Tips for making lasting health improvements during National Nutrition Month

As National Nutrition Month comes to a close, consider a few easy changes to the foods you consume.

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics creates the National Nutrition Month campaign every March to promote healthy eating and physical activity. This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.” The idea behind this message is that each one of us has the tools to make healthier food choices and become more physically active whether we know it or not. As a public resource, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics wants to increase awareness of all the available resources near you to live a longer and healthier life. So, as this month comes to an end Michigan State University Extension wants to remind you that eating healthy does not have to be complicated and it starts with making small changes. Small changes that will provide big benefits over time.

Healthy eating is all about recognizing your current unhealthy eating habits and making small changes to shift towards healthier options. By focusing on a few key points, you can create a healthy diet for yourself that is easy and sustainable. A healthy diet highlights variety, incorporates lots of fruits and vegetables and sets limits on unhealthy options. Before you eat something, you should think to yourself: How is this going to benefit me? Making choices based on the number of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients will help you break unhealthy habits. Filling up on fruits and vegetables makes this extremely easy since they’re packed with nutrients including fiber which keeps us fuller longer. There’s so many flavor combinations to explore with fruits and vegetables that choosing a variety is simple.

It’s important to keep variety in mind when choosing what to eat from all the food groups, not just fruits and vegetables. Venturing away from the popular cuts of red meat to seek out other sources of protein is a good way to expand your palate and modify your current eating habits. Processed meats in addition to red meats tend to have higher amounts of saturated fat and sodium, the types of nutrients we want to limit. Incorporating fish, beans, nuts and more leaner cuts of meat into your meals will remove some unhealthy components and provide some healthier fats and desirable nutrients.

The last recommendation is knowing what to limit. In other words, being aware of which nutrients to reduce, and which foods contain high numbers of them. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans explains that our diet should be low in saturated fats, trans fats, salt (sodium) and added sugars. Luckily all information regarding nutrients can found on the nutrition facts panel located on the foods packaging. The recommendations change from person to person since we all have different needs, but in general, we want to consume less than 10 percent of our calories per day from saturated fat and added sugars. Additionally, you should aim to consume less than 2300mg per day of sodium or 1500mg if you have high blood pressure. The current sugar number on packages is totaled from sugars added during production and natural sugars that are found in fruits and such. However, the FDA has announced that by 2018 all food manufacturers must distinguish between added sugars and natural sugars on their labels, so tracking this number will be easier in the future. By following these recommendations, MSU Extension hopes to help you find healthy eating solutions that last.