March is National Nutrition Month®, hosted by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. This year’s theme, Celebrate a World of Flavors, embraces global cultures, cuisines and inclusivity, plus highlights the ability of registered dietitian nutritionists. Two of our dietitians at Augusta University Health, Sarah Deen and Rachel Johanek, are here to provide some suggestions and tips for everyone on how to eat healthier while still embracing the joy food can bring us all.
“The goal of National Nutrition Month® is to highlight how to enjoy food, all while letting it help rather than hinder your health,” said Johanek. “We want everyone to make knowledgeable food choices and create healthy eating and physical activity habits they can follow all year – and for the rest of their lives.”
Yet, it’s important not to forget about your own cultural heritage with food. “Celebrating our different cultures through traditions and recipes is a great way, not to mention tasty way, to not only nourish our bodies, but expand our understanding of the great diversity in our country,” stated Deen.
So how do they recommend going about this? Here a few tips to get you started.
Include Healthful Foods from All Food Groups.
“Getting a variety of foods is important to ensure you receive all of the different macronutrients, from healthy protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as our micronutrients,” said Johanek. For most meals, try for half the plate to be made of fruits and vegetables so you can be sure to get the foods that contain important micronutrients.
What are micronutrients? “Micronutrients are our vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. These are great for keeping our bodies running smoothly and a little bit packs a big punch. However, different fruits and vegetables contain different micronutrients. Which is why we focus on getting a “rainbow of colors” of fruits and vegetables for the maximum benefit.
When it comes to the macronutrients – the protein, fat, and carbohydrates – most people are aware of these in broad terms, but it might be time to expand our horizons. “When we think of a typical healthy meal, most think of chicken or fish with brown rice and steamed vegetables, but it can be so much more enjoyable than that. Start looking for plant-based proteins to try, different grains like bulgur or quinoa, and some vegetables you haven’t had to mix things up,” recommended Deen.
Work on Planning your Meals and Snacks.
Meal planning can set you up for success by allowing you to choose healthy and delicious foods at your own comfort level in the kitchen as well as how much time you have. Johanek recommended spending just a little time online scoping out great options that work for you. “Most recipes, whether in a cookbook on online, now contain nutrition information and just how long it’ll take to prep and cook the meal to help you understand if it’s the best choice for you.”
Don’t know where to begin? Try planning for making just 2-3 recipes per week to get into the groove. “What’s great now is there are tons of apps for our phones that allow you to store recipes you find on different sites into one place and can also build a menu and a shopping list within the app,” said Deen. The pair recommend checking out app recommendations from Food and Nutrition Magazine, part of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, found here to help you get started.
Create Tasty Foods at Home
Once you get used to cooking more at home, start to branch out a little more by trying recipes from different cultures. Although we often do this by eating out, it can be a fun way at home too. Plus, you can also grow your kitchen skills by trying to make some dishes at home. “It can be a lot of fun trying to cook something new and exciting at home, particularly with friends and family,” commented Deen. “You can even get your kids involved by letting them pick out the recipe with you and do simple tasks in the kitchen. This is a great way to get them excited about trying new foods as they get to see how it is made and are then invested in trying it.”
If you’re not quite ready for tackling different cuisine styles, start with just expanding your herbs and spices palate. “Try cooking something that you’re comfortable with, but with different seasoning or in a different cooking method. A great example is roasting vegetables in the oven. This often brings out a slightly sweeter taste to them and can turn someone who’s a little skeptical about broccoli, cauliflower or even brussels sprouts into a fan,” added Johanek. The duo recommends trying new fruits and vegetables depending on what’s in season, not just the stables at the store, and to also seek out different textures and colors to increase your variety.
Looking for exciting recipes to try? Check out both the American Institute for Cancer Research’s recipes or the great options at the Food and Nutrition Magazine. Both offer great, healthy options that offer a variety of flavor.
Lastly, Seek out a Registered Dietitian for more information.
AU Health has several outpatient dietitians in various areas that are ready and willing to help you use your nutrition to help your health and still have fun doing it. Talk with your provider today about setting up a one-on-one consultation with a dietitian for more personalized guidance. If you happen to see one on March 9th – National Registered Dietitian Nutritionist Day – consider saying thank you for all their hard work trying to help others choose healthy food choices.