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Health and Wellness

March is here, spring is on the horizon, and what better time to celebrate National Nutrition Month!

Every March the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) promotes the annual event National Nutrition Month.  It started in 1973 as a National Nutrition Week. Due to the growing interest in nutrition, National Nutrition Week became National Nutrition Month in 1980.

The purpose of this month is to educate and inform the public on the importance of making nutritious food choices and being physically active every day, as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Every year, AND focuses on a specific theme for National Nutrition Month to help guide the healthful eating messages.

The theme for National Nutrition Month 2017 is “Put Your Best Fork Forward.”

The goal of this year’s message is to urge everyone to start small. One forkful at a time. Work slowly towards making healthier food choices and developing good physical activity habits.  Be kind to yourself.  Remember, all good things take time and hard work.

But what exactly do “healthier food choices” and “good physical activity habits” mean?  To find the answer to this question, I decided to go to the nutrition experts.

I asked registered dietitians (RDs) in the United States what recommendations they offer to their clients about making healthier food and activity choices.  These tips are not only ones they give to their customers but also ones that they follow themselves.

RDs have received education on how to translate the science of nutrition into practical solutions for healthy living. They use their nutrition expertise daily to help people achieve realistic lifestyle goals. RDs are advocates for the improvement of the nutritional status of Americans and people around the world.

Below is the advice they shared with me. These tips are listed in alphabetical order according to the RD’s last name. I hope these tips help you Put Your Best Fork Forward.”

1. Eat when you feel hungry.

“Instead of eating at set meal times or trying to let a certain number of hours pass between meals, pay attention to physical hunger and eat to satisfy that,” recommends Heather Caplan, Real Talk RD.

2. Balance is the key.

Alan Coker, RD in Arizona, reminds us that “Balance is critical for a healthy lifestyle. It is not just about good nutrition but ensuring to incorporate other key areas in our life such as physical activity, rest and doing what we enjoy, not just for health sake but for the sense of fulfillment.”

3. Fill your plate with colorful, real foods.

Mary Dickie, MS, RD, LN, from our Nation’s Capital, Washington, D.C., recommends choosing “real foods that are tasty and easy to purchase and prepare.  Include a variety of colorful fresh and frozen vegetables and fruits, healthy fats (olive oil, nuts, avocado, fatty fish), lean protein and some whole grains. Don’t forget daily physical activity. It is essential for health and well-being.”

4. Individualize your diet.

“One size does not fit all, especially with respect to eating, ” says Susan B. Dopart, MS, RD, CDE, a nutrition and fitness expert who has been in private practice for more than 19 years in California. “Each person has a different body type, with individual metabolic needs.  Some need more protein and fat and less carbohydrate while others need more carbohydrates and less protein or fat.”

Susan recommends paying attention to “how different combinations of foods make you feel and where you store your weight (in your belly vs. other areas).  Have your physician do a complete blood panel to see if there are any areas that could be addressed with your diet.

Finding a balance that works for your system and then sticking to it whether you are at home or at a restaurant can go a long way towards health, longevity, and sense of well-being.”

5. Plan, prepare and have a contingency.

Catherine Fore, RD, LDN, a Bariatric Dietitian at Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center in Maryland, encourages “patients to incorporate planning, preparation, and contingency into their daily lives to assist with weight management.”

Catherine says that as a full-time dietitian and mother of three children, she tries to practice these same behaviors in an effort to minimize the risk of poor food choices and feelings of loss of control when life throws curve balls.

She strongly believes that you should have a plan, a contingency plan, and a contingency plan for your contingency plan in order to make the best decisions with regard to food when life does not go as we plan.  “These behaviors also promote savings in time and budget, which is always a win.”

6. Stop trying to be perfect.

“There is no such thing as a perfect eater. Eating is not about perfection; it is about nourishment and enjoyment.” I agree 100% with Angela Grassi, MS, RDN, LDN, and founder of PCOS Nutrition Center in Pennsylvania.  She reminds us that “It is important to eat a variety of foods to maximize the nutrients for good health, but it is also okay to enjoy some less nutrient dense foods too.”

7. Minimize added sugar in your diet.

“For many years, I was more concerned about fat than added sugar, but once I started changing my thought process, my health improved immensely,” says Lisa Johnston, MS, RD/LD, CDE, and owner of Nourish Nutrition & Diabetes, LLC in Oklahoma.

Lisa added that “I feel that cutting out added sugar (whether it is added in the processing of the food or at home) should be a top priority. Many people are cautious not to add sugar themselves, but it is hidden in so many foods that are perceived as healthy, which can add up throughout the day.”

She points out that the top culprits of added sugars are flavored oatmeal, flavored yogurt, and “healthy” cereals. Lisa recommends always buying the plain version of the food and adding your own natural sweeteners. Natural sweeteners can include fruit or a teaspoon or two of honey.

8. It is all about balance and establishing healthy habits.

Theo McCloskey, RD, LD, CNSC and Clinical Nutrition Manager at Sibley Memorial Hospital in Washington, D.C. says “I typically follow the plate method for most meals; half my plate being vegetables and the other half being a carbohydrate and a protein source.”

Theo shared that he has diabetes. For him, maintaining a consistent carbohydrate intake is very important. The plate method is an easy way for him to accomplish that without having to over think it.

He also added “a good partner to nutrition is exercise and a must for me.  I usually hit the gym after work on most; it is my “me” time where I can jam out, reflect on the day and decompress!”

9. Plan ahead.

Planning ahead is “crucial to a heathy lifestyle” explains Martha McKittrick, RDN, CDE, CHWC, owner of Martha Mckittrick Nutrition in New York.

“I find that most of my clients, and myself, have hectic lives and end up grabbing food on the run which leads to not-so-healthy choices. Bring healthy snacks to the office so you can resist the candy on your co-worker’s desk. Do some quick meal prep on the weekends for weekday dinners. Find a few local restaurants that offer healthy take-out options for lunch or dinner when you have no time to cook. We all do planning in other areas of our lives – why not do the same when it comes to eating?”

10. Trust yourself as a valid authority on your health.

“When evaluating each piece of health advice that you come across first pause and feel into it before committing to weaving it into your lifestyle. Just because a new supplement or food is “hot” does not necessarily mean it is right for you. Or right for you at this particular time” says Lizzy Swick MS, RDN, owner of Lizzy Swick Nutrition LLC in New Jersey.

Lizzy reminds us that “nurturing your inner authority is a discipline.  As you cultivate it over time, your entire endocrine system will reap the positive benefits of this alignment between your mind and body. Ask yourself, what foods, supplement programs, exercise regimens, relaxation techniques and even communities honor who you truly are at your core and what you know to be real for you?”

11. Eat whole, real, minimally processed, nourishing foods.

Meghan Sylvester, RDN, LDN, Nutritionist at Shady Grove Fertility – Wellness Center in Maryland, says “Fill your plate with veggies of all colors. But always remember the 80/20 rule.  Try to make healthy choices 80% of the time knowing that life happens the other 20% of the time and we cannot give up on our health and wellness goals when we fall a little off track.”

She reminds us to “get right back at it and be kind and patient with yourself when you are making diet and lifestyle changes.”

12. It is not just what you eat, but when you eat it.

Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, LDN, Director for Nutrition Counseling for the Domar Center for Mind Body Health in Massachusetts reminds us that “researchers are starting to look harder at our body’s internal hormonal day/night (circadian) rhythms and their potential effect on how we burn and store calories.”

Hillary makes it a priority to eat often enough during the day to stay on top of her hunger. This strategy can minimize overeating at night, which may make weight gain easier, and weight loss harder.

As these expert tips highlight, no one recommendation fits everyone. It is important to follow a healthful eating plan that keeps your unique lifestyle in mind.  And do not forget to be physically active every day!  Work slowly towards making healthier food choices and developing good physical activity habits…one forkful at a time!

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