Updated: Aug 21, 2021
March of each year is celebrated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as National Nutrition Month. This year's theme is Personalize Your Plate that supports eating nutritionally to meet individual needs and cultural preferences. The Academy also emphasizes making informed decisions on food choices all year round and follow a physically active plan that suits your lifestyle and, nutritional needs.
It is well established that eating healthy and nutritious is not a one-size-fits-all. We are all from different ethnic groups; races; colors and creed. Our lifestyles, food preferences, and food choices are different even if we live under the same roof. A happy plate should be a nutritious and enjoyable. Wherever you are from or whatever size you are, the plate will look the same but the food on the plate might be different or can be different. The plate is divided into three parts; half should be vegetables and fruits, quarter starch, and quarter protein. The beverage should be low-fat or fat-free milk. For those who are vegan or not, plant-based milk will suffice.
Make half your plate vegetables and fruits
Vegetables should be fresh, frozen, or canned (with no added salt). “Variety is the spice of life” so be colorful and vary your choices to get all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that will help to keep your bodies and minds healthier longer. Vegetables and fruits are free of trans fat, saturated fats, lower in calories, and high in fiber and water which help to manage weight. Vegetables and fruits are superfoods that help with the reduction of many chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and some forms of cancer.
Choose vegetables and fruits that are in season. Seasonal produce is more nutritionally dense, tastes better, and also more affordable 1.
Vegetables are healthiest when prepared by steaming, sautéing, roasting, or eaten raw. They can be eaten as a side dish, main dish, or as a salad. Fruits can be eaten as desserts or as snacks. Enjoy fresh, frozen, dried, or canned in 100% juice. Those with diabetes need to monitor portions of fruit to prevent high blood sugar. Fruits and vegetables provide much needed vitamins and minerals to support our immune systems.
Make a quarter of your plate grains
Grains are either whole or refined. Refined grains are processed to remove the bran and germ which gives a more refined texture to improve shelf-life but this process removes the iron and vitamin B from the grain. While Vitamin Bs and iron are added back; fiber is not usually added back. Some examples of refined grains are; cornmeal, white flour, white rice, bagel, potato chips, and some breakfast cereal. Eating a large number of refined grains may promote weight gain so it is best to choose whole grains 2. Whole grain provides nutrients such as fiber, iron, B vitamins (riboflavin, niacin, folate, and thiamine), and also minerals (magnesium and selenium). Whole grains help to reduce the risk of certain chronic diseases, support healthy digestion, and also aid in weight loss. Some examples of whole grains include brown rice, bulgur, popcorn, whole wheat or whole-grain bread, quinoa, and millet.
Choose Your Protein Wisely
Protein is important to build and repair body tissues. It provides the body with essential nutrients such as B vitamins (niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, and vitamins B6), vitamin E, iron, and magnesium. Eat a variety of protein foods such as seafood, beans, lean meats, and poultry. If you are a vegetarian get your protein from beans, peas, lentils, nuts, nut butter, seeds or soy products such as tofu, tempeh, and veggie burgers. If you are not a vegetarian try eating a meatless meal at least once daily. Add fish or seafood to your diet at least twice weekly. Monitor your portions of protein and also choose more often lean or low fat to reduce the intake of cholesterol saturated fat which is detrimental to your health.
What’s Your Dairy Choice?
The United States Department of Agriculture and Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Choosing low-fat or fat-free dairy products reduces the intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories. The nutrients provided from dairy products include calcium, vitamin A, D, B12, riboflavin, potassium, protein, zinc, magnesium, choline, and selenium. These are necessary nutrients to help with maintaining healthy bones teeth along with other important functions of the body. If you are lactose intolerant another alternative is plant-based milk which is usually free of saturated fat and cholesterol.
You can personalize your plate as desired according to your ethnic background, culture, lifestyle, nutritional needs. As long as the above guidelines are maintained to include the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates, and fat) and vegetables you will be able to find your “happy plate.”