March is National Nutrition Month, an annual event created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to focus on developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics represents Registered Dietician Nutritionists and other nutrition professionals and is an excellent source for information about food, nutrition, and health.
I will share some general advice about healthy eating here but remember that a Registered Dietician is your best resource for evaluating your diet and making changes to meet your individual needs for health and performance.
Here are five ways to improve your diet almost everyone agrees on, from my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.
Eat your greens
Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and should be part of almost every meal. There is some debate about how to prepare these vegetables, whether they should be eaten raw or cooked and what to put on them. If you eat an abundance of vegetables, sometimes raw and sometimes cooked, sometimes with dressing and other times plain, you are on the right track.
Fruit is a delicious way to get vitamins, minerals, and fiber in your diet. However, some people believe that the naturally-occurring sugar in some fruit makes it unhealthy, especially if you eat a lot of it. But almost everyone agrees that berries are a fruit you should eat. High in antioxidants, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries are nutritious and delicious!
Eating nuts can be a tasty way to make your diet healthier. Nuts are beneficial because they are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, natural plant sterols, and essential vitamins and minerals. Although the specific nutrients vary among different nuts, all nuts are thought to be healthy. This includes tree nuts such as almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts, and pecans, which have the most research to support their health benefits. Look for plain nuts, as seasonings and coatings on many varieties also include added salt and sugar.
Eat less added sugar
Added sugar is probably the biggest problem most people face when it comes to the way they eat. Beyond the extra calories and the direct health effects of eating too much sugar, adding sugar to food otherwise healthy food like fruit and grains serves to make it less healthy. This is the case for most processed food, which is almost always high in added sugar. Cutting as much added sugar from your diet is something everyone (except for the food industry!) agrees is a smart move.
Water should be your drink of choice at all times! Water provides hydration without added sugar and calories, something that is important for weight control. Ideally, this means plain water, but flavored water is better than sweetened beverages like soda, sweetened tea, sports drinks, and many fruit drinks. It’s fine to have other drinks during the day, but water should be your primary source of hydration throughout the day.
These tips can go a long way to improving the quality of your diet and fit with recommendations that almost everyone agrees on. Keep in mind that improving your health requires doing more than just eating healthy. Exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, and taking medications properly to address specific health problems are also essential.