March is National Nutrition Month. With a whole month dedicated to nutrition, now is a great time to evaluate the types of foods you eat and how you can improve your health through nutrition.
The reality is that just about every person can improve his or her diet in some way. Most people don’t eat all of the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables, dairy, protein, and whole grains every single day. Even as a dietitian, I don’t eat perfect all the time. I love fruits and vegetables, but there are days when I have a hard time incorporating 5+ servings in my diet. Maybe you do great with produce but have a hard time eating enough dairy or whole grains.
For National Nutrition Month 2013, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics developed the theme Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day. The theme is great because it encourages each person to find the right diet for himself or herself. How I meet my daily nutrition needs may be different from Nate in Marketing, or Karl in Sales, or Kory in Engineering. The key is that we are all striving to find the right diet for our individual needs. Maybe you prefer cooked veggies over raw, or beans and nuts over animal protein. There is no one perfect diet out there, so find the one that is right for you. But, I suggest avoiding fad diets. Fad diets are just that—a fad. Soon enough, another “improved” diet will become trendy. Most fad diets aren’t good solutions for a long-term nutrition plan.
One confession regarding my personal diet is that I have a sweet tooth. Some people are surprised when they find out because they assume a dietitian eats perfect all the time. But I don’t exclude anything from my diet that I want to eat. I’ve been known to keep chocolate candies in my desk drawer for those times I crave sweets. Though I don’t eat sweets all the time, if I want a piece of candy, I eat it without feeling guilty. Since I eat well in general, it’s okay to have a treat sometimes.
Begin with Produce
Build a solid foundation by focusing on fruits and vegetables. Here are just two reasons fruits and vegetables should be part of your healthy meal plan:
- Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and fat, and they are also full of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and other healthy nutrients.
- Many American children and adults do not eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables each day. School-aged children should eat 2 to 2½ cups of vegetables and 1½ to 2 cups of fruit each day.
At mealtime, fill half of your plate with fruits and vegetables.
Add Whole Grain Goodness
After filling half of your plate with produce, add a serving of whole grains to the other half of your plate. Great options are whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice. Or, fill a bowl with oatmeal or multigrain cereal. Though replacing refined grains with whole grains may take a little getting used to, whole grain foods are rich in flavor, fiber, and other nutrients. It’s okay to include some refined grains in your diet, but at least half of the grains you eat should be whole.
Include a Protein Punch
Next to the whole grains on your plate, add a serving of healthy protein. Options include fish, chicken, turkey, pork, lean beef, low-fat and fat-free dairy products (e.g., milk, cheese, yogurt, and cottage cheese), and legumes (e.g., peas and beans). One serving is typically 2 to 3 ounces of lean meat or ½ cup legumes (the serving size of dairy varies by product).
Think Twice about Beverages
It’s time to rethink what beverages you and your children drink. Avoid sugary drinks, which usually contain little nutritional value but a lot of calories. Better choices are water, low-fat or fat-free milk, and 100% juices.
As part of National Nutrition Month, I encourage you to evaluate your diet and choose one thing you can change to improve your nutrition and health. Use MyPlate’s tools and the recommendations from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to set your nutrition goal. And then let us know about your progress in implementing your healthy changes. Remember, “progress, not perfection, is what counts.”*
*Tribole, Evelyn, and Elyse Resch. Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works. 3rd ed. New York: St. Martin’s, 2012.