Celebrated every March, National Nutrition Month® focuses on educating individuals about the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating habits, while also engaging in physical activity.
This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ campaign theme of “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” serves as a reminder that each of us hold in our hands the tools that can make us healthier through making better food choices.
One of the easiest ways to pack more nutrition into every meal is to have a colorful main dish or side salad. To get all the nutrients we need, eating a wide variety of different color food is important. For example, fruits and vegetables that are red, contain lycopene, which can dramatically lower the risk of developing prostate cancer. Purple or blue foods are colored by a pigment called anthocyanin. Anthocyanin is a strong, protective antioxidant that is beneficial for our heart as well as can help reduce the risk of cancer, help improve memory and assist with healthy aging.
In 1992, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) used the food pyramid as a guide to healthy eating. In 2011, a simpler image of a plate divided into basic food groups was unveiled. The plate is split into four sections, for fruit, vegetables, grains and protein and a smaller circle sits beside it for dairy products. Half of your plate at any meal should be fruits and vegetables, and the other half should be proteins and grains.
Salad is a great option, not only to personalize for your own tastes, but to get in much-needed vitamins, greens, protein, grains, and dairy. A salad can be simple: mixed greens, chicken strips, onions, and cheese, but adding in nuts, beans, fruits or seeds can increase the nutritional value. By concentrating on the flavor, texture, and color of a salad, you can sometimes fend off cravings for other less nutritious foods. Add a great light salad dressing, like a simple vinaigrette and you’re set!
You can also incorporate fruits and veggies into everyday foods. If you enjoy pizza or pasta, try topping them with broccoli, spinach, or peppers. Zucchini or squash can be a low carb alternative to pasta. Breakfast smoothies are great especially when you add in kale, spinach, strawberries, blueberries, or a banana (just be careful of the sugar). Substitute crunchy veggies for chips and low-fat salad dressing for dip.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers great handouts on how to make better food choices that can be found here: eatright.org. Remember to take small steps when working towards including more fruits, veggies, and lean meats into your diet—but don’t forget to work in some exercise. The healthier you are the less risk you have for cancers, heart disease, and more.