National Nutrition Month: Tips for a Healthy & Nutritious Diet
What is National Nutrition Month?
Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics celebrates National Nutrition Month. This month, the public is invited to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Food is a large part of our everyday lives, so good nutrition habits are of the utmost importance for living a healthy life.
Building a healthy and nutritious diet that works for you will not only help you feel your best; it can also lower your risk of health problems like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancers.
The Basics of Nutrition
There are a few simple rules you can use to understand the basics of nutrition. With these
principles in mind, you will be able to build the best diet plan for your lifestyle.
- Eat a Variety of Nutritious Foods and Beverages
The best way to establish healthy eating patterns is by limiting your intake of foods that are high in fat, sugar, and calories and replacing them with foods that are high in vitamins and nutrients. These nutritious foods include:
Whole-grain cereals, breads, and pasta
Milk and yogurt
Fat-trimmed and lean meat
Foods that should be consumed less frequently include white bread, rice, and pasta, fruit juices, fried foods, sweet baked goods, candy, and soda. A tip for limiting these foods is by keeping healthy foods around the house for meals and snacks, so you are not tempted by foods that have little to no nutritional value.
- Portion Sizes
Portion size helps you determine the quantity of food you should be eating. Even foods that are high in vitamins and nutrients can have negative health side effects if you overindulge. Portion size is different from the serving size on nutrition labels, meaning the best portion size for you could be more or less than the listed serving size.
The ideal portion size varies from person to person. This is affected by age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level. To find out what portion size is right for you, first use a calorie calculator to determine the number of calories you should consume each day to reach or maintain your goal weight. Then you can calculate your portion sizes based on the total number of calories you plan to eat each day.
For maximum accuracy, weigh your food with a scale. This will give you the best measurement of how much food you are eating and help you calculate the number of calories per portion.
Once you know how much you should be eating, there are additional portion control tips you can use to make sure you are not exceeding your ideal portion size. First, use smaller plates and bowls to make it look like you have more food on your plate. When you use large plates and bowls, it can create the illusion that your portion size is smaller than it really is. Additionally, eating snacks directly out of the bag or box makes it extra difficult to control portion size. Put your snacks in a bowl or on a plate to create a better visual representation of how much you are consuming.
- Exercise Regularly
One common nutrition myth is that to be healthy you must give up all your favorite foods. Thankfully, this is not the case! If some of the foods you enjoy are high in fat, sugar, or calories, it is still possible to enjoy them in moderation and maintain a healthy, balanced diet. If your goal is to lose weight, you can still eat high-calorie foods if you burn more calories than you consume. This is why supplementing a healthy and nutritious diet with regular exercise is crucial for managing your weight and feeling your best.
Ways to Make Healthier Nutrition Choices
Sticking strictly to your diet every single day isn’t always realistic, but there are a few ways you can do your best to avoid common dieting pitfalls. Now that you know the basic nutrition rules for building a healthy diet plan, there are a few additional tips you can use to help keep you on track.
- Plan your Plate
Planning your meals ahead of time helps keep your diet on track. By doing this, you are less likely to make spontaneous decisions that do not align with your health goals, like getting fast food, eating unhealthy snacks, or consuming more than your ideal portion size.
Making a meal plan for the upcoming week also helps you cut down on the amount of unhealthy food you keep in your house. These foods can be tempting but if you go shopping with your meal plan in mind, you are less likely to purchase unnecessary food on your next grocery run.
A good rule of thumb when planning your meals is to incorporate food from every food group— vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein. This will help to ensure that you are getting the vitamins and nutrients that are present in a variety of different foods.
- Read Nutrition Labels
Learning how to read and interpret nutrition labels is an important skill for developing and maintaining a healthy diet. This allows you to compare different foods and drinks when you're grocery shopping so you can choose the best option for your needs. For example, many foods that sound healthy, like those labeled “low-fat,” can be higher in sugar or sodium.
Nutrition labels are also helpful for calculating the amount of “good” nutrients a food has like calcium and iron, which should be included in a healthy diet.
- Make Healthy Substitutions
Sometimes making healthy diet choices is as easy as swapping out an unhealthy food for a healthier alternative. Some examples of this include:
Substituting skim milk for whole milk
Substituting sparkling water for soda
Substituting whole wheat bread for white bread
Substituting lean meat or seafood for a fatty cut of meat
Substituting a smoothie or frozen yogurt for ice cream
Substituting oils (like olive oil or coconut oil) for solid fats (like butter or lard)
- Plan for When You’re on the Go
Many of our meals are eaten outside of the home. This can make it harder to stick to a meal plan, but there are still ways to make healthy choices when you’re eating out.
If you know you have a busy day coming up, preparing your food in advance and packing a meal to go is a great way to make sure you aren't straying from your diet. Investing in a mini cooler or insulated lunchbox allows you the flexibility to pack meals that need to be kept cold.
If you are eating at a restaurant, many include menu labels that list calories and nutrition facts. Using these labels can help you make healthy food and drink decisions.
Keeping the basics of nutrition in mind when building a diet plan will help you reach your health goals. Dietary needs differ from person to person and can be affected by a number of variables, so one nutrition plan may not work for everyone. Making healthy choices that align with your needs and lifestyle is the most important part of any diet. To learn more about healthy eating choices and building a balanced diet, contact a licensed nutritionist.