Ask a GI Dietitian: Staying Healthy This Summer

by Samantha Woodward, Digestive Disease Institute **

Debra Clancy, RD, CD, is a registered dietitian who works with patients within Virginia Mason’s Digestive Disease Institute providing nutrition information and tools for making positive changes in their lives. In a recent chat, she gave us the inside scoop on how to make healthy choices when you are out and about this summer and surrounded by meat in buns and ice cream on cones.

If I’m trying to stay healthy this summer, what types of foods should I eat more of and what foods should I avoid?

Clancy: Instead of avoiding some of your favorite summer foods, modify their ingredients and eat smaller portions. Make small, but significant, changes to summer food recipes like decreasing fat and sugar content by using low-fat products or decreasing the amount of sugar in a recipe.

A healthy summertime meal from the grill.

A healthy summertime meal from the grill.

The typical summer gathering with family and friends lasts for several hours, so try going back to the buffet more often, each time taking small amounts of food instead of overfilling your plate on a single trip. Choose side-dishes, salads that have a vinaigrette dressing, or very little mayonnaise, and meat items that have the skin removed or have minimal sauce covering them.

At your next ballgame, don’t order deep-fried foods – or try to split a dish with someone. Other healthy choices include ordering a smaller size beverage or water. When it’s time for dessert, try a small amount, scrape off the frosting and eat just the cake or choose a fruit dish instead. Choose mineral waters or flavored waters instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Don’t forget to exercise by walking and participating in activities that increase your heart rate for at least 30 minutes daily.

What food choices can I make to help prevent indigestion?

Clancy: If you are prone to indigestion, the symptoms are often increased when a large meal is spicy, acidic or high in fat. Spicy foods may be the BBQ sauce on the grilled chicken breast. Tomatoes are examples of acidic foods. High fat foods include cream dishes, deep-fried items and salads with lots of mayonnaise.

Follow these simple tips to minimize heartburn:

  • Eat green salads with minimal dressing, skinless turkey and chicken, fish and seafood, melons and bananas, and root vegetables, such as carrots and potato.
  • Choose low-fat dairy products as supplements to the meal, not as the main item.
  • Eat small amounts of food over a number of hours during the event.
  • Remain sitting upright for one to two hours after each meal.
  • Avoid carbonated sodas, alcohol, chocolate and large amounts of caffeine.
  • Weight loss often improves indigestion symptoms and decreases the progression to GERD, or gastroesophageal reflux disease.

Indigestion becomes GERD when your discomfort lasts for a longer period of time or when it occurs with each meal. If you are following the above suggestions and your symptoms persist, it’s best to seek medical advice.

When it’s your turn to be the host this summer, search online for healthy alternative recipes for your favorite foods:

Enjoy your summertime BBQ’s and events!

Guiding Good Food Choices in Our Cafeteria

Guiding Stars, the nation’s leading independent nutrition guidance program, is partnering with VM to help hospital staff and guests make more nutritious choices when dining in the medical center’s cafeteria.

Guiding Stars Program at Virginia MasonVirginia Mason is the first foodservice provider on the West Coast to implement the Guiding Stars at-a-glance food rating system that helps diners quickly and easily identify foods that offer a better nutritional value. The program is part of the hospital’s comprehensive Health and Sustainable Food Practice Pledge designed to improve the overall health and well-being of patients, staff, visitors and the surrounding community.

“Virginia Mason has been widely recognized as a premiere health care center across many clinical disciplines, and adding Guiding Stars to its foodservice program is a clear indication of the priority the center places on holistic health,” said Sue Till, client services manager with Guiding Stars. “We’re very pleased to have them as our first West Coast hospital partner and we look forward to working together to help people live healthier.”

The Guiding Stars system rates the nutritional value of every item in the Virginia Mason cafeteria, including hot and cold prepared foods, salad bar, grab-and-go items and beverages. Each item is then labeled according to its value: one Guiding Star is good, two Guiding Stars is better and three Guiding Stars is best. All items are evaluated using a patented algorithm based on the USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policies.

“We all know that eating healthy is so important, but when you’re pressed for time or concerned about a loved one, it can be difficult to take time to figure out which items are the best choice for you,” said Virginia Mason Food & Nutrition Director Jerry Roundy. “While we always make it a priority to provide healthy options, the Guiding Stars program adds an extra layer of user-friendliness, especially for those with specific dietary concerns.”

For more information about the Guiding Stars program, visit

Can Do: Cafeteria Changes to Soda Cans to Help Environment

The Four Seasons Cafeteria at Virginia Mason is trying cans instead of plastic bottles for soda.

The Four Seasons Cafeteria at Virginia Mason is trying cans instead of plastic bottles for soda.

Consider these facts:

  • Plastic bottles take 700 years before they start to decompose, and it can take up to 1,000 years before they fully decompose.
  • 80 percent of plastic bottles are not recycled, left to sit around and take up space in landfills and in nature for 1,000 years.
  • Millions of gallons of oil are used to produce plastic bottles every year.

When you consider the big picture, it’s easy to see why controlling the proliferation of plastic bottled beverages is a key step to protecting our environment. That is why the Food and Nutrition Services team at Virginia Mason is piloting an initiative to reduce the number of beverages served in plastic bottles in our hospital cafeteria and vending machines across the medical center. This initiative is one more step for our EnviroMason conservation program at Virginia Mason.

“When you think about the environmental impact of the billions of plastic bottles littering our planet, it’s clear that businesses and individuals will have to come together and work on a solution to this problem,” says Jerry Roundy, director, Food and Nutrition Services. “Recycling helps, but it’s not enough. That is why Virginia Mason is doing its part to reduce the number of plastic bottles we sell.”

For those who may be worried about their favorite flavor of drink going away – don’t despair. Roundy says the cafeteria will continue to provide all the same flavors of sodas and juices as before, but they will move to 12 oz. aluminum cans instead.