Let’s face it: consistently eating well-planned, well-balanced meals and snacks day in and day out can be challenging. The potential for information overload on the part of the consumer is very high, as we bounce between advertising for typically unhealthy foods (fast food, grab-and-go snacks and decadent desserts, to name a few) and public health advocates touting ever-changing recommendations. It’s easy to see why someone might be left with their head spinning and unsure of which direction to take from the relatively simple question “What should I be eating?”.
March is recognized as National Nutrition Month by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The purpose of the campaign is to encourage everyone to focus on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.
Here at the Fund, we’re fully aware that a lot can factor into food choices – emotions, mood, location, budget and family among them. However, let’s put aside the why behind food choice for a moment, and focus instead on the what: quantity and quality. When talking about quantity, we often put food in terms of numbers – calories, grams of fat compared to protein, percentage of our daily vitamin C, how many added sugars and so on. This can quickly become overwhelming and result in someone being unsure if they’re doing the “right thing.” The LHSFNA wants to help simplify the chaos and make healthy eating more accessible by encouraging you to focus instead on food quality.
Here are some tips for how to incorporate the “best quality” principle into your meal and snack choices:
- Buy “whole” foods. “Whole” foods appear close to their original form with minimal processing; examples include fresh produce, dairy, whole grains, meat and fish.
- Pick unprocessed or minimally processed foods over heavily processed foods. According to the USDA, processed foods are foods that have “undergone a change in character.” Moderately and heavily processed foods have ingredients added to them for flavor, texture and to make food last longer. Examples include jarred pasta sauce, deli meat, store-bought yogurt, frozen pizza and microwaveable dinners. A recent NIH study found that heavily processed foods cause overeating and weight gain. Craving mashed potatoes? Try out this recipe with real potatoes instead of an instant box or frozen variety.
- Choose-in season produce. Seasonal fruits and vegetables are fresher and taste better. View this seasonal produce guide to determine which produce you should add to your grocery list.
- When in doubt, have your plate mirror MyPlate. MyPlate is a food guide from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that incorporates the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Looking at MyPlate, you’ll see it suggests building a plate that prioritizes fruits and vegetables and whole grains (whole-wheat bread and whole-grain pasta), while leaving some room for protein (lean poultry, fish, beans, eggs, nuts) and including a small portion of dairy (milk, yogurt) to the side.
Keep these recommendations in mind the next time you are at the grocery store, preparing food at home or enjoying a meal out at a restaurant. The Fund’s Principles of Good Nutrition toolbox talk provides more information to help LIUNA members and their families make healthy food choices.
[Emily Smith is the Fund’s Health Promotion Manager]