March is National Nutrition Month®, sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which educates and reinforces the importance of making informed food choices. This year, we want to help you ‘put your best fork forward,’ which serves as a reminder that each one of us holds the tool to start making healthier food choices. Small changes in our food choices one forkful at a time can help inspire a healthy diet.
What exactly is a healthy diet? It means variety in your foods, according to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, created to help people in the United States eat better and decrease their risk of developing chronic diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes. A variety of foods is important, because no one food or food group provides all of the nutrients our bodies need to grow and stay healthy.
MyPlate helps you follow these guidelines and eat a variety of foods by representing the five food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Protein and Dairy. Each one of us has unique nutrient needs depending on our age, gender, activity and health. In order to increase nutritional value, you should not only eat a variety of foods across the five food groups, but within these groups as well. For example, if you only eat two vegetables—potatoes (starch) and tomatoes (red vegetables)—you are missing out on nutrients from orange and dark green vegetables, beans and peas. We do not need to eat all of these sub-groups each and every day, instead it’s recommended that we include several servings every week.
Learning about nutrition does not have to be boring, have fun while you are at it with these National Nutrition Month games.
Take Small Steps
These are just a few ways to be healthier and add variety:
- Practice cooking more at home and experiment with healthier ingredients.
- Be mindful that each bite counts. Make sure you are eating the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do.
- Plan meals to include different colored vegetables throughout the week. Remember to choose vegetables from each of those subgroups (i.e., dark green, red and orange, beans and peas, starchy, and other)
- Make swaps. Enjoy fruit in place of sweets for dessert more often, choose low-fat dairy products and switch to whole grains when it comes to bread, rice and flour.
- During each meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables.
- Plan eating out carefully. If you plan to have lunch with coworkers, eat a light dinner. If you know you are going to a restaurant in the evening, plan to have lighter meals earlier in the day. Choose restaurants with a range of menu items and do not be afraid to ask questions about how the food is prepared or for a substitute or an extra side of veggies. Eat half your meal at the restaurant and take the other half home for a second meal.
By making these small changes, you are well on your way to making long-lasting habits.
If you need help making healthier choices, you can manage your weight or lower your health risks by consulting a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN). RDNs can provide sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences and health-related needs. Compass Rose Health Plan members pay a $15 copayment for nutritional counseling when performed by a dietician, nutritionist or diabetic educator.
Put your best fork forward. Check out these other resources to help you celebrate National Nutrition Month by developing healthy habits:
- 20 Ways to Enjoy More Fruits and Vegetables
- Eat Right with MyPlate
- Shop Smart—Get the Facts on Food Labels