The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) encourages good nutrition by sponsoring National Nutrition Month every March. The group issues advice on achieving and maintaining a healthier weight to contribute to one’s overall health and well being. Their goal, which is really a year round effort, is to emphasize that eating right is important for your health–and it is!

You know how many different and ever-changing health claims we all hear. You know about all the diet advice available in the media. And it’s hard to miss the countless grocery store aisles with processed foods listing various health claims. It’s because of all these factors that many people worry about what foods and nutrients are OK and what are not.

Why not take a positive approach and focus on adding healthful, nutrient-rich foods to your everyday fare? Here are some guidelines for choosing a balanced diet that will nourish your body and to keep you healthy and feeling great today and in the future.

Eat more fruits and vegetables

There’s not an edible plant that’s not worth eating. And the more the better. The old recommendation was “five a day,” but those who eat even more have lower blood pressures, healthier body weights, and less incidence of cancer, stroke, heart disease, and other chronic health conditions. So now five to nine fruits and/or vegetables a day are recommended.

This translates to 2 cups of fruit and 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day. The problem is that the average American is stuck in a three-a-day pattern. Remember that a ½ cup serving is relatively small, and a 4 ounce portion of 100 percent juice can count as one of those servings. However, because juice is a refined version of whole fruit, it’s best to not count drinking juice more that once daily. It has been suggested to remember to “eat a rainbow,” which encourages eating produce in a variety of colors to provide an array of antioxidants that help keep us healthy. Orange colored fruits or vegetables have different antioxidants than green ones, which are different from dark red ones, and so on.

Choose whole grains over refined at least half of the time

You’ll get added fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants with whole wheat or whole grain bread, crackers, and pasta. Also consider brown rice, rolled oats, and corn tortillas instead of white and refined breads, pasta, rice, and cereals.

Eating a lot of fiber helps you feel full, slows the conversion of carbohydrate to sugar, and helps your body get rid of cholesterol. If you and your family do not care for the coarser, nuttier flavor and texture of 100 percent whole grains, keep trying! Remember that it takes 10-12 trials to learn to like a new food.

Start with a partial whole grain product for a few weeks and then move on to the 100 percent whole grain, where the first ingredient listed is “whole wheat,” not just “wheat.” Be adventuresome and try bulgur, quinoa, and barley as rice replacements, or use as additions to soup and casseroles. When shopping for cold cereal, remember the “rules of five,” which is 5 grams or more of fiber and 5 grams or less of sugar.

Add protein to feel full and energized

Protein is the ultimate “I’m full” food. You will find that adding it to meals, especially at breakfast, is more satisfying than eating carbohydrates or fat.

Choose lean, low-fat animal protein foods and plenty of plant proteins for your daily diet, especially legumes – beans, chickpeas, lentils, and soybeans. A moderate portion for a meal is 3-4 ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. Eating fish at least twice a week (and not the breaded fish-stick type) gives you brain-healthy and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Lean toward low or nonfat dairy foods

These are excellent sources protein, calcium, and vitamins D and B. It is recommended that a person, whether still growing or an adult, consume two to three cups of 1 percent fat or nonfat milk, soy milk, yogurt, or one to two ounces of low fat cheese daily.

If you are a fan of full fat dairy products, give your taste buds a chance to learn to like the different taste and feel in your mouth of the low fat foods. And, after years of underestimating our body’s need for vitamin D, we now also recommend an additional 800 International Units of a vitamin D supplement to ensure you get its many benefits.

Make friends with monosaturated fats

The best salad dressings and fats for cooking are the monounsaturated kind found in canola, peanut, and olive oil. A small handful of peanuts, nuts, and seeds daily is a healthful addition to any diet, but portion control is essential.

For more individualized help to determine nutritional needs and for menu planning, go to the USDA’s Myplate website, or ask your healthcare provider for a referral to meet with one of the BMH registered dietitians.

Carrie Quimby, RD
Carrie Quimby, RD

Carrie Quimby is a registered dietitian with BMH Nutrition Services.