National Nutrition Month
March is National Nutrition Month, a month that focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating habits, as well as a time to celebrate and bring awareness to how nutrition can help you feel your best and live the life you want.
A lot of the time, people like to talk about restricting sugar, salt, and saturated fats. And let’s be honest, many people know this, but how do you shed a more positive light on something that sounds so restrictive? How do you translate those broad strokes into the dozens of nutrition decisions you make every day? Here are 10 of my favorite nutrition tips to help stay healthy.
What to do in your kitchen
1. Cover half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Forget the “side” of veggies. They should occupy more plate real estate than your protein or starches like pasta, rice, or potatoes. Aim for AT LEAST 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. A serving is one piece of fruit, a half cup of cooked vegetables, or one cup of raw vegetable (like lettuce), so it’s really not all that much to get 5 servings in. Your main-dish salad could easily be four servings.
2. Add veggies to boost nutrients and satiety. Mix a bagged salad kit with a bag of undressed lettuce. Add a pound of steamed broccoli or other veggie to your favorite take-out. Add a bed of baby spinach or kale to frozen meals. This strategy of adding vegetables to a meal allows each mouthful to have chronic disease preventing nutrients. Also try using spices and herbs in a prepared seasoned grain by mixing it with unseasoned bulgur, quick-cooking brown rice, or farro.
3. Replace your meat (or starchy side dish) with beans. They’re packed with fiber, protein, potassium, magnesium, folate, and iron. That helps explain why beans (and lentils) are so good for you. Research suggests beans lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol because they’re rich in the gummy, soluble type of fiber. Bonus: they help control blood sugar and they’re delicious!
4. Use nuts, like almonds or walnuts, instead of croutons. Nuts and seeds offer a bit of plant protein and plenty of heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat. So sprinkle them on salads instead of croutons (which are typically salty white-flour bread). Or add them to yogurt, cereal, fruit, and vegetable dishes.
5. Eat plain yogurt, or mix plain with sweetened yogurt. Unsweetened yogurt allows you to control the sweetness and added sugar (if you add any added sugar at all!). For extra protein, try creamy low-fat plain Greek yogurt. If plain is too tart for you, mix plain and sweetened. Or add peaches, bananas, berries, or other fruit for natural sweetness and extra nutrients to boot!
6. Cook with canola or olive oil (or avocado or flaxseed or peanut oils). Replacing saturated fats (in meat and dairy) with unsaturated fats lowers LDL. Most people get plenty of polyunsaturated-rich soybean oil in restaurants and prepared foods, including mayonnaise and salad dressing. So you’ll end up with a good mix of unsaturated fat when you use canola, olive, avocado, flaxseed, or peanut oil (when you want its flavor) for cooking. Bonus tip: Use peanut oil or canola oil when cooking at temperatures of 400 degrees Farenheit or more to prevent going over other oils’ smoke points, which can cause unwanted inflammatory free radicals and a compound, called acrolein, from forming, which causes that burnt flavor.
7. Snack on fruits or vegetables. What better way to tide you over to your next meal than a light-yet-filling orange, half cantaloupe, peach, plum, banana, or bowl of cherries, berries, or grapes? Try baby carrots, grape tomatoes, or slices of bell pepper, cucumber, or jicama with a few tablespoons of hummus or yogurt tzatziki, a tangy traditional Greek sauce. Yum.
Healthier restaurant resolutions
8. Start with a side salad for your appetizer…or just wait for your entrée. At many restaurants, appetizers mean cheese plus white flour or other fried fare. Quesadillas, spinach and cheese dip, nachos, Buffalo wings, and most other apps that are loaded with salt, saturated fat, and even tons of sugar. Who needs ‘em?
9. Order smart. Remember that vegetables should be a foundation of meals, including when dining out. You’ll be boosting the healthy nutrients in your meal.
10. Take home half your meal. When researchers analyzed main dishes at independent and small-chain restaurants in Boston, the average entrée (with sides) had 1300 calories. That’s with no drink, appetizer, or dessert. And they looked at more than half a dozen cuisines, including Greek, Indian, Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Japanese, Chinese, and Italian. Ordering half your meal to be boxed ahead of time helps you keep portion control in check.
No matter what you changes you decide to make, March is a time to reflect on your nutrition habits and what goals you want to achieve, including how nutrition can help you live healthier and happier. Contact your local Registered Dietitian (RD) to schedule an appointment that focuses on your unique and personalized goals.