Healthy diets begin with smart food choices

MARQUETTE — Sticking to a healthy diet may not always be easy, but there are small steps that can be taken to improve the consumption of nutritious foods, and ultimately benefit one’s overall health.

With National Nutrition Month taking place every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ theme this year is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” a campaign aimed at educating people of the importance of choosing healthy foods and creating good eating habits.

“Research shows that good nutrition can play a powerful role in maintaining good health,” Ingrid Hoenke, a registered dietitian at UP Health System-Marquette, recently wrote in a company newsletter. “A lack of the right foods in our daily diet can lead to increased health complications and poor disease management. Furthermore, a well-balanced diet is an important part of healing and recovery when we do find ourselves in health situations that are beyond our control. Thus, by making sure we include the right foods in a balanced diet, we can take ownership in improving our overall health.”

According to Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, about half of all American adults have one or more preventable, diet-related chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and overweight and obesity.

The guidelines, published by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, recommend a healthy eating plan that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, as well as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts. Foods low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars are also part of the recommended healthy eating plan.

For most of those food groups, Americans on average aren’t eating the daily recommended amounts, according to the guidelines publication.

Men between the ages of 19 and 50, for example, should be consuming between 3 and 4 cup-equivalents of vegetables each day. But they’re eating less than 2 cups on average. Women of the same age group should be getting between 2.5 and 3 cups of vegetables a day, but they’re actually closer to 1.5 cups.

For dairy products, the guidelines recommend about 3 cup-equivalents per day for anyone 9 years old and up. But as both men and women age, they typically consume less dairy, and even at the highest point of consumption — between the ages of 1 and 3 years old — they still fall short of the recommended level by about 1/2 cup.

While the consumption of grains and proteins are generally close to the recommended levels, fruit consumption is not. Most age groups above 14 years old were more than a cup below the recommended levels of 2 to 2.5 cups for males, and 1.5 to 2 cups for females.

The bottom line, Hoenke writes, is that healthy food fuels a healthy body, and small tips can go a long way toward creating an overall better lifestyle.

BALANCE

Eating a variety of foods is the best way to get all the nutrients your body needs, Hoenke wrote.

“No one food has it all,” she explained. “Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy will help to ensure that your body is getting the right mix of vitamins and nutrients.”

Hoenke suggests experimenting with different protein choices, such as choosing lentils, beans and fish, or incorporating a unique grain like quinoa into chili, which could be topped with diced avocado instead of cheese for a source of healthy fats.

COLOR

“When it comes to food, natural color often signifies nutrients that can help your body stay healthy and fight disease,” Hoenke wrote.

Orange foods like carrots or squash provide vitamin A for eye health, immunity and normal cell functioning, she added, while green veggies like spinach, broccoli and kale have fiber, potassium and vitamins A, E and C for healthy body functions. Cherries, cranberries and blueberries offer antioxidants, Hoenke explained, which could combat disease risk and promote healthy aging.

“By choosing a rainbow of fresh produce, you’ll be giving your body powerful nutrients to enhance your overall health,” she wrote.

HERBS and SPICES

Experimenting with different herbs and spices can give a meal the boost of flavor it needs to keep things interesting, Hoenke suggested.

“Try fresh-grated ginger root in a stir-fry, a pinch of turmeric in your brown rice, some fresh cilantro on your soup, or a sprinkle of cinnamon in your oatmeal for a boost of flavor and nutrition,” she wrote.

Reading labels and looking for products with low amounts of sugars or sodium and those that have simple ingredients is another tip Hoenke offered.

“While it may seem daunting at first, the good news is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated,” she wrote. “By learning a few simple tips and tricks to make small changes for better eating, you’ll be putting your best ‘fork’ forward in no time.”

Ryan Jarvi can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 270. His email address is rjarvi@miningjournal.net.