Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? That's the yearly initiative created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to help Americans eat a more healthful, nutritious, and balanced diet. Despite our best efforts to make more healthful food choices, being bombarded with tempting food ads and having far too many choices at supermarkets and restaurants makes it a struggle for many of us--at least some of the time--to make the most mindful food-related decisions.
And even though most of us know we should be eating more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein foods, and fewer sweets and treats, we often have trouble putting knowledge into practice. The good news is it doesn't have to be so hard! Here's a week-by-week guide to help you get your plate in shape this month and beyond.
Week 1: Get the Facts. Lean more about National Nutrition Month by checking out the great resources available on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics web site.You can also check out choosemyplate.org to learn about the five healthy food categories. See how you eat compared to MyPlate recommendations and learn what and how much to aim for each day from the different food categories.
Week 2: Tackle Your Toughest Meal. Take steps to improve one meal that gives you the most trouble, or that you tend to skip or skimp on. Choose foods from at least three of the food categories in their lowest sugar, lowest fat form. For example, if breakfast is a challenge, start small by having 1 cup of whole grain/high fiber cereal topped with 1/2 cup sliced strawberries and 1 cup nonfat milk.
Week 3: Snack Smart. Take a look at what and how much you typically eat at snack time, and try to identify what food groups those items come from. If you find your snacks are high in fat and or sugar (eg cookies, chips, candy, crackers), try to have something healthful that comes from a food group such as a piece of fruit (FRUIT group), 1-2 tablespoons of your favorite nuts (PROTEIN group), or a nonfat yogurt (DAIRY group) before you reach for the sweet or fatty treat. If you still want the cookie, have it--but you'll likely find you filled up a little with that healthier food first and won't need to have as much of the treat to feel satisfied!
Week 4: Think While You Drink. Liquid calories really add up! Try to drink plenty of water or seltzer, as well as nonfat milk (1-2 cups per day) and 100 percent fruit juice (if you choose juice, aim for no more than 1/2 cup to 1 cup a day so that you leave room in the diet for fiber-rich whole fruit). You can also include coffee and tea (preferably unsweetened) to round out your beverage intake. If you choose sweetened beverages of any kind, or an alcoholic beverage (that also counts as extra calories--beer, wine and distilled spirits do not come from any food group, right?), be sure to count the extra calories they contain and try to limit them to no more than about 100 calories each day. That's one glass of wine, one bottle of light beer, and slightly less than a 12 ounce can of soda.
Nutritionist Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN is a former spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and author of the new book “Nutrition At Your Fingertips," as well as "Feed Your Family Right” and “So What Can I Eat?” She is a registered dietitian and certified nutritionist who has counseled families and individuals on managing their weight and various health conditions, from diabetes to high cholesterol. She has appeared on CBS’s The Early Show, The Today Show, and on dozens of other national and local programs on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, Food Network, Lifetime, and NY1. For more on Elisa's work, go to www.elisazied.com.