Monday Medical: Color coding for better nutrition | SteamboatToday.com

Monday Medical: Color coding for better nutrition

Heather Rose/For the Steamboat Today

Stephanie Fletcher works in the laboratory at Yampa Valley Medical Center, and like many people, she eats her lunch in a hurry. She wants to make a healthy choice for lunch but doesn't have time to read labels and calculate calories every day.

Stephanie needs to grab and go.

Lucky for Stephanie, Go, Slow, Whoa has arrived at YVMC, making identification of a healthy meal a little bit easier. This simple system uses color coding, similar to that of a traffic light, to help simplify food choices.

The Go, Slow, Whoa program originally was developed by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to help kids easily identify healthy foods. However, Go, Slow, Whoa and other traffic light systems have been sweeping the nation as easy-to-use tools for kids and adults alike.

Hospitals across the country are rolling out similar programs. Massachusetts General Hospital introduced a program in 2010 that included color coding and product placement. Two years into their program, Traffic-Light Labels and Choice Architecture, they found that the sales of red-light items had reduced by 20 percent while the green-light item sales had increased by 12 percent. People continue to use the program, which has not lost momentum like many fad diets.

Local schools also have adopted the program with the help of LiveWell Colorado. You may hear area kids talking the stop light lingo when it comes to food.

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What do the colors mean?

• Green light, or “Go foods,” are lowest in fat and sugar and are relatively low in calories. These foods are the most nutrient dense. These are the choices that will give you the most bang for your buck. They are great to eat almost any time and are considered high-performance foods.

• Yellow light, or “Slow foods,” are higher in fat, added sugar and calories. They are best to eat just some of the time but still can be part of a healthful diet.

• Red light, or “Whoa foods,” are the highest in added sugar, fat and calories. You don't get a lot of nutrients for all of the calories you are consuming. These are low performance foods and should be eaten sparingly, if at all.

YVMC's Director of Nutrition Melanie Stewart has been reworking the menus using the Go, Slow, Whoa guidelines to increase the number of green and yellow choices. Choices in the red light category have been on the decline.

Stewart's goal is to make the healthy choice the easy choice for YVMC employees, patients and visitors. Homemade meals, power-packed salads, roasted veggies and whole grains are readily available. Although you still will see an occasional red light entree, the deep fryer has officially left the building.

The beauty of the color coding is that the choice still is yours. It's just a more informed decision.

Like most members of our community, YVMC employees want to eat better. The changes to the cafeteria have been gradual and well received by most. (Rumors do persist that a certain someone would like a "Whoa Wednesday.”)

With the help of Melanie and her team, Stephanie's search has become easier.

"I don't have to think about it or calculate what I'm eating,” she said. “I can just choose by color and know I can make a good choice quickly."

The power of the stoplight is in its simplicity. Join YVMC, our local schools and countless other organizations and use the light to eat right.

Heather Rose is a marketing and communications specialist for Yampa Valley Medical Center.