Put Your Best Fork Forward: Choosing Food That Fuels a Healthy Lifestyle

By: Ingrid Hoenke, MS, RDN, CNSC®

This month is National Nutrition Month.® The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has chosen a message of putting your “Best Fork Forward” to encourage simple changes toward healthier food and beverage choices. Now is a perfect time to take steps to return to the basics of healthy eating!                                                                                                                                                                                      

Food can mean a number of things to us. It can be a source of enjoyment, a way to gather friends and family around a common table, or a part of cultural and social traditions. Most importantly, however, food is fuel, and it is crucial to fuel our body with proper nutrition in order to stay healthy.

Research shows that good nutrition can play a powerful role in maintaining good health. A lack of the right foods in our daily diet can lead to increased health complications and poor disease management. Furthermore, a well-balanced diet is an important part of healing and recovery when we do find ourselves in health situations that are beyond our control. Thus, by making sure we include the right foods in a balanced diet, we can take ownership in improving our overall health.

The bottom line: healthy food fuels a healthy body. While it may seem daunting at first, the good news is that healthy eating doesn’t have to be complicated. By learning a few simple tips and tricks to make small changes for better eating, you’ll be putting your best “fork” forward in no time.

Balance Your Plate
There is a popular saying: “It takes a village” Well, it takes a “village” or variety of foods to get all of the nutrients your body needs. No one food has it all. Incorporating a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and dairy will help to ensure that your body is getting the right mix of vitamins and nutrients. Consider stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new! For example, experiment with varying your protein choices by choosing more lentils, beans, and fish. Or try incorporating a unique grain into a recipe, such as quinoa in your chili; top with diced avocado instead of cheese for a source of healthy fats. Visit the USDA MyPlate initiative at www.choosemyplate.gov for helpful tips for creating balance and variety in your daily diet.

Eat in Technicolor
When it comes to food, natural color often signifies nutrients that can help your body stay healthy and fight disease. Beta-carotene-rich orange foods like carrots and squash provide vitamin A to promote eye health, immunity, and normal cell function. Green veggies like spinach, broccoli and kale are storehouses of fiber, vitamins A, E and C, and potassium needed for healthy body functions. Red and blue produce such as cherries, cranberries and blueberries are packed with antioxidants that may help combat disease risk and promote healthy aging. By choosing a rainbow of fresh produce, you’ll be giving your body powerful nutrients to enhance your overall health. Next time you want a crunchy snack, try reaching for carrot sticks or fresh bell peppers. And who says you can’t have both fruits and vegetables at breakfast? Broccoli, onion, tomato, and mushrooms are an easy way to brighten your eggs in the morning, and avocado is a perfect colorful topping for whole grain toast in place of butter.

Be a Label Detective
Before you toss a box or jar into your grocery cart, take a moment to read the label. Pay attention to serving size and how many servings are in the container. The nutrition facts, like the amount of sugar, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol are calculated per serving. Thus, if you plan on having two servings, you’ll be doubling the amounts and percentages specified on the label. Also, check the ingredients. Aim to buy foods with simple ingredients and little added sugar. A good rule of thumb: if you don’t recognize the ingredient, it may be best to leave that product on the shelf.

Spice it Up
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be bland eating. Experiment with different herbs and spices to give your meal a flavor boost and keep things interesting. Try fresh grated ginger root in a stir-fry, a pinch of turmeric in your brown rice, some fresh cilantro on your soup, or a sprinkle of cinnamon in your oatmeal for a boost of flavor and nutrition.

Invest in Your Health
So, the next time you step into the grocery store or open that refrigerator door, remember: when you make good food choices, you’re investing in your health. By making small changes toward creating and maintaining a balanced diet incorporating the nutritious food your body needs, you can put your best “fork” forward and fuel your body for years to come.

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