Making Healthy Food Choices

By Shana Suzuki
Interviewed by Rasa Fournier
Wednesday - December 21, 2011
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Shana Suzuki
Clinical dietitian at Rehabilitation Hospital of the Pacific

Where did you receive your schooling and training?

I went to Colorado State University for my bachelor’s degree in biological science. Then I went to the University of Hawaii to become a registered dietitian and pursue a master’s degree in human nutrition. I completed my dietetic internship and worked as a clinical dietitian with Sodexo.

How long have you been practicing?

I have been a registered dietitian for three years.

What does your role as clinical dietitian encompass?

I have a lot of interaction with the patients. On the day of admissions, I speak with the patients to get their food preferences and explain the menu and types of food we have at REHAB. Patients get to choose their menus every day. Patients don’t have a lot of control over their medications or therapies, so choosing what they eat is one of the few things they have control over. If they don’t like our menu options, there’s a substitution list they can choose from, depending on their diets.


I also do a lot of dietary education with patients and their families. REHAB hospital has a program called Caregiver Education Training. As part of the training, I do diet education with patients and their families if they are on a restricted diet or if patients specifically ask for dietary education. A lot of patients know they should be watching what they eat, but sometimes foods that they think are healthy are not necessarily good for them because of their recommended diet.

What’s your biggest challenge?

Patients who have diabetes or who have had heart disease or strokes are recommended to limit certain types of foods or nutrients in their diet. We work with them so they understand what types of foods are beneficial and why other foods can be unhealthy if eaten in excess. The main challenge is providing food that fits a patient’s restricted diet that they actually want to eat. In Hawaii, we are very into our salty and fatty foods like Spam, corned beef and shoyu, but there are a lot of people who could benefit from a saltand fat-restricted diet, especially if they have cardiovascular disease. The American Heart Association recommends people with cardiovascular disease consume less than 1,500 mg of sodium per day. This is less than one teaspoon of salt a day. That’s not very much for somebody who’s very attached to the shoyu bottle. What frequently happens is patients on a low-sodium diet say the food has no taste. When I teach patients to prepare foods that are lower in sodium, I recommend alternative flavorings like lemon, garlic, onion, ginger.

Shana Suzuki is hands on when it comes to nutrition. Leah Friel photo .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

People are probably used to eating prepared foods, which tend to be over-salted.

Everyone is busy and the use of convenience foods is increasing because people feel they don’t have the time to cook items from scratch. Eating out

also is becoming more common. Typically, when you eat out or use convenience foods, regardless of what you get, it’s going to be salty, fatty and/or sweet because nobody would be eating these items if they didn’t taste good. Salt, fat and sugar are cheap ways to make food taste good.

Any health advice or tips to get people through the holiday season?

First, accept that you’re probably not going to lose any weight during the holidays. A lot of people plan to start their diet in the new year and use it as a reason to eat all they want during the holiday season. My suggestion is to watch what you eat during the holidays so you don’t have as much weight to lose in the first place. It’s not so much what you’re eating on special occasions that is going to prevent you from losing weight, it’s what you do every day.

If you know you’re going to a holiday party and you’re not going to want to limit what you eat at the party, make an effort earlier in the day to eat lowercalorie, less-salty foods. Buy and prepare fresh foods rather than eating prepackaged, ready-to-eat food, because when you cook, you control how much salt, fat and sugar you add to the dishes. Realistically, if you’re sitting at a party, there’s no way you’re going to say to yourself, I already had a piece of cake, maybe I shouldn’t go back and have that brownie too.


I recommend serving yourself smaller portions of high-calorie foods such as desserts and deep-fried items. For desserts, instead of cutting them into 1or 2-inch squares cut them into half-inch squares. That way everybody can get a sampling of the dessert items and not be overstuffed. A lot of restaurants have started doing little dessert shots because people don’t want the huge 1,500-calorie dessert when they’ve already eaten a high-fat, highcalorie meal.

Smaller plates are a good way of watching what you eat. I like the compartment plates because you can control what food goes where. With the highercalorie items like starches and high-fat meats or casseroles, you can use the smaller compartment and then put your salads not macaroni or potato salad in the larger compartment. That way you fill up on lower-calorie items like salad, vegetables and fruit and you still get to have all of your favorite foods, just in smaller servings.

Lastly, when you go to buffets or parties, a lot of us sit around the food and eat. It’s really hard to stop eating when you’re looking at food, so I suggest that you serve yourself your portion and walk away from the food table to eat. You can always come back to the table later if you’re still hungry. The faster you eat or the more you look at the food, the more you’re going to tend to overeat, so make it easier on yourself and walk away from the food table.

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