This is the month that could begin to improve your life
Healthy eating doesn’t have to mean huge changes in your current diet. It can mean a small change or two to the way you eat each day. A perfect time to begin this approach is during the month of March, which is National Nutrition Month®.
National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. During the month of March, the academy emphasizes making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. The 2022 theme of Nutrition Month is “Celebrate a world of flavors,” which means you’re encouraged to enjoy your favorite cultural foods and traditions.
The academy advises getting to know food groups and choosing wisely from each one. Different organizations identify food groups differently, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has simplified them into five categories:
- Protein foods
Guidelines, not rules
The USDA recommendations are thought to be heavily influenced by dairy and farming industries leading to more mild, meat, cheese, and eggs than is ideal. Please take off their meat and dairy recommendations
The USDA recommends that as part of a 2,000 calorie diet adults be sure to include:
- 2 cups of whole fruit (instead of fruit juice)
- 2 and a half cups of veggies that might include dark green vegetables (broccoli or romaine lettuce), red or orange veggies (tomatoes and carrots), beans and peas, starchy veggies (potatoes), and other veggies such as mushrooms or avocado
- 6 ounces of grains, half of which are whole grains such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, or oatmeal
Get to know what a healthy plate looks like and start serving yourself and your family with healthier portions. The Nutrition Source at Harvard simplifies healthy eating into how much room each type of food should get on your plate including:
- Vegetables and Fruits: ½ of your plate
- Whole Grains: ¼ of your plate
- Healthy Protein like beans, fish, poultry, and nuts: ¼ of your plate
- Healthy plant oils like olive oil
- Water – yes water, coffee, and tea over sugary drinks is an important healthy choice!
Instead of thinking, “there’s no way I can eat two and a half cups of veggies every day,” think about swapping out just one serving of sweets per day for a half-cup of any veggie you like, such as baby carrots or snap peas. Then, see if you can also opt for a piece of fruit instead of a cookie or candy bar. Or, perhaps enjoy a half-cup of Greek yogurt instead of a cupcake. Here’s another suggestion: at your favorite Italian restaurant as part of celebrating a world of flavors, inquire about whole-wheat pasta for your entrée.
The key is making changes gradually, not trying to make sweeping changes instantly.
Why good nutrition is important
Keep in mind that consistent good nutrition is a journey, not a pass/fail exercise. Dietitians and doctors point to these benefits simply by gradually improving your nutrition profile over the course of a year:
- Improved heart health, potentially reducing your risk for a heart attack or stroke (from low-cholesterol protein and a variety of veggies);
- Reduced cancer risk (from a variety of veggies)
- Enhanced mood (from vegetables, whole fruits, and whole grains)
- Better gut health (from vegetables, fruits, legumes such as beans and whole grains)
- stronger bones (from dairy products)
- Healthier skin, teeth, and eyes (from dairy and veggies)
- Improved memory (from fish such as salmon, veggies, and whole grains).
As we observe National Nutrition Month, aim for small changes so that by next March, you will have replaced several food choices with better choices.