March is the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ National Nutrition Month®. The theme of this 2020 iteration is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite.” The message is simple: Even small dietary changes can have a big impact on your overall health. Indeed, good nutrition doesn’t have to be overwhelming. And developing sound eating and physical activity habits is the key to good health.
This year’s National Nutrition Month is promoting four main messages:
Vary Your Diet
Adding variety to your diet means eating healthy foods from all food groups. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides direction for maintaining a balanced diet via the MyPlate guide. According to MyPlate, a healthy diet requires fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy and protein each day. With American’s on-the-go lifestyles, it can be hard to meet the recommendations of MyPlate, but healthier packaged snacks are increasingly available to help fill nutrient gaps—from protein-packed beef jerky to whole-grain chips.
But it’s not only about what you eat; what you drink is equally important to a balanced diet. According to Statista, Americans consumed 38.87 gallons of soft drinks per capita in 2018. And more than 50% of U.S. respondents to an international survey said they consumed soft drinks at least multiple times during a week, if not every day.
And there’s no doubt you’ve heard how harmful soft drinks can be. In one study, people who drank sugary soda consistently gained more weight than people who didn’t. And, perhaps more shocking, there’s a large body of evidence that links added sugar consumption from sugar-sweetened beverages to the onset of type 2 diabetes.
The good news? American’s thirst for soft drinks is shrinking. In fact, it has been falling year-over-year since its peak of a staggering 53 gallons per person in 2000. It’s clear that Americans are seeking healthier drinks that both taste good and don’t add to their waistline or put them at an increased risk for type 2 diabetes.
Have you ever heard you shouldn’t go to the grocery store hungry? That’s great advice! This year’s National Nutrition Month encourages you to also use a grocery list to shop for healthy foods, plan wholesome meals ahead of time, enjoy healthful eating at school and work and be menu-savvy when dining out.
This is all great advice for planning meals at home and dining out, but what about when you’re on the run? And how can you make sure to eat healthy at work? Seek healthy snacks, meals and drinks when you’re away from home.
Studies show that healthy snacking has a positive impact on mental alertness and energy levels, and can actually stave off the hunger pangs that cause overeating come mealtime.
Smart snacking can and should be a part of your healthy eating plan. The key is choosing snacks carefully and incorporating them sensibly throughout the day. Healthy snacking has been shown to reduce stress, improve focus, provide energy and improve overall health over time. Remember, even small dietary changes can have a big impact on your health.
Cook and Prep
Take the time to prep and cook your meals this month. Explore healthy new flavors and foods, practice proper food safety, reduce food waste and share meals with loved ones whenever possible. It’s about enjoying healthy eating, rather than “just getting through it”—or worse, putting it off altogether.
For those with special dietary needs, such as gluten-related conditions or diabetes, this can mean exploring new recipes and ingredients that will meet their specific needs. For those of us without dietary restrictions, this can simply mean exploring exciting new flavors and ingredients. This is all about enjoying healthy eating and meal prep, rather than seeing it as a chore.
Visit a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Finally, this year’s National Nutrition Month encourages you to consult with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) to provide personalized nutrition advice or to help those with unique needs. Nutritionists help individuals thrive.
Why visit an RDN? In reality, there are a lot of reasons, but here are just a few ways RDNs can help their patients:
Better manage diabetes, high blood pressure or other chronic diseases
Live more comfortably with digestive problems
Ensure pregnant mothers, or those planning to become pregnant, consume the best nutrients possible for their little ones
Identify and stay on a realistic and sustainable diet to lose weight
Improve sports performance
Plan and prepare meals in a simple, healthy and convenient way
During the 2020 National Nutrition Month, take the effort to make small changes to improve your health. “Eat Right, Bite by Bite” proves that change doesn’t need to be grandiose.
John Wooden said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” Start taking those little steps today.