant to a person’s life AND accessible during the day to fit a person’s lifestyle. At WellSpark, we’re focused on reaching these economically diverse, multicultural, hard-to-reach populations. WellSpark is committed to the cause of developing culturally relevant and accessible health programs to connect with a culturally diverse workforce. Given these statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health:

  • 42% of Black or African American adults have hypertension
  • 22% of Hispanic Americans over the age of 20 have diabetes
  • Indigenous Americans have the highest rate of cigarette smoking compared to all racial/ethnic groups in America
  • Asian Americans are 40% more likely to have diabetes compared to non-Hispanic White Americans

WellSpark connects programs with the people we are endeavoring to serve.

Getting your vitamins in?

Vitamins (also known as micronutrients) are essential substances that your body needs to function normally.

Vitamins can fuel your body to help do things like heal wounds, repair cells, and support immunity. Your body can produce some vitamins on its own, but it needs others to come from sources like food or supplements.

And mostly food.

“When it comes to vitamins and minerals, food should be your first and main source,” says Brieanna Peabody, a health coach educator at WellSpark Health, a ConnectiCare affiliate. “The goal is to eat a variety and balance of nutrient dense foods to meet your daily nutritional needs.”

The ABCs of vitamins
We need around 30 vitamins, minerals, and other components to support bodily functions. Here’s a quick vitamin rundown, including health benefits and food sources of each vitamin, courtesy of the Mayo Clinic. Ask your doctor how much of each vitamin they recommend for you.

  1. Vitamin A plays a role in vision health, growth, cell division, reproduction, and immunity. It may even protect you against some cancers. It’s in dairy products, organ meats, green leafy vegetables, eggs, and fish, like salmon. Beta-carotene is converted into vitamin A in the body, so it is smart to eat some foods that are rich in beta-carotene as well.  Those include carrots, sweet potatoes, and pumpkins.
  2. Vitamin B-6  can reduce high plasma homocysteine levels, which can help reduce your risk of a stroke or heart disease. Vitamin B-6 also plays a big role in sleep, appetite, and mood. You can find vitamin B-6 in meat, poultry, fish, legumes, chickpeas, and bananas. Just one chicken breast has 0.8 mg!
  3. Vitamin B-12 is also found in meat, fish and poultry, as well as eggs and dairy products. It can also be found in nutritional yeast, and other fortified food products. Like vitamin B-6, vitamin B-12 may also help prevent strokes and lower your risk for heart disease. Vitamin B-12 also protects nerve cells and encourages normal growth.
  4. Vitamin C acts as an antioxidant, possibly helping protect your body against cell damage by molecules called “free radicals” that are in food or the environment — such as tobacco smoke or radiation. You can find this vitamin in citrus fruits, strawberries, broccoli, red peppers, and potatoes. It is also beneficial for eye health and may reduce the risk of mouth, esophagus, stomach, and breast cancer. Contrary to popular belief, there is no real evidence that vitamin C prevents or helps treat the common cold.
  5. Vitamin D may help prevent osteoporosis, reduce certain cancers and multiple sclerosis, and improve osteoarthritis, as researchers are investigating the possibility of a link. Your skin can produce some vitamin D when exposed to the sun, but it is usually not enough to meet your body’s needs. Your doctor may recommend a supplement for that reason. You can get vitamin D from milk, margarine, fatty fish, mushrooms, and fish oils.
  6. Vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, sunflower seeds, and peanut butter. It works to neutralize unstable molecules that have the potential to damage cells. Diets rich in vitamin E may support healthy immune function and the widening of blood vessels to help prevent blood clots. Some studies show it may help slow or decline the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.
  7. Folate is a vitamin needed to make DNA and other genetic materials. It’s found in legumes, oranges, grains, leafy greens, and cereals. Some possible health benefits of folate include lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer. However, folate supplements might have different effects on cancer risk.
  8. Vitamin K helps with blood clotting and may improve bone health. It is found in leafy greens, soy, eggs, blueberries, meat, and canola oil.

Talk to your doctor before changing your diet or lifestyle.
If you take vitamins in a pill form, do not take more than the recommended daily dose. Some vitamins—especially fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K—can become toxic if too much is ingested.

“There are possible drug and nutrient interactions to be aware of especially if you have a chronic condition,” says Peabody. Vitamin recommendations may vary based on age, gender, and your stage of life. Plus, women who are pregnant may need different amounts of vitamins than the average recommended amount. Always check with your doctor to see what he or she recommends for you.

Can vitamins prevent conditions like COVID-19?
Presently, there is no cure for the coronavirus (COVID-19), and there is not enough research that supports taking vitamin supplements to prevent or treat COVID-19. The best things you can do are follow the recommended safety guidelines, eat well, be active, and make time for self-care. And if you need help with any of those things, the WellSpark health coaches are here to help.

For more information

Changing Your Diet Can Help Improve Your Heart Health

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. It costs us nearly $219 billion each year because of health care services, medicine costs, and a loss of productivity.1

80% of heart disease cases are preventable – so how can a preventable disease create such a negative health impact in our country?

A lot of it has to do with lifestyle. In general, a healthy diet and regular physical activity are the two best ways to fight and prevent cardiovascular diseases. Our Chief Medical Officer and Vice President at WellSpark, Dr. Wayne Rawlins, tells us the importance of having a healthy heart. “A healthy heart is central to overall good health. Embracing a healthy lifestyle – proper diet, exercise, avoiding obesity and not smoking – can prevent heart disease and lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke,” he says.
Celebrate the great things your heart does for you by implementing a healthy diet to your life. Dr. Rawlins suggests watching your portions, eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and avoiding high-fat, high-sodium “junk” foods. Here are some more heart healthy eating tips below, backed by the the American Heart Association.

  • Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits. It doesn’t matter if they are frozen, canned, or fresh, as long as there are no added sugars or salts.  Berries are rich in antioxidants, and eating them can reduce risk factors for heart disease. Leafy greens can help reduce blood pressure and improve arterial function.
  • Replace all grains with fiber-rich whole grains. Whole wheat, brown rice, oats, and quinoa are whole grains. Eating three or more servings of whole grain can reduce your risk for heart disease by 22%2. “I’m a fan of brown rice myself,” Dr. Rawlins says. “Rice goes with everything and you can have it with every meal if you want.” Try incorporating brown rice into Gallo Pinto, a delicious rice and beans dish.
  • Remove the skin on poultry and fish or buy it skinless and cook it in ways that doesn’t add saturated and trans-fat, like grilling. Buy the leanest cuts of meat available, and minimize processed red meats like bacon, ham, hotdogs, and deli meat.
  • Eat non-fried fish at least twice a week. Look for different varieties of fish containing omega 3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides, the risk of developing and irregular heartbeat, and the buildup of plaque in the arteries. Salmon, trout, and herring are great choices.
  • Pick fat-free and low-fat dairy products.
  • Try to avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Limit saturated and trans-fat and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats can decrease the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Reduce beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Cut back on sodium and cook with little to no salt. Reducing your sodium intake can lower your blood pressure.
  • Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk for high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, some cancers, and other conditions. Women should have no more than one drink a day, and men should have no more than two drinks.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.
  • Try out a heart healthy diet, like the Mediterranean diet, the DASH diet, or a vegetarian/plant-based diet.

There is so much you can do to lower your risk for heart disease. “It is a lifestyle that will pay off in the long run in good health,” says Dr. Rawlins. It’s never too late to start making life-changing dietary alterations.

Read more about eating heart healthy:


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021). Heart Disease Facts. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm

[2] Link, R. (2018, March 5) 15 incredibly Heart Healthy Foods. Healthline. Retrieved January 1, 2021, from www.healthline.com/nutrition/heart-healthy-foods#section2

Why Good Nutrition Should Matter to You

A Strong Immune System, More Energy and a Reduced Risk in Chronic Diseases Are Just A Few Benefits to a Healthy Diet.

Good nutrition is an important part of living a healthy lifestyle. The food choices you make affect your health as well as how you feel. When you combine a well-balanced diet and physical activity, you can maintain a good weight and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

How Nutrition Impacts Your Overall Health

Unhealthy eating habits have greatly contributed to obesity in the United States with about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) being obese and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years being obese.1 A poor diet is associated with major health risks that includes heart disease, type 2 diabetes, heart attack, stroke and hypertension. When you eat healthy foods, you are protecting yourself from these health problems as well as nourishing your body. Making small changes to your diet can go a long way and put you on a path to better health. Now that you know the impact that nutrition has on your body, you can enjoy the many benefits of having a healthy diet.

The Benefits to Good Nutrition

Maintains Your Immune System
A healthy diet keeps your immune system strong, balanced and ready to fight against viruses and infections such as colds and flu. Some nutrients to support immune function are vitamin A, C, D, E, Iron and Zinc that are found in various foods such as strawberries, oranges, salmon, spinach and poultry.

Improves Your Well-Being
Eating a well-balanced diet reduces physical and mental health because good nutrition enables people to be more active. You can protect your health and well-being by ensuring that your diet has the essential fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.  

Gives You Energy
Our bodies get their energy from the foods and liquids we ingest. The main nutrients our body uses for energy are protein, fats and carbohydrates found in whole-grain breads and starchy vegetables. Water is just as important to prevent dehydration that causes a lack of energy.

Increases Your Focus
Food affects the way we think. When your body is low in glucose, the brain does not receive the energy it needs to remain focused and sharp. Eating fruits and vegetables throughout your day will keep your mind engaged.

Positively Affects Your Mood
A diet rich in protein, carbohydrates and low in fat have a positive effect on your mood because it provides a supply of iron and omega-3 fatty acids. When people feel happy they are more likely to make healthy food decisions.

To learn more tips and information, contact WellSpark Health at 1-877-224-7350 or [email protected]


[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Obesity Trends. 2011. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/databases.html

Five Simple Ways to Eat Your Way Healthy

Transform Your Eating Habits with these Easy Tips.

Eating right can control weight and reduce your risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes and stroke. Even losing just a few pounds can benefit your health. Make smart choices to adopt an overall healthier eating plan. A well-balanced diet provides energy to keep you active through your day.

Not sure where to start? Eating healthy does not have to be complicated or expensive. There is a lot of information on how to eat healthy and we understand it sometimes can feel like too much to think about. Healthy eating starts with consciously making healthy food choices. You do not need to be a chef to create healthy meals. Good nutrition is about having a well-rounded diet. Here are some tips to eating healthy in a way that’s easy to understand.

Try These 5 Simple Tips When Planning Your Next Meal

Plan meals to include different colored vegetables throughout the week. Be sure to include vegetables from all five vegetable subgroups to mix up the nutrients and vitamins you can get from each group – dark-green, starchy, red-orange, beans and peas and other vegetables. Most vegetables are low in calories and fat. Vegetables are rich in potassium which will decrease bone loss. Keep meals simple and economical. Shopping Tip: Buy fresh vegetables in season since they cost less.

Choose fruit not only as your snack but try it for dessert instead of sugary sweets. Make most of your choices whole or cut-up fruit rather than juice to ensure you are getting the dietary fiber they provide. Most fruits are low in calories, sodium and fat. Fruits provide various nutrients such as vitamins C and A and folate as well as dietary fiber and potassium. Cooking Tip: Use fruits to sweeten a recipe instead of adding sugar. 

Try brown rice instead of white and whole grain bread for sandwiches. Shopping tip: Look for words “100% whole grain” or “100 whole wheat” on the food label. Whole grains provide more nutritional value such as fiber than refined grains. Cooking Tip: Cook extra brown rice when you have time to meal prep for the work week. Refrigerate half the portion and serve later as a side dish or in a salad.

Protein foods include both animal (meat, poultry, eggs and seafood) and plant (beans, nuts, peas, soy products and seeds) sources. Vary your protein food choices and eat plant protein foods more often. Adding plant-based proteins into the rotation, like chickpeas, lentils, red and black beans, quinoa, tofu and almonds will help with fiber intake. Plant-based proteins are naturally low in saturated fat and high in fiber. Meal Prep Tip: Add a half cup of beans or peas to your salad plate to add texture, flavor and fiber.

Make low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt part of your meal. Dairy products provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein. These nutrients work together to strengthen our bones and teeth. When milk products are adequately consumed they can decrease your risk of osteoporosis, a condition where bones become brittle and weak. For those who are lactose-intolerant, then choose lactose-free alternatives. Meal Prep Tip: Try adding fresh fruit to plain low-fat yogurt for breakfast instead of buying the flavored/sweetened variety.

Want more info or tips like these? Contact WellSpark Health at 877.224.7350 or [email protected].


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, http://eatright.org

United States Department of Agriculture, https://www.myplate.gov/

CDC, https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/index.html

The information provided is NOT intended to be medical advice and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice and care. Contact your physician when seeking any medical advice.

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