As we say good-bye to National Nutrition Month®, we move into the American Heart Association ‘Little Steps, Big Gains’ month long initiative to make little changes for big gains! As part of that theme, we introduce “Put Your Best Fork Forward”, which resonates with many of us any time of the year. What does this theme mean to you? Does “The best fork” mean keeping a healthy weight? Feeling energized in the morning? Eating more vegetables? Not feeling hungry or deprived? We encourage you to start with small changes to your eating habits – one forkful at a time.
Research tells us a diet based on balance, variety and moderation helps us stay healthy. If we can focus on variety, balance and moderation become easy to attain.
Choose a Variety of Nutrient-dense Foods
I was recently asked by a class of high school seniors how important it is to focus on calories. While over-consumption of calories can easily lead to weight gain, instead focus on choosing nutrient-dense foods which offer us nourishing nutrients for the calories. Myplate is a good reminder to include vegetables, fruits, protein, grains and low-fat dairy to our plates. Since nutrition is best absorbed from natural foods, a variety of these five food groups makes a foundation of a healthy diet.
Make small changes along the way. If your favorite lunch is a PBJ with chips, try switching to PB with banana sandwiches and crunchy carrots as a side. This simple change shaves off 244 calories and increases the food groups from 3 to 4 by adding banana. Is your go-to breakfast a muffin with a flavored yogurt? Try flavoring a cup of plain yogurt with berries, nuts and granola. You consume 251mg less sodium, 53g less added sugars; and double your food groups from 2 to 4! Celebrate these small changes as wins. Visit MyPlate, MyWins for more tips on building big success on nutrient-dense foods with small changes.
Variety of Protein
Growing research shows that 25g-30g of protein at each meal, along with resistance exercises, promotes a healthy weight and fat loss. Choose lean proteins such as lean meats, skinless poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, low-fat dairy, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds. Do you find yourself sticking to the same protein foods? One easy tip to enjoy a variety of protein is to plan your weekly menu around the protein first. For example, chicken for Mon, lean beef for Tue, beans for Wed etc. Since the majority of beef cuts are lean, simply look for “round”, “loin” or 93% lean ground beef in the names. Visit American Heart Association for more healthy tips on protein foods.
Vary the Colors
A variety of colorful vegetables in our diet reduces our risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular diseases. Buy blueberries in bulk on sale and freeze some for later as snacks. Blend tomatoes and red peppers as sauces in a dish. Is a sandwich your go-to packed lunch? Go for a satisfying entrée salad loaded with colorful vegetables and topped with lean protein, such as this American Heart Association-certified heart-healthy Steak, Green bean and Tomato Salad.
Any small change you can make to add variety to your daily meals promotes good nutrition – and that will be your best fork forward any time of the year.
About Cindy Chan Phillips, MS, MBA, RD
Director of Nutrition Education, New York Beef Council
Cindy Chan Phillips, RD, MS, MBA is a registered dietitian, health communicator and mother of twin sons. Currently she is the Director of Nutrition Education of the New York Beef Council. She received her Master of Science in Nutrition Science from Syracuse University, her MBA in marketing in San Diego State University and a Chef certificate from Mohawk Valley Community College Hospitality Program.