It is time to celebrate an exciting annual event! Along with the arrival of the spring comes National Nutrition Month®. Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND; formerly known as The American Dietetic Association) launches this nutrition education and information campaign. It promotes making nutritious food choices while developing healthy eating and fitness habits.
The theme for National Nutrition Month, ® 2012 is “Get Your Plate in Shape.” This theme goes along with the USDA’s My Plate campaign and focuses on including healthy choices from every food group at all meals. Fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy are the ingredients needed to build a healthy plate.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that half the plate be filled with fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, dried, and canned fruit, packed in 100% juice all provide important vitamins that keep us healthy. Include a variety of choices, such as apples, bananas, oranges, grapes and pears to expand the nutrients you consume. Fresh vegetables, especially dark green options like broccoli and spinach, red vegetables like peppers and tomatoes, and orange vegetables such as carrots and sweet potatoes, are great choices. Frozen and reduced-sodium canned vegetables are good choices when fresh are not available.
Choosing 50% of all grains as whole grain choices is the next guideline in building a healthy plate. 100% whole grain breads, cereals, pasta and rice are healthier options because they provide more fiber and nutrients than refined grains. Look for “100% whole grains” on the ingredient list and 3gm or more fiber per serving on the nutrition facts label. The grains should fill about one-fourth of the plate
Eating a variety of lean protein sources such as lean meat, seafood, poultry, beans and nuts contribute to a healthy meal. They should take up the last fourth of the plate. Include seafood as part of your healthy plate at least two times a week and beans (or legumes) at least once weekly. Keep meat and poultry portions small (three ounces) and lean by choosing cuts such as eye of round, sirloin tip, top round roast and tenderloin. Ground beef that is 93% or 95% lean is best.
Including a glass of skim or 1% milk rounds out the healthy plate. An excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, milk helps to build strong bones and teeth. Skim or 1% milk are preferred since they provide the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as 2% and whole milk but without the extra fat and calories. Tofu, low-fat yogurt, pudding, and cheeses, especially Swiss, are also good calcium sources. Individuals who are lactose-intolerant can still get calcium by consuming a lactose-free or soy-based beverage.
To build a healthy plate with foods from all five groups, you need to have them in the house. Reading and comparing Nutrition Facts Food Labels when shopping can help you make the best choices. Try to stay away from foods high in sodium, like canned soup, snack foods, and frozen convenience foods. Look for entrees or main food products with less than 500 mg sodium per serving and for single foods with no more than 140 mg sodium per serving. Eliminate trans fats by choosing foods with 0 gm trans fats and limit saturated fat (found mostly in animal products) by eating less than 15-20 gm per day.
Finally, physical activity is a vital contribution to health and well-being. Be sure to choose activities you enjoy so it does not feel like work. Start out slowly and gradually increase the intensity and time of the exercise to the goal of 150 minutes per week. The combination of eating nutritious foods and being physically active is the perfect recipe for a healthy lifestyle.
With the United States experiencing an increase in the number of nutrition-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes, it is vital that individuals begin taking steps toward a healthier future. Join the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics members by getting involved in this month long event to make changes that can last a lifetime. For more information about National Nutrition Month, ® visit http://www.eatright.org/nnm/. For recipes, check out the “Eating Well & Recipes” section of this website.
Article Submitted by
Darlene Jameson, RD, CDE and Stephanie Zulkoski, UMES Dietetic Intern