Your food choices throughout the week have a big impact on your health, energy levels, mood, body composition and so much more. With March being National Nutrition Month, it’s the perfect time of year to check in with your eating habits and make sure they’re supporting your goals!
When it comes to nutrition, there is a seemingly endless supply of information available, often offering contradictory advice. For those interested in eating healthier, it can feel confusing to sort out fact from fiction. But before you sign on to the latest fad diet or trend, consider this:
Short-term diets typically mean short-term results. No matter what your goal is -- training for a marathon, losing weight, managing blood pressure or cholesterol – the key to your success is developing habits you can maintain long-term. Any plan that completely eliminates a food group or category of food is a red flag, because you’re not realistically going to continue eating that way forever. If a diet sounds too good to be true… it probably is!
There is no one size fits all approach to healthy eating. We are all unique, and the best nutrition plan for you is one that reflects your needs and preferences, supports your goals, and fits into your lifestyle. That said, if you’re looking to improve your nutrition, here are a few simple guidelines to get you started:
- Focus on Fiber: Foods that are naturally fiber-rich tend to be packed with nutrients, so they’re a great way to add volume and nutrition to your diet while keeping calories in check. Increasing fiber intake can support weight management, lower cholesterol, stabilize blood sugar levels, and promote healthy digestion. Aim for at least two servings of fresh fruit per day, and fill half your plate with veggies and/or salad at lunch and dinner. Whole grains contain more fiber than their refined counterparts. Beans and legumes are also excellent and inexpensive sources of fiber as well as plant-based protein. If you’re new to fiber, start gradually, and make sure to drink plenty of fluids.
- Power up with Protein: While carbs provide quick energy, protein takes longer to digest, helping you stay satisfied and energized for longer. Protein also plays a key role in recovery after exercise and maintains lean muscle mass, keeping metabolism revved. To optimize muscle synthesis and keep hunger at bay, spread your protein intake throughout the day, and aim to include a good source at all your meals and snacks. Think eggs, poultry, fish, seafood, lean beef, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese. Incorporate plant-based sources such as tofu, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds for less saturated fat.
- Vary Your Veggies: Naturally packed with fiber, vitamins, minerals, and beneficial plant compounds called phytochemicals, vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet. The more you eat the better, and the more variety the better. Here’s why: the different colors in vegetables (and fruit) each offer unique health benefits. [Red produce such as tomatoes, watermelon and bell peppers contain lycopene, which protects your heart and is associated with reduced risk for prostate cancer. The orange pigment, beta-carotene, found in carrots, sweet potatoes and pumpkins supports vision and immunity. Dark leafy greens such as spinach, kale and broccoli provide vitamin K and calcium for strong bones, and also contain plant-based iron. Anthocyanins, the blue/purple compound found in blueberries, blackberries and plums, are powerful antioxidants, protecting cells from damage, lowering cancer risk, and supporting exercise recovery.] The best way to reap the health benefits of vegetables is to eat the rainbow (and no, not talking about Skittles!) Aim to incorporate a variety of colorful produce into your diet each week.
Not a natural veggie lover? Get creative!
- Roast cauliflower, broccoli, asparagus or Brussels sprouts to bring out the natural sweetness
- Make veggie kebobs by grilling bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms and onions on skewers
- Sautee spinach with olive oil and garlic
- Make a stir fry with bok choy, water chestnuts, carrots and string beans
- Dip raw carrots, cucumber, bell peppers and cucumbers in hummus or a Greek-yogurt based dip
- Toss baby spinach or kale into a smoothie
- Add zucchini to your oatmeal or baked goods
- Layer arugula or baby romaine into a wrap or sandwich
- Throw diced peppers, onions, tomatoes and mushrooms into an omelet or scrambled eggs
These are some general tips to get you started. But, again, the best nutrition plan is one that is tailored to you. Creating sustainable healthy eating habits is marathon, not a sprint- and everyone’s journey is different. For more individualized support, consider meeting with a registered dietitian nutritionist.