March is National Nutrition Month® in the U.S., and this year’s theme, “Put Your Best Fork Forward” is a great one because it reminds us all that taking steps to improve our nutrition through smart eating is possible. This year’s theme does not demand perfection. Instead, it prods us to take action to make our diets better, to start where we are right now, at this moment, and to acknowledge that every improvement is a step on the good eating journey.
From my standpoint, the annual National Nutrition Month® theme commands more than a little respect. It’s not arrived at willy-nilly or by accident. Rather, the theme and its associated list of recommendations is deliberately arrived at each year by The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics , a professional organization made up of more than 100,000 credentialed dietitians and dietetic technicians from across the country. These professionals know what they’re talking about when it comes to nutrition. Here are some highlights:
- Small tweaks can bring big nutrition benefits
Making positive changes to your diet doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing deal. Go big or go home doesn’t apply to healthy choices. In fact, “going big” when it comes to dietary modifications can lead to major feelings of deprivation, which can lead to giving up completely. According to Cornell University researchers, we make about 200 food-related choices every day! Having to give lots of thought to each and every one of those every day would be overwhelming. Doesn’t it make sense to make small switches that you can apply to just some of those decisions? A number of research studies have examined the effect of making small changes, and the studies indicate that this approach is successful for many people. Studies by the University of British Columbia show that focusing on quantity, quality, or frequency of food consumption—not all of them at once—might be the key to sustaining positive dietary changes that truly impact health. Another way to position small changes in your diet is to put the emphasis on adding things to your daily diet, as opposed to always focusing on what you need to eat less of or eliminate. Putting a positive spin on your healthful changes can make them more palatable.
- What does putting your “best fork forward” look like for you?
Of course, choosing which small changes you want to work on depends on your health goal. Maybe you’re trying to drop a few pounds, or maybe you’re trying to increase your fruit and veggie intake, maybe you’re trying to establish a breakfast-eating habit in order to get more nutrients into your day. Once you’ve established your goal, researchers say it’s important to look at your eating behavior to pinpoint habits that can be tweaked for improved health. For example, if you realize that you tend to shun water in favor of other beverages because you crave flavor, you might want to add some refreshing flavor to plain water by infusing it with things like mint leaves, lemon slices, and frozen Wild Blueberries. No matter what your goal is, increasing the nutritional content of your diet is a smart move. The latest Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises getting more nutrients into our diets, such as vitamin D, calcium, potassium and fiber, as well as iron for females. What small changes can you make that would better nourish your body?
- Need ideas to help you “Put Your Best Fork Forward?”
Here are a couple ideas to get you started. Again, choose a goal, then find one or two small tweaks you can make in your eating plan or your approach to food that will support your goal.
Focus on fiber
Most Americans get far less fiber than is recommended. Women should aim for 25 grams per day and men should get 38 grams per day of fiber. Pack plenty of fruits and veggies into your day, along with whole grains and you can meet your fiber goals.
- Switch out your regular cereal for one you enjoy that contains more fiber
- Make a point to top hot or cold cereal, as well as yogurt or cottage cheese with a handful of frozen Wild Blueberries and a tablespoon of chia seeds or flaxseed meal. Wild Blueberries are a good source of fiber, with 1 cup providing 25% of the Daily Value for fiber.
- Start a habit of swapping cooked whole grains like bulgur, barley, and faro for pasta. And when do you eat pasta, make it one of the higher fiber varieties such as whole wheat, multi-grain or fiber-enhanced pastas.
- Bulk up your meals with lots of veggies, which are a good source of fiber and add color, texture, nutrients and flavor to your meals. Pretty much any dish is better with more veggies, so add more of them to casseroles, soups, scrambled eggs, stir-fry, and give yourself a good-sized, satisfying portion of food for fewer calories.
- Add berries to your salads. There’s no rule that says salads must only contain vegetables. I love adding a handful of berries to the salad bowl—they’re beautiful and add fiber, color and an enticing sweet taste to your everyday salad.
Skimp on added sugar
Cutting back on sugar is a nutrition goal that will help you cut calories as well as retrain your taste buds to appreciate the natural sweetness in foods. Eating more whole foods and relying on fruit for sweetness in your meal plan is a good start.
- Instead of a sugary-sweet dessert, make fruit your after-meal treat at least several nights a week. Frozen Wild Blueberries that have thawed just a little are a sorbet-swap in our house. Opt for a variety of fruits to increase the variety of nutrients you consume.
- Give plain fruit a tasty topping with shredded, unsweetened coconut, a dollop of whole-milk Greek yogurt or a little drizzle of good-quality balsamic vinegar.
- Skip the sugary soda and go for seltzer instead. Make it even more enticing by stirring in a little pureed or smashed fruit such as frozen berries or peaches. The fruit adds color, nutrients and sweet flavor.
- When you bake, aim to make fruit-based sweets, such as cobblers, crisps, fruit pies or tarts, and fruit parfaits. Talk about versatile and delicious—fruit can star in all manner of sweet treats. Check out some of our desserts featuring Wild Blueberries for inspiration.
Most of all, remember to “Put Your Best Fork Forward” every day with joy and without judgment.