National Nutrition Month is important because it dedicates an entire month to making people aware of the issues that arise when we don’t eat nutritious, real foods. Food should be our first line of defense for our bodies and we need to improve the way we feed our families.
Did you know according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the typical American diet exceeds the recommended limits in four categories of nutrition: calories from solid fats and added sugars, refined grains, sodium, and saturated fat. About 90% of Americans eat more sodium than is recommended for a healthy diet and fewer than 1 in 3 adults get the recommended amount of vegetables each day. Either we aren’t reading our labels, or we don’t understand what we are eating and the consequence for eating more than recommended in those categories.
The consequences of poor nutrition can be seen in adults and children. More than 1 in 3 of adults and nearly 1 in 5 children or adolescents are obese. Overweight adolescents have a 70% chance of becoming overweight or obese adults. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes, which are among the leading causes of illness and death.
The good news is that you can lower your health risks by eating healthy and there are many reasons why you should:
- Choosing healthier foods can help you lower your risk for chronic health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
- Healthy foods have the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients your body needs to stay strong and live a longer life.
- A healthy diet and physical activity can help you stay at a healthy weight.
- Set a positive example! If you have children, the healthy food options your child sees you make now can impact their eating patterns throughout their lifetime.
- When a person eats healthy and lives a healthy lifestyle, he or she is less likely to develop costly chronic illnesses in life. A healthy lifestyle can help you avoid spending thousands of dollars on doctors’ visits and medications later in life.
- What you eat has a direct impact on your brain which regulates your mood. Also, eating healthy foods can help to keep your mind from feeling foggy and distracted.
- People who avoid large amounts of caffeine and foods high in sugar and fat are more likely to have higher quality sleep, eating healthy can improve your sleep.
There are so many reasons to eat healthy, and I’ve only listed a few. It starts with a first step. Here are just a few changes you can start making in March during National Nutrition Month to improve your overall health. Start small and keep at it! Your body and mind will thank you:
Prevention is Key:
Eating healthy begins at home and parents can teach their children by first setting an example. Here is a summary of nutrition and healthy eating-related obesity prevention recommendations for parents and families from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institute of Medicine:
- Promote healthy eating by stocking a variety of nutritious foods at home-fruits and vegetables, whole grains, healthy sources of protein, and low-fat dairy.
- Keep high-calorie, low-nutrient foods and drinks out of the home-especially sugar-sweetened beverages.
- Model healthy eating for children by choosing a healthy diet for yourself.
- Encourage children to try a variety of new healthy foods, such as vegetables; remember that it can take multiple tries for kids to accept a new food.
- Eat dinner as a family at home and get children involved in shopping for and preparing meals.
- Eat breakfast and encourage children to eat breakfast daily.
- Limit eating in restaurants, fast-food restaurants and limit takeout food.
- Teach children to pay attention to feelings of fullness: offer smaller portions, allow them to choose their own portions, and don’t force them to “clean their plates.”
The Centers for Disease Control has a ton of information for parents outlining how to prevent childhood obesity with ideas how to encourage children to be active and also ways to develop healthy eating habits and more. For those resources, head over to their website here.
Here are some Kid-Friendly Meals that are nutritious and delicious for the whole family:
Purple and Sweet Potato Fries with Herb Dip
- 1 lb purple potatoes (or sweet potatoes
if you cannot find purple)
- 1 lb sweet potatoes
- 1 tablespoon herbs de Provence
- sea salt
- cooking spray
- 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
- 1/4 bunch flat leaf parsley
Corn and Broccoli Calzones
- 1½ cups chopped broccoli florets
- 1½ cups fresh corn kernels, (about 3 ears)
- 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese
- ⅔ cup part-skim ricotta cheese
- 4 scallions, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
- ½ teaspoon garlic powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- All-purpose flour, for dusting
- 20 ounces prepared whole-wheat pizza dough, thawed if frozen
- 2 teaspoons canola oil
Eat More Fruits and Vegetables:
It may be hard to get your fruits and vegetables in every day. Statistics actually say most people don’t eat as many as they should. Getting creative with your food and hiding your veggies isn’t just for the kiddos, you can do the same with your meals. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Add minced broccoli, cauliflower, or spinach to scrambled eggs.
- Add steamed or sautéed veggies or sliced fruit to your oatmeal instead of brown sugar and butter.
- Add pumpkin or butternut squash puree to pancake or waffle mix.
- Add greens to your smoothie.
- Mix regular and sweet potatoes for amazing mashed potatoes.
- Add veggie puree to soups!
- Get that spiralizer out and create noodles out of zucchini, squash, asparagus, cucumber, etc.
- Sneak them into your main dish! Add peas to mac and cheese, shredded zucchini to casseroles, tomato to grilled cheese, avocado to quesadillas – the possibilities are endless.
- Turn your veggies and fruits into “junk” food. Slice zucchini, avocado, carrot, or green beans, lightly bread, and bake until crispy. You can even turn kale into chips!
- Upgrade your desserts by adding banana or zucchini to bread and cookies or add avocado to pudding.
I would love to know how you add more fruits and veggies into your diet. Tag me on Twitter or Facebook and show me your dish! Here are some fun recipes to easily add a few more veggies and fruit into your meals:
Guiltless Grilled Cheese with Roma Tomatoes and Fresh Organic Oregano
- 2 Slices large whole wheat bread
- 1 1/2 Slices light Swiss cheese
- 1 1/2 Slices low-fat Cheddar cheese
- 1 Small organic Roma tomato, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh organic oregano, finely chopped
- olive oil spray
- 1 cup steel cut oats
- 2 cups water
- 1/4 teaspoon salt (I use Celtic Sea Salt)
- 2 dashes cinnamon
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1/2 cup cherries
- 2 tablespoons walnuts
- 1/2 cup soy milk (I also use light coconut milk)
Lower Your Sodium Intake:
Another big issue to tackle is eating less salt. On average, people are eating five or more teaspoons of salt each day which is 20 times as much as the body actually needs. Our bodies only need 1/4 teaspoon of salt a day. Sodium is found naturally in foods but is added during processing and preparation.
You may not think salt is a big deal, however sodium controls fluid balance in our bodies and maintains blood volume and blood pressure. Eating too much sodium may raise blood pressure and cause fluid retention, which could lead to swelling of the legs and feet or other health issues.
It can be tricky to limit sodium in your diet, especially since foods can have added sodium in them and not even taste salty. Here are some helpful tips for reducing salt in your diet:
- Eliminate salty foods from your diet and reduce the amount of salt used in cooking.
- I recommend swapping out regular table salt for Celtic Sea Salt- it contains over 84 trace minerals and is lower in sodium than table salt. Click here for more information on Celtic Sea Salt.
- Choose low sodium foods. When reading food labels, low sodium is defined as 140 mg of sodium per serving.
- Be creative and season your foods with spices, herbs, lemon, garlic, ginger, vinegar and pepper.
- Remove the salt shaker from the table.
- Read ingredient labels to identify foods high in sodium. Items with 400 mg or more of sodium are high in sodium. High sodium food additives include salt, brine, or other items that say sodium, such as monosodium glutamate.
- Eat more home-cooked meals. Foods cooked from scratch are naturally lower in sodium than most instant and boxed mixes.
- Don’t use softened water for cooking and drinking since it contains added salt.
- Avoid medications which contain sodium like Alka-Seltzer.
There is a great shopping list for low-sodium foods that you can print from healthfinder.gov – Find it online here.
The hardest step for many people is reducing their sugar intake, but it can be done! There is a great article I found that outlines not only the reasons why too much sugar is bad for your health, but also gives some great ways to reduce your sugar intake. You can find the article on healthline.com here.
Changing your dietary habits may seem like a daunting task, but the benefits will impact your health and your quality of life. Everyone should try not only to eat well but also engage in physical activity. These habits are beneficial to everyone; whether you’re overweight, underweight or at a healthy weight. Simple changes can make a big impact on a person’s well-being. Let March be the springboard to your future nutrition success!
“God gave us the gift of life; it is up to us to give ourselves the gift of living well” -Voltaire