PORTSMOUTH, VA, UNITED STATES
Courtesy story, Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center
The month of March is known as National Nutrition Month and is an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The theme for this year is “Celebrate a World of Flavors,” which offers a positive outlook and highlights that creating a healthy diet doesn’t have to result in bland tasting foods or adhering to overly restrictive guidelines.
As education and understanding of food increases, we learn that some of the foods we enjoy may not always be the healthiest choices for our long-term health, but according to Jennifer Meeks, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center, many of these less than ideal choices can easily be improved with small variations.
“There are a number of easy swaps you can make that will help you eat healthier and possibly save you calories without leaving you feeling deprived such as using a little less oil when cooking and baking because every teaspoon less oil you use can save you 40 calories – without affecting the flavor or texture of your food,” she says. “Making meat portions a bit smaller and increasing the portion of vegetables on your plate, will provide more fiber and nutrients per bite that will help keep you full and satisfied,” added Meeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and prevention, it is recommended that adults eat at least 1½ to 2 cups per day of fruit and two to three cups per day of vegetables as part of a healthy eating pattern.
“This means every adult should be aiming for at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day, and more than 5 can be even better,” Meeks says, “and with over 1,000 different vegetables cultivated world-wide, it could simply be a matter of time and exploration to find what you enjoy to meet this important level.”
Meeks went on to say that, “As spring brings an abundance of fresh produce, use this opportunity to try a new vegetable that you’ve never considered before. But, have a plan for how you are going to prepare that vegetable – look up a recipe or cooking video – to avoid paying for something that may never get eaten and just ends up in the trash.”
Bite for bite, fruits and vegetables have more good-for-you nutrients than the other food groups. In areas of the world where people live the longest, we’ve learned that most of their diets are centered around plants. Not exclusively animal-free, but plants (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts/seeds) make up most of their meals.
“We can try to copy their eating habits by making our diets more plant-based,” Meeks said, “and making an effort to include a fruit and/or vegetable with every meal and every snack can really help you reach your daily goal.”
Parents of picky eaters may even find that giving children a list of new things to try could be an adventure and allow kids to have a stake in a more diverse culinary menu. Ideas can include watching a cooking video or televised show that might peak their interest, or including colorful food groups to brighten their outlook on it.
“Growing a window herb garden that can provide fresh herbs to add flavor to dishes and also help kids understand the farm-to-table link to better understand where their food comes from,” said Meeks.
Because taste buds and interests change as we grow, experimenting with different ways to prepare those foods can help us appreciate them more now.
“For example; maybe you didn’t like eating cooked canned asparagus as a child, but steamed fresh asparagus might be something that you really enjoy now,” says Meeks. “Don’t be afraid to try or re-try new things and make it fun. Eating healthier doesn’t have to be a chore.”
The Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center (NMCPHC) develops and shapes public health for the U.S. Navy and Marines Corps through health surveillance, epidemiology and analysis, disease and injury prevention, and public health consultation. Learn more by going to www.nmcphc.med.navy.mil. Follow NMCPHC on social media at https://www.facebook.com/NavyAndMarineCorpsPublicHealthCenter http://twitter.com/nmcphc and https://www.instagram.com/nmcphc/