March is National Nutrition Month, and this year’s theme from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” which acts as a reminder that each bite counts. Making just small shifts in our food choices, can add up over time.
What does putting your best fork forward mean to you? There are many ways we can improve our health and nutrition through the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. Understanding what putting your best fork forward means to you could be the first step to making small changes that will last and contribute to ultimate wellbeing.
Start by outlining what healthy foods you truly enjoy. Not just because a specific food is trending, but because you actually truly enjoy eating it for the way it tastes or makes you feel. What foods make you thrive? It is different for everyone! Similarly, what foods simply don’t make you feel good, or stop you from feeling that thriving & alive feeling? If you are unsure, begin taking notes if you find yourself feeling exceptionally good one day, or on the other end of the spectrum – rather groggy.
Use this as a starting place or guide to begin putting your best fork forward:
More whole grains, less processed grains. Refined grains are milled, a process that strips out both the bran and germ to give them a finer texture and extend their shelf life. Whole grains are whole, with the bran, germ and protein still intact. They are healthier, providing more protein, more ﬁber and many important vitamins and minerals. Whole grains include brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal, whole grain tortillas, and buckwheat. Processed or refined grains include white rice & bread, regular white pasta, and other foods that have been made with white flour (also called enriched wheat flour or all-purpose flour), including many cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, crackers, and snack foods. Look for the whole grain label, the words whole grain/whole wheat (instead of wheat/enriched flour, bran, wheat germ, and multigrain) and try swapping out your snacks and sides from refined grains to whole grains to help sneak a little more nutrition in your diet!
Eat & drink less sugar. Eating too much sugar is linked to weight gain, and various diseases such as obesity, diabetes, digestive issues, and heart disease. If you begin being mindful of and paying attention to nutrition labels, you might be surprised how much sugar can actually be found in some of your favorite meals, snacks, or beverages. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are: men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams, or 9 teaspoons); women: 100 calories per day (25 grams, or 6 teaspoons). To put these numbers into perspective, one 12oz can of Coca Cola contains 140 calories from sugar, and a regular sized Snickers bar contains 120 calories from sugar.
It is important to make the distinction between added sugars and natural sugars from fresh fruits and veggies. Added sugars are those that are added to foods. The most common added sugars are table sugar (sucrose) or high fructose corn syrup. If you want to lose weight and optimize your health, do your best to avoid foods that contain added sugars.
Stay hydrated. With water! The market is incredibly saturated with sugar laden beverages and juices these days. The hardest part is that some of these brands do a great job of discretely adding these sugars (which can make them even more addictive). Even some deemed ‘healthy’ vegetable juices can contain the same amount of sugar as a can of coca cola. For this reason, it is so important to read nutrition labels – not just to see the calorie or sugar content, but to look at the ingredient list, as well. To steer clear from added sugars and provide your body with the hydration it needs, stick to H20! You can spice up your water with fresh lemon, mint, strawberries, and cucumber if you find it too boring. Invest in an insulated water bottle that will keep it cold for hours and remember to fill it up throughout the day. Stick to the 8×8 rule: 8 X 8 ounce glasses of filtered water per day.
Fill half your plate with veggies at every meal. To start, aim to add an extra serving of vegetables each day, and work your way up to eating half your amount of foods in the form of fresh vegetables. Aim to add in as many dark leafy greens as you can such as kale, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, bok choy, and cabbage.
How much we eat is as important as what we eat. Eat and drink the right amount for you, as MyPlate encourages us to do. Take note of what a serving size actually is, as opposed to what normal belief may be. Take a look at this infographic for details about portion distortion and how much we should be eating.
Once you begin following the above pointers, you may just be surprised how good your body feels – inside and out. “Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel.”