In honor of March being National Nutrition Month, this blog post will focus in on the components of a well-balanced diet. A well-balanced diet can help you decrease the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and certain kinds of cancer. Now I know there are a number of different diets out there such as Nutrisystem, Weight Watchers, Whole 30, the list can go on. But in an attempt to simplify things, I will be providing some general tips to help you build a healthy eating style.

The information that I am sharing, comes from a great resource tool called www.ChooseMyPlate.gov that provides recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

There are 5 main food groups: Fruits, Vegetables, Grains, Proteins and Dairy. I will go through each group and give a description, definition and ideas of different foods/cooking tips to consider.

Fruits

Fruits provides us with vital nutrients such as potassium, fiber, vitamin C and folate. Fruits are good because they have natural sugars (as opposed to having to add additional sugar) and are a great way to sweeten up your meals. You can consider adding fruit to your cereal or yogurt (ie. strawberries, peaches, bananas) or to your pancakes (ie. blueberries). Replace your mid-afternoon salty or sugary snack with fruit such as an apple or peach. Fruits such as tangerines and grapes make great toppings to your salad!

Vegetables

Vegetables are a good source for vitamins and minerals. The key is to vary your intake of veggies. There are so many different kinds out there from peppers, cauliflower, mushrooms, spinach and broccoli. Vary the color of veggies (red, orange, dark green) to include carrots, tomatoes, beets, radishes, collard greens, and sweet potatoes. Take this opportunity to try some new ones, especially when they are in season at the your local farmer’s market or CSA. Add some extra veggies to your sandwich, wrap, taco or omlet.

Grains

Grains are an important source of zinc, magnesium, B vitamins and fiber. When going for grains, choose “whole” grains such as bread, cereals, pasta, buckwheat, oats, brown rice and quinoa. When reading the labels/ingredients, make sure the word “whole” appears before the ingredient (ie. whole-wheat flour).

Proteins

Proteins can be found in both animals (meat, poultry, seafood, eggs) and plants (beans, peas, nuts, seeds). It is important to vary your protein intake throughout the week. For seafood, try some salmon, trout or herring. When choosing meat, make sure it is a lean cut or ground. Eat different kinds of beans such as kidney, pinto, black or chickpea. Instead of frying your proteins, alternatively, you can grill, broil, bake or roast your meal.

Dairy

Dairy contains different items such as milk, yogurt and cheese. They provide calcium, vitamin D, potassium and protein that are essential for strong and healthy bones. Whole dairy products tend to be high in fats, sugar and salt. When going for dairy, choose lower fat products. Please note that items such as butter, cream and cream cheese are NOT considered part of the dairy group. They are all high in fat and have little to no nutritional value. You may want to think again and cut back the amount of cream cheese or butter on that bagel or how much cream you add to your coffee or tea.

Are you overwhelmed yet? If so, don’t worry, take it one day at a time. I encourage you to start with small changes and find those little victories. They will add up! Remember, everything you eat matters. The choices you make, can lead to a healthier today and a healthier future.

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