Nutrition Column – Eat Smart, Stay Healthy the Focus of National Nutrition Month

Eating smart and staying healthy sounds simple. But with all the conflicting advice on what we should be eating to stay healthy, eating smart can be a challenge when considering the never-ending array of sweet and savory snack foods that fill our grocery shelves and vending machines and the focus on large portions in the restaurant industry.

March is National Nutrition Month and a good time to refocus on healthful eating. The theme of this year’s campaign is "Eat Smart, Stay Healthy."

Eating smart doesn’t have to mean giving up good taste or all your favorite foods. It does mean choosing high-calorie, high-fat foods such as chips, fries and donuts as "sometimes" foods and making lower-fat, higher-fiber choices your "everyday" foods. Rather than having donuts and coffee for breakfast every day, make whole-grain cereal and low-fat milk your everyday choice and donuts and coffee your Saturday morning choice.

Healthy eating helps you get the most out of life. A healthy lifestyle is the key to looking good, feeling great and being your best at work and play. It all starts with a healthy eating plan.

One good plan to follow is the Food Guide Pyramid. Today, there are many different pyramids from which to choose. Each one has a little different focus, whether for children, diabetes, vegetarians, or encouraging the consumption of more monounsaturated fat and less refined starch.

While there is much bickering among those who promote one plan over the other, what’s important is to choose the plan that best fits your individual needs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is currently re-evaluating their Food Guide Pyramid to be sure it adequately meets the food health needs of Americans. Reassessing is always a good thing, but the biggest challenge is that Americans currently are not even coming close to following the Food Guide Pyramid, particularly for the number of servings of fruits and vegetables recommended daily. As a nation, we eat too many foods from the top of the pyramid high in saturated fats and refined sugars and too little of the fruits, vegetables and whole grains in the lower part of the pyramid.

Regardless of the eating plan you choose, it’s important to actively explore variety in your food choices. Be adventurous and explore new tastes, particularly among the wide choices of fruits and vegetables now available to us year-round. Eating a wide variety of foods not only promotes optimal nutrition, it enhances the pleasurable aspects of eating.

Along with variety, it’s important to make moderation your goal. Healthy eating doesn’t mean feeling deprived or guilty. Look at the big picture. It’s what you eat over several days, not just one day or one meal, that’s important.

Finally, develop a personal fitness plan that fits your lifestyle. Variety also is important here. Find a variety of activities you enjoy and do them on a regular basis. You don’t need expensive exercise equipment or complicated fitness programs. Walking is one of the best exercises around and only requires good shoes. Fitness, like a long, healthy life, is something we need to work on every day. Gone is the three times a week guideline for exercise. In the newest Dietary Guidelines for Americans it’s recommend that we engage in 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity on most, preferably all, days of the week.

by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension