What we put on our plates today is no longer a simple decision. Many foods today have ingredients that people cannot pronounce and our ancestors would have no idea what it is. There are also many factors that the consumer now considers: Is it low fat? Low sodium? Low carb? Low calorie? All these questions leave us with one more question - What should we eat? With all the mixed messages about food today, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has sponsored National Nutrition Month. NNM is a nutrition education and information campaign that is held annually in the month of March. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The March 2012 theme is "Get Your Plate in Shape."
So how are we going to "Get Your Plate in Shape?" First and foremost, we must remember that eating is supposed to be about giving our bodies the energy we need to function. Eating right also gives you more energy, increases your immunity, improves your looks, sets a good example for children and loved ones and will increase your lifespan. The best fuel we can give to our bodies is fresh, real foods. The "Get Your Plate in Shape" theme fits perfectly with the new MyPlate campaign from the USDA. The focus of the campaign is to fill your plate with lean meats, vegetables, fruits, dairy and whole grains. In theory this all sounds pretty simple, but accomplishing this usually requires planning and time. With everyone's busy lifestyles, how does healthy eating fit in?
It all starts with putting the proper groceries in the cart. Before you even make it to the store it is crucial to do the prep work of planning meals and making a list. When the list is done, make sure to eat a meal before heading to the store. These are very important steps in avoiding the unwanted junk foods finding their way to our homes. Once you have made it to the grocery store, shop the perimeter first and make sure to have at least one to two fruits and one to two vegetables in the cart. To help save on cost, buy produce that is in season. If you are worried about the produce spoiling, frozen fruits and veggies are a great alternative. Just remember to avoid those with added sugar and fat. When shopping for whole grains, keep in mind that cereals, breads, pitas, wraps, quick cooking, whole wheat pasta, oats, rice and couscous are quick and healthy. When making protein choices, meat is usually the first food that comes to mind, but it is important to remember to incorporate beans, lentils, eggs, tofu and unsalted nuts into your diet as well. When you are at the store make sure that you have enough time to read nutrition labels to figure out if a food is in fact "healthy." The best way to become more efficient with reading labels is to practice, practice, practice. Knowing how to properly read a food label is your best defense against misleading food label claims.
Now that you have purchased nutritious foods it is time to put the food on your plate. One of the biggest problems we have with eating is that our portion sizes are too big. One way to maintain portion control is to use a smaller plate. Instead of using the traditional dinner-sized plate, choose a 9-inch or 6-inch salad plate. Fill half the plate with a non-starchy vegetable (this does not include potatoes, corn or peas), one fourth of the plate with a protein and the other fourth a grain or starch. Don't forget to have a fruit and dairy at some meals too.
When eating, also keep in mind that it's not always about what is on your plate, but where you are eating. If you are eating at home, always eat at a designated spot and try to eat with others. This will hopefully slow down the eating pace and eliminate eating out of boredom. It takes 20 minutes before your brain realizes it's full. That means the amount of calories consumed before you begin to feel full can vary a great deal depending on how quickly you eat. So be sure to eat slowly, savor your food, and enjoy it.
March has been designated as National Nutrition Month and the fifth annual Registered Dietitian Day is Wednesday. Let's celebrate by making the decision to be healthy. If you take control of your health you will not only lessen your chances of chronic disease but you'll look and feel better too.
Samantha Henning is a registered dietitian on the staff of Trinity Regional Medical Center.