March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Research suggests eating enough fruits and vegetables is linked to a lower risk of many chronic diseases and may help protect against certain types of cancer. Despite these health benefits, most people don't eat enough produce. It's a shame, too, because when prepared without adding fats or sugars, fruits and vegetables are relatively low in calories. As a result, eating more of them may help you achieve and keep your healthy weight.
Whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried, fruits and vegetables are major sources of nutrients we need — but we often don't eat enough of them. Since the nutrients in fruits and vegetables vary, it's important to eat a variety. Opt for dark-green, red and orange vegetables, and beans and peas.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend filling half your plate with vegetables and fruit. Here are some tips on how you can add more produce to your meals:
- Keep frozen, canned and dried fruit and vegetables on hand, especially when fresh produce isn't in season. Buy canned fruit that's packed in juice for less added sugars and calories, and choose low-sodium canned vegetables.
- Try new types of fruits and vegetables and prepare them in different ways. Texture is everything when it comes to sandwiches, so experiment with veggie toppings such as raw cucumber, avocado slices or pickled carrots. Add flavor to breakfast by topping oatmeal, frozen waffles or cereal with berries or banana slices. Create a guilt-free dessert with fresh fruit or serve it as a topping on low-fat yogurt.
- Many children and young adults drink more than half of their fruit as juice, which often contains a significant amount of added sugar. Whole fruit contains fiber and other nutrients without the added sugar. When drinking juice, make sure it is 100-percent juice, without the added sugars.
For more tips on improving your health through nutrition and foods that taste great, consult a registered dietitian nutritionist in your area.