Replace Sodium and Empty Calories with Wholesome Foods to 'Get Your Plate in Shape' during National Nutrition Month
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Grocery store shelves and restaurant menus are often crowded with foods containing solid fats, added sugars and high levels of sodium. During National Nutrition Month®, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is helping Americans understand how to get the most nutrients they need from the foods they eat, all surrounding this year's theme: "Get Your Plate in Shape."
"When people eat foods that have added sugars and solid fats, they are consuming extra calories they don't need," says registered dietitian and Academy Spokesperson Angela Ginn. "These 'empty calories' are found in a number of foods and drinks and offer little-to-no nutritional benefits."
Foods high in solid fats (like sausage, shortening and cream) and added sugars (such as regular soda and pastries) should be considered occasional treats rather than regular options. Eating these foods on a regular basis can cause you to consume more calories than your body needs in one day.
"Replace these foods with nutritionally sound choices, like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and low-fat dairy," Ginn says. "Eating occasional treats is okay. Just make sure to balance out those treats with healthier options and get plenty of exercise."
In addition to limiting foods high in solid fats and added sugars, consumers should also be aware of high levels of sodium in foods, especially pre-made options like frozen meals and canned soups and vegetables. Foods containing high levels of sodium are contributors to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
"The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend consuming only 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt," Ginn says. "While meeting this recommendation may seem hard at first, choosing foods that are lower in sodium is one big step you can take towards meeting this goal.
Ginn offers tips to choose healthier options and "Get Your Plate in Shape":
Choose foods and drinks with little or no added sugars.
"It is smart to look for foods that have no added sugars, like unsweetened apple sauce or unsweetened whole-grain cereals," Ginn says.
- Drink water throughout the day. For variety, add lemons, limes or cucumbers to your water or try carbonated water.
- Choose low-fat or fat-free milk or 100-percent fruit juices.
- Eat fresh fruit salad for dessert.
Eat fewer foods that are high in solid fats.
"Solid fats can increase your risk for heart disease," Ginn says. "You can reduce this risk by choosing healthier oils and lean meats."
- Instead of regular ground beef, opt for extra-lean ground beef. Ground turkey and chicken are also available in lean options.
- Grill, broil, bake or steam your foods instead of frying.
- Cook with healthy oils like olive, canola and sunflower oils in place of hydrogenated and partially-hydrogenated oils.
- Opt for fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
Cut back on sodium.
"Much of the sodium we eat comes from prepared meals and foods eaten away from home. This can be significantly reduced by eating fresh foods," Ginn says.
- Instead of salt, use herbs and spices to season foods, and avoid salting food before tasting it.
- Do not add salt when cooking pasta, rice and vegetables.
- Read the Nutrition Facts Panel to compare sodium content of foods such as soups, broths, breads and frozen dinners, and choose the healthiest option.
- Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh meats, poultry and fish, beans and peas, unsalted nuts, eggs and low-fat or fat-free milk and yogurt.
Ginn also recommends cooking different dishes at home. "This allows you to control what you put in your meal," she says.
For more information on how to "Get Your Plate in Shape," visit the Academy's National Nutrition Month website for a variety of helpful tips, fun games, promotional tools and nutrition education resources.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetic Association) is the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals. The Academy is committed to improving the nation's health and advancing the profession of dietetics through research, education and advocacy. Visit the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics at www.eatright.org.