National Nutrition Month 2017: Put Your Best Fork Forward

By Stephanie Prideaux, Dietetic Technician, Registered

This National Nutrition Month, you can help your family put their best selves forward by creating personalized eating and physical activity styles that let you “put your best fork forward.” Try incorporating the following tips into your family’s habits.

Healthy Eating Style

Eating better does not have to be complicated. It can start with focusing on a variety of your favorite healthful foods and making small changes in what needs improvement. A healthy eating pattern focuses on vegetables, fruits, whole grains, oils, and a variety of protein sources, such as seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, nuts, seeds, and soy products like tofu. As we increase these foods in our diets, we must decrease certain foods at the same time. Highly processed foods contain shockingly high amounts of sodium. It is also important to reduce foods that contain added saturated fat (such as cheese, meats and other animal products), trans fat (such as fried foods, baked goods, stick margarine, frozen pizzas) and sugar. Reading food labels and asking for nutrition information can help you to quickly identify foods to avoid. Small daily substitutions using healthy ingredients can add up over time to create a major shift in the way you eat.

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One technique to control your healthy eating style is by cooking more often at home. Packaged foods, restaurant foods, and take-home grocery store meals are notoriously high in the nutrients we need to avoid:  sodium, saturated fat, trans fat and added sugar. Experimenting with healthy substitutions at home can not only save money, but will allow you to ensure that all food groups are being represented as you create your personal healthy eating style.

Balance is also key when talking about style. We do not want to underdo it or go completely over the top. The same goes with our healthy eating style. In order to feel good, look good, and be ready to take on challenges, we must make sure to eat enough to meet our needs but not so much that we place ourselves at risk for chronic disease. This balance refers to both our total food intake for the day as well as the proportions of each food group on our meal plates. The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups:  fruits/vegetables are half the plate, protein is a quarter of the plate, and complex carbohydrates make up the last quarter.

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The MyPlate model shows a great visual way to balance our food groups.A simple way to personalize and monitor your total intake is to eat intuitively. Drink plenty of water, eat slowly, and listen to your body throughout the day. Respond to hunger with water, healthy snacks and balanced meals. When you begin to feel full, respect that too and stop eating. For more guidance, the MyPlate website’s SuperTracker tool can help you plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity.

Physical Activity Style

Exercise that is custom-tailored to your preferences and abilities is a key component of your health style. Being physically active most days of the week carries benefits for your entire body and future health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that regular physical activity improves your mental health and mood, strengthens your muscles and bones, and increases your chances of living longer. Regular exercise reduces the risk of many chronic diseases and can help you meet any weight goals you might have.

To cash in on these benefits, federal guidelines of the Healthy People 2020 program recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous physical activity. That can sound like a lot, but broken up over five days per week, that would be only 15 to 30 minutes per day of vigorous to moderate-intensity exercise. If gyms are not your style, personalize your physical activity by turning up the intensity of activities you already love. This could be dancing, walking, bicycling, gardening, hiking and more. Jumping in to play along with children is a fun way to meet your goals while building fond memories.

Children and adolescents need even greater amounts of physical activity. The CDC recommends 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise every day that offers a variety of aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities. Young people should have their own unique health style that is enjoyable, age-appropriate, and offers a variety of options. Learn how to keep kids active when school is out of session.

Dietitians: Your Health Style Consultant

Teaming up with your primary care physician to meet with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) can be a great way to set and meet health goals. RDNs can provide reliable, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice to meet your lifestyle, preferences, and health-related needs.

This March, let us celebrate National Nutrition Month by taking hold of the tools each one of us has to improve health now and into the future by creating healthy eating habits and engaging in regular exercise. Creating your personal eating and physical activity styles will help you “put your best fork forward” this month and for the years to come.

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