By: Jacqueline Minichiello, MS, RD, LDN
Harbor Health Services, Inc.
March marks not only the beginning of spring, but a time of awakening for individuals to spring into action and embrace National Nutrition Month®. This year’s theme is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” The focus is to encourage everyone to consume fewer calories, make more informed choices about the food they eat, and get daily exercise to maintain and achieve a healthy weight, reduce the risk of chronic disease and promote overall health.
So what should we consider when making food and beverage choices? As part of the National Nutrition Month® campaign, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends asking:
- What am I eating and drinking?
- How much am I eating and drinking?
- How should I prepare what I am eating and drinking?
When we think about what we are eating and drinking, we find that certain dietary patterns have a moderate to strong link with lower risks of obesity and other chronic diseases (especially cardiovascular disease, hypertension, certain cancers and type 2 diabetes). So what do these dietary patterns look like? Coincidentally, the preliminary 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans have just been released. In a statement put out by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee they note:
The overall body of evidence examined by the 2015 DGAC identifies that a healthy dietary pattern is higher in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low- or non-fat dairy, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meatsiii; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and drinks and refined grains.
And while this pattern appears specific, the good news is people do not need to completely cut out any one food group and can be flexible with how they achieve this healthy dietary pattern. As practitioners, we should tailor these patterns to individual health needs, cultural practices and dietary preferences.
Thinking about how much we eat or drink is also a good practice. Often we serve ourselves large portions, not taking into account how hungry we are. And because as a population we tend to be bad at leaving food on our plate, we end up eating more calories than we need. With this I think it is important to add the question “Why am I eating?” Often we eat when we are bored, tired, happy, or sad. These are not appropriate reasons to be snacking on something. The majority of the time we want to eat only when we are hungry and therefore part of biting into a healthier lifestyle is also being more mindful in our eating practices. So use a smaller plate, spend at least 20 minutes eating, and try and cut back on portion size.
Lastly, it is important to think about how we are preparing food and drink. Are we including creamy soups or fried foods with meals often? These cooking methods can take even a healthy food and transform it into an unhealthy one (fried zucchini anyone?) The Academy offers some suggestions for cooking methods like broiling, steaming, grilling, roasting and stir frying. For our drinks they also offer ways to boost the flavor in water. Suggestions include adding cucumbers, berries, mint or lemon to water in order to give it a wonderful flavor. These methods keep, or even enhance the flavor of the food allowing us to continue to enjoy what we eat.
So how will you bite into a healthy lifestyle this month?