By Ashley Lehman, Health Risk Management Program Coordinator
It’s no secret that good nutrition plays an essential role in our health. With March being National Nutrition Month, what better to discuss than healthy eating! “Get your plate into shape” is this year’s National Nutrition Month theme. The “Get your plate into shape” campaign is designed to help us receive educational and informational tips about the foods we eat, focusing on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
Before you take that next bite, really think about what it is that you are eating. Is it fresh? Processed? Fried? Filled with vitamins and minerals? Foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods contain the nutrients we need without the excess calories. Eating healthy and receiving the adequate amount of vitamins and minerals our bodies need, will also help us feel our best and have the energy we need to sustain a high quality of life. Healthy eating is one of the best things we can do to prevent and control many health problems, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, Type II Diabetes and even certain types of cancer. Eating healthy is also a great way to manage weight.
Changing our eating habits can be challenging. With health being a very hot topic right now, healthy options are offered! They may not be right in front of us, but they are there. Eating healthy starts with learning new ways to eat, such as adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to our plates, and cutting back on foods that have a lot of fat, salt, and sugar. Healthy eating is not to be confused with “diet”. Healthy eating means making changes we can live with and enjoy for the rest of our lives. Believe it or not, eating a healthy, balanced variety of foods is far more satisfying than eating foods that are unhealthy. If we match healthy eating with physical activity, we are more likely to get to a healthy weight and stay there than if we diet.
How do you make healthy eating a habit?
What are your reasons for wanting to eat healthier? Do you want to set an example for your kids? Have more energy and feel more alert? Do you want to improve your health? Whatever the reason, you can do it. There have never been more resources available to us. Think about the small changes that you could make in your diet. Pick ones that you feel confident about doing. Don’t try to change your entire diet at once. Start with one goal and once your achieve your goal, continue to set goals until you feel like you have reached your ultimate long term goal.
A little bit of guidance from choosemyplate.gov
Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red and orange vegetables plus beans and peas. The more color, the better! Fresh, frozen and canned vegetables all count. When eating canned vegetables, be sure to pick the “reduced sodium” or “no-salt-added” cans.
Add fruit to meals and snacks. Buy fruits that are dried, frozen or canned in water or 100% juice, as well as fresh fruits.
Buy fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season! You will not only save money, but you will also get to try new fruits and vegetables that you may have never tasted. Your local farmers market is also a great way to try new fresh fruits and vegetables.
Make at least half of your grains whole.
Choose 100% whole-grain breads, cereals, crackers, pasta and brown rice. If whole grain is not available, choose whole wheat or multigrain.
Switch to fat-free or low-fat milk.
Fat-free and low-fat milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but less fat and calories.
If you are lactose intolerant, try lactose-free milk or a calcium-fortified soy beverage.
Vary your protein choices.
Meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, soy products, nuts and seeds are all considered part of the protein food group. Beans and peas are also part of the vegetable group. Keep meat and poultry portions small, lean and low fat.
Cut back on sodium and empty calories from solid fats and added sugars.
Drink water instead of sugary drinks. Select fruit for dessert. Choose 100% fruit juice instead of fruit-flavored drinks. Look out for salt (sodium) in foods you buy. Compare sodium in foods and choose those with lower numbers. Add spices or herbs to season food without adding salt. Switch from solid fats to oils when preparing food. Make major sources of saturated fats (desserts, pizza, cheese, etc.) occasional choices, not every day foods.
Enjoy your food but eat less.
Practice moderation. ChooseMyPlate.gov can help track your personal daily calorie limit. This calorie limit is different for all individuals. Remember to keep that number in mind when deciding what to eat. Avoid oversized portions. Use a smaller plate and glass and you will find yourself eating less. Cook more at home, where you are in control of what’s in your food. When eating out, choose lower calorie menu options, with dishes that include vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Don’t have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating.
Be physically active your way.
Pick activities that you like and start by doing what you can, at least 10 minutes at a time. Every bit adds up and health benefits increase as you spend more time being active.
Beginning to eat healthy can be a challenge with all of the temptations we face today. By starting small and making a few changes in our eating habits and trying healthy foods, we will begin to see that eating healthy makes us feel good inside and out. Eating healthy can taste great, and have amazing lasting effects on our bodies.