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March is National Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created in 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The goal is to help encourage everyone to learn about making informed food choices, and to develop healthy eating habits.

This year’s theme is, “Fuel for the Future,” and it comes with a focus on developing long term, sustainable nutrition goals. That can be difficult, though, with the amount of information and misinformation out there. “One of my biggest goals with many patients is to simplify nutrition. We are surrounded by advertisements, articles and blogs telling us all kinds of advice,” said Rachel Van Den Top, Clinical Dietitian. “The list of food rules goes on and on, and often it is contradicting.”

It’s important to fuel our bodies with good food, but Rachel wants people to know that some of the so-called rules of healthy eating aren’t set in stone. Take carbohydrates for example. Lots of people think carbs are just bread, pasta and sweets, but fruits, vegetables, grains, beans and legumes are carbs too. “I would encourage you to have fruits and veggies daily and even with every meal. That means there are carbs at every meal. We miss out on so many nutrients, minerals and fiber when we cut out all carbs.” She pointed out that eating a well-balanced diet is the key to success for most individuals, not excluding one kind of nutrient.

Alissa Towsley, Performance Dietitian at Monument Health Sports Performance Institute, Powered by exos, agreed with this approach. “Be sure to include a variety of whole foods. Choose a healthful balance of foods from each food group at your meals. When you focus on eating more whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, you may improve how much fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals you eat. These nutrients are important to lower your risk of conditions like diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, stroke and cancer.”

Another rule Rachel warned against is the idea of avoiding so-called “bad foods.” While she encourages patients to avoid fast foods and processed foods, she also encourages them to make homemade versions of their favorites, like pizza or burgers. “Homemade food likely won’t contain as much saturated fat, added sugar, preservatives and additives as fast-food or pre-made options will and it encourages people to learn how to cook and even make it a family activity,” she said.

For most people, Rachel said that the simple approach works well, but there are some folks who have a chronic condition or illness that requires sticking to certain dietary guidelines. This can include gluten intolerance, food allergies, lactose intolerance and diabetes.

The bottom line is that we should develop positive relationships with our food. “We eat every single day. It shouldn’t be something that causes stress or guilt regarding every decision we make around food and what we decide to eat,” Rachel said. “Ditch the diet fads and opt for homemade, whole foods that are going to nourish you and help you feel your best.”

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