Making Nutrition Number One in your Life
How's your diet? Did you resolve to eat healthier and fitter this year? Have you managed to stick with it?
Whatever your answers, there's a great reason right now to focus on what you eat: March is National Nutrition Month.
Organized each year since 1973 by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the event emphasizes the importance of choosing the right foods and developing good eating and exercise habits.
Among other messages, the Academy -- the world's largest organization of food and nutritional professionals -- wants us to learn which foods are good for health, control the amount we eat, make food safety part of our everyday routine, and reduce food waste.
"You don't have to forgo your favorite dishes in your quest for more healthful meals," LA-based nutritionist Cordialis Msora-Kasago tells us. "Consider swapping less healthful ingredients with more nutritious options."
For example, she suggests, we can:
- Use healthier cooking options like canola, olive or peanut oil in place of solid fats.
- If you're making mac and cheese, consider reduced-fat cheese and low-fat milk.
- Desserts can be sweetened with fruit puree or apple sauce instead of sugar.
- Replace white flour with whole wheat flour in your muffins.
- Eat brown rice instead of white.
- In potato salad, replace some of the mayo with non-fat Greek yogurt.
"Simple swaps are key to making dishes healthier without sacrificing flavor," she explains.
So, for instance, you might experiment with spices like smoked paprika, using salt-free herb blends, or adding apple cider or rice vinegar to your greens. And try marinating chicken in rosemary and lemon juice before grilling.
But note that we all have different tastes and preferences when it comes to choosing our food, especially here in Southern California with our wide ethnic diversity.
"Eating right isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor," says Msora-Kasago. "Healthy eating styles can be adapted to fit the foods of all cultures."
What's important, however, say nutritionists, is that you prepare balanced meals -- that is, items drawn from all the major food groups. These include lean proteins, vegetables, whole grains and fruits.
To help get you started, the Academy lists some nutritious recipes here: https://www.eatright.org/food/planning-and-prep/recipes . You'll find plenty more in an online search.
Safety in the Kitchen
Food and kitchen safety are equally important for a nutritious diet. There are four golden rules the Academy wants us to observe when preparing food:
1. Keep it Clean . You should always wash your hands, using warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds, both before and after handling food, especially raw meat and poultry. You should wash fruits and vegetables before preparing but not meat or poultry.
Ensure too that countertops are clean before you start, again using hot soapy water, with paper towels or disinfectant wipes. DON'T use washcloths or sponges, which can harbor bacteria.
2. Cook it Right. Cooking meat calls for precision, using a food thermometer to ensure the internal temperature is right. Recommended minimum temperatures vary between about 145 and 165 degrees. Here's a government table that lists all the recommendations: https://tinyurl.com/food-temps-111
Push the thermometer into the thickest part of the meat, without it touching bones or the bottom part of the pan and leave it there until the gauge has stopped rising. Don’t forget to clean the thermometer after you're done!
3. Keep it Hot or Cold. Once the temperature is right, don’t let the food cool down too much, until it's lukewarm, because that's when bacteria and microbes start to multiply. Put any unserved, cooked foods in the refrigerator within two hours, preferably one hour.
Frozen food should never be left on a countertop to thaw. Again, that's an invitation to bacteria to get to work. Ideally, thaw it overnight in the refrigerator. If you're in a hurry, use the microwave or place in cold water.
4. Store it Right. Do you just pop food in the refrigerator without a thought about where and how it's stored? If so, you could be taking a big risk. Raw meats and poultry should be at the bottom to avoid drips onto other food, but ideally, they should be stored in a container.
Eating the right food and practicing kitchen safety are all very well, but there's a third important component to good nutrition: keeping your body healthy through regular exercise.
The National Academy suggests we balance our good foods with physical activity most days of the week.
The US Department of Health and Human Services, for example, says adults should exercise moderately for at least 150 minutes a week, with muscle strengthening activities on at least two days.
Robert Foroutan, a spokesman for the Academy, explains: "Look into incorporating physical activity into your daily routine. Walk to work or take a walk during your lunch hour. Do something physical during the weekend, such as playing basketball with your kids or going dancing with your friends. The goal is to get moving; every little bit helps."
Of course, healthy eating should be a year-round goal for all of us but National Nutrition Month gives us the chance to learn more about how to achieve it.
And even though we're part-way through the month, there's still time to get involved by spreading the word or inviting a nutritionist to speak at club and other social events -- and that can be at any time, not just in March.
In the same way, at schools, teachers might consider asking a nutrition question of the day, inviting students to bring in empty product packaging as a source of discussion, or even getting them to vote on their favorite fruits and veggies.
In the workplace, perhaps organize a healthy recipe competition among employees, run a series of fitness sessions or host a lunch-and-learn session featuring a professional nutritionist.
To track down a qualified Southern California Academy nutritionist or dietician, visit www.dietician.org
You can also learn more about National Nutrition Month by visiting the Academy-run website at eatright.org or by following the group on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/EatRightNutrition/
A nutritious diet can be key to a long and healthy life -- and that's certainly what we wish all of our clients and other readers!