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Southampton Hospital’s resident nutritionist, Sandy Alfano, says making the right choices at the grocery store can go a long way toward reducing the risk of disease and extending a person’s lifespan—a message she plans to share with the community.

Ms. Alfano, a registered dietitian, will give a talk at the hospital tonight, April 10, on how a colorful, plant-based diet and an active lifestyle combats the causes of aging.

“The thing is to get to people before they’re 80,” Ms. Alfano said in an interview last week. Dietary improvements are more likely to have an impact on lifespan the earlier they are adopted, she said.

The nutritionist said she tries to promote little changes in her patients, to make the transition to a healthy diet easy.

“Eating healthy is an effort,” she admitted. “We have to work at it. We have to think about it.”

Most people eat on impulse, she noted. “If all you have are Oreos,” ?she said, “you’re going to eat the ?Oreos.” But just by keeping a bowl of fruit in the house, those same people will start eating healthier on impulse, she said.

“The number-one thing is that parents need to practice what they preach,” she said. If parents stock the family’s kitchen with junk food and bring dinner home from McDonald’s, they can’t expect their children to eat healthy. But if the children develop a taste for fruits and vegetables at home, it will stick with them, she said.

Fresh food is always best, Ms. Alfano noted. “The more something is processed, the more nutrition it loses,” she said. “But that’s not to say it doesn’t have nutrition.”

Everyone should have four to five servings of fruits and vegetables, fresh or otherwise, every day, she emphasized. “Apples are one of the easiest fruits to have,” she said, citing their portability and long shelf life. However, diversity is also important to get all the required nutrients. “The more colorful the better,” she said. Leafy green vegetables are a great source of vitamins B and white vegetables are high in potassium.

“No one food is going to be the fountain of youth,” Ms. Alfano advised and she also discourages fad diets, such as the no-carb diet. “In all the people I’ve seen who’ve used that diet, I’ve yet to meet one person who maintained that weight loss,” she said.

One way to slow down aging is with ?a restricted calorie diet, Ms. Alfano said. “The more you eat, the more ?free radicals you produce,” she explained. Free radicals are produced as part of the metabolic process, and they contribute to aging. However, antioxidants such as vitamins C and E scavenge the free radicals, preventing them from causing damage, she said. She noted that cottage cheese and whole grains are great sources of antioxidants.

Ms. Alfano said her talk will be full of practical ways to get fruits and vegetables into diets, and statistics on just how much of an effect diets have on overall health.

Her lecture will be given in Southampton Hospital’s Parrish Memorial Hall. Reservations are not mandatory, but those interested in attending may call 726-8700 to reserve a seat.

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