The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recognizes the month of March as National Nutrition Month. The annual campaign aims to bring awareness to the importance of making informed food choices. The theme of the campaign this year is “Go Further With Food,” aiming to spread an awareness of food waste. Being more mindful of resources can help to not only save money on food but also bring awareness to eating a wide variety of nutrients on a daily basis.
Often, we hear conflicting information about what you should be eating and what you shouldn’t be. Don’t make it too hard on yourself, especially if you are just starting out with a healthy diet. While there is no one diet that fits everyone, there are a few guidelines that everyone should be following to ensure that you are getting as nutrient dense a diet as possible.
Avoid added sugar! There’s a reason that sugar has gotten so much bad publicity over the past few years. According to a study done by Harvard Medical Review, participants who took in 25% or more of their calories from sugar were more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those whose diets included less than 10% added sugar. Although scientist do not fully understand how excess sugar might harm the heart, it is believed that a high-sugar diet may stimulate the liver to dump harmful fats into the bloodstream. As a nation, 1/3 of the sugar we consume comes from sweetened beverages. Try substituting sugary drinks with water every opportunity you can for better health.
Avoid Processed Foods! Processed foods have been chemically processed and stripped of nutrients. Eating processed food actually triggers the pleasure centers in your brain and rewards you for eating more. Because they also have been stripped of the nutrients and fiber needed to fill you up, you can eat more before feeling full. According to Medical News Today it takes less energy to eat and digest these highly processed foods and in a study of 17 men and women consuming either processed or whole foods, the participants who ate a whole food meal took twice as long to digest their food and burned twice as many calories. This means they stayed full for longer and the person who is eating processed food is only burning half as many calories, meaning they will burn less calories throughout the course of the day. The bottom line is whenever possible opt for whole foods that have minimal ingredients and preferably do not come in a package.
Shop Local! Not only does the food taste fresher because it is picked closer to the peak of ripeness and has more nutrients. Eating locally also gives you the opportunity to eat seasonally, reducing your risk for contaminates and supporting your body’s natural nutritional needs throughout the year (vitamin C in the winter to ward off colds and beta-carotenes to prevent sun damage in the summer.) Eating locally also tends to be less expensive as you are not paying to have your food transported from thousands of miles away.
Prepare ahead of time! When you are rushing from work to the kids’ activities and doctors’ appointments and trying to get dinner on the table at a reasonable hour, it can be almost impossible if you have not done a little extra preparation. Not only does preparing ahead of time save you from trying to figure everything out when you are just about depleted of any energy, it can also help to prevent food waste. The goal in the U.S. is to cut food waste by 50% by the year 2030. By preparing ahead you can use the ingredients you’ve purchased at your local farmer’s market before letting them go to waste in your vegetable crisper. The average American throws away around 250 pounds of groceries (estimated at $371 per person, averaging close to $1500 a year for a family of four) a year. Just preparing ahead not only helps to make sure that you are eating a balanced diet, it also helps to ensure that you are throwing away less food and keeping more money in your wallet.
Every day it seems as if there is some new information on the “best” foods for you. While there will always be a new fad, these four principles should be the baseline for building upon.