March is designated as National Nutrition Month by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) which encourages everyone to include healthy foods from all food groups through this year’s theme: “Get Your Plate in Shape.” The USDA’s MyPlate, which replaced MyPyramid, is a great tool for helping people to be mindful of what foods they should be eating and how much should be on their plate.
Eating healthy and being active are two essential components for reducing the risk for chronic diseases. Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, lean proteins and low-fat dairy products contain necessary nutrients and, coupled with enjoyable physical activity, is a great recipe for living a healthy lifestyle. Food is meant to be enjoyed, but eating less is the key to weight management and disease prevention, according to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Here are simple tips to help you and your family “Get Your Plate in Shape:”
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
- Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange varieties, as well as beans and peas.
- When buying canned vegetables, choose "reduced sodium" or "no salt added" whenever possible. Rinsing whole varieties like beans, corn and peas can also reduce sodium levels.
- Dried and frozen fruits and those canned in water or their own juice are good options when fresh varieties are not available.
- Make sure every meal and snack has at least one fruit or vegetable or both.
Make at least half your grains whole.
- Choose brown rice, barley and oats and other whole grains for your sides and ingredients.
- Switch to 100-percent whole-grain breads, cereals and crackers.
- Check the ingredients list on food packages to find foods that are made with whole grains.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
- Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and fewer calories.
- If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or a calcium-fortified soy beverage.
Vary your protein choices.
- Eat a variety of foods each week from the protein food group like seafood, nuts and beans, as well as lean meat, poultry and eggs.
- Eat more plant-based proteins such as nuts, beans, whole grains and whole soy foods like tofu and edamame.
- At least twice a week, make fish and seafood the protein on your plate.
- Keep meat and poultry portions lean and limit to three ounces per meal.
Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars.
- Drink water instead of sugary drinks like regular sodas, fruit-flavored drinks and sweetened teas and coffees. Choose 100-percent fruit juice.
- Compare sodium in foods and choose those with the least amount listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel.
- Season foods with spices or herbs instead of salt.
- Select lean cuts of meat or poultry and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Use heart-healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oil in place of butter or shortening when cooking.
As part of National Nutrition Month, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month website includes helpful tips, recipes, fun games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources, all designed to spread the message of good nutrition around the “Get Your Plate in Shape” theme. For more information, logon to www.eatright.org. For information on local National Nutrition Month activities, logon to www.biggspark.com.
Diane Zepaltas, MS, RD
Community Dietitian/Coordinator of Project H.E.A.L.T.H., a program of Southeastern Regional Medical Center
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