Ahoy choy, blueberries, spinach, oranges, and soy. It’s National Nutrition Month® and there’s no better way to celebrate health and longevity than with fruits and vegetables. Celebrated annually during the month of March, National Nutrition Month® focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. Move over added sugar and saturated fat, there’s a new kale in town. Building a healthy diet is easy when you make half your plate fruits and vegetables, and strong scientific evidence demonstrates that it can help you live longer and free of disease. While no individual food group, fruit or vegetable has all of the nutrients needed to support adequate nutrition, consuming a variety has both colorful and bold effects.
The science behind fruits and vegetables continues to drive both international and domestic public policy; most governments and authoritative bodies recommend including at least 2-servings of fruits and 3-servings of vegetables per day for adults. Did you know that fresh, frozen, canned, and 100% juice all count? Fruits and vegetables have traditionally been recommended since they are typically low-calorie and rich in vitamins, minerals, and dietary fiber. However, evidence shows that fruits and vegetables are also the primary sources of a variety of dietary bioactive compounds, or what the National Institutes of Health (NIH) deem as those substances other than traditional nutrients that are responsible for changes in health status. You might have heard bioactives being described in laymen’s terms as “antioxidants”, but they are so much more! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is currently working to develop guidance for intake of flavan-3-ols, a group of dietary bioactive compounds with known cardio-protective effects, commonly found in foods such as tea, cocoa, and 100% cranberry juice. This effort will set the stage for future public guidance around dietary bioactive compounds, and further increase public promotion of fruits and vegetables.
Good nutrition doesn’t have to be restrictive or overwhelming. Small changes can have a snowballing health effect, and every little bit (or bite!) counts. Restrictive diets are never sustainable, nor are they healthy in the long-run. Beet click-bate marketing schemes and instead try incorporating fruits and vegetables into the foods you love, while being physically active. Here are some simple tips to get started:
- Have a salad with spinach or kale, and lots of crunchy toppings!
- Turn protein foods, like eggs or lean beef, into carrier foods for fruits and vegetables. Stuff an omelet with onions, broccoli, spinach, pineapple, and tomatoes. Just don’t forget the yolk, the epicenter for an egg’s nutrition.
- Substitute your pizza with a variety of veggies and pineapple. If you really want to go crazy, swap in a delicious cauliflower crust.
- Instead of high-calorie dressings, use hummus as a sandwich spread.
- Mix up a morning smoothie with low/non-fat milk, frozen berries and a banana.
- Try low-calorie or 100% juices, where most of the natural sugar has been removed during processing. Mix 8-ounces of 5-calorie-per-serving 100% cranberry juice with 1-2 tsp. of psyllium fiber for an antioxidant- and fiber-rich citrusy fruit punch.
- Bake a potato and top it with tomato salsa. When potatoes are baked the starch undergoes what food scientists know as “retrogradation,” which makes the starch less digestible, while still providing a ton of vitamins and minerals.
- Go nuts at dessert! Try adding crushed nuts to frozen low-fat yogurt with berries.
- Have a cup of unsweet tea or coffee, full of dietary bioactive compounds, and kick soda to the curb.
Consulting with a registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) can help you set achievable goals and customize meal plans that are tailored to your personalized nutrition. Include foods from all food groups in your diet and practice portion control. Try using smaller plates, bowls and glasses. Have a dinner party and cook at home, where you are in control of what’s in your food. Learn how to read the Nutrition Facts Panel on packaged food and beverage products and check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ChooseMyPlate website for resources, recipes and tips that support building healthy and budget-friendly meals.
Eat right, bite by bite. Have A Plant at every eating occasion!