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.
Reviewed by Sharon Denny, MS, RDN
A Fourth of July cookout is the perfect place to honor all the traditional healthy, delicious food grown in the United States. Whether it's meat, fruit or vegetables, celebrate the "united tastes of America" with these nutritious foods.
The chicken that's being perfectly barbecued on the grill most likely came from one of the five largest chicken producing states in the country, all located in the Southeast: Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Arkansas or Mississippi. When you're cooking, instead of selecting dark meat legs or thighs, Academy Spokesperson Heather Mangieri, MS, RDN, CSSD, LDN, recommends skinless chicken breasts. "Chicken is a great source of high quality protein,” she says. It is excellent source of vitamin B6 and niacin; a good source of phosphorus and has selenium.
But if you love your BBQ sauce, beware! Depending on the brand, some barbecues sauces can really pack on the calories. Two tablespoons of sauce contains 45 calories, but can pack 254 milligrams of sodium and 8 grams sugar.
Mustard and Tomatoes
If you'd rather dress your grilled chicken sandwich with ketchup and mustard, you can thank North Dakota for the mustard – more than 60 percent of the mustard seeds harvested in the U.S. come from the Peace Garden State. "With zero calories, fat or cholesterol, mustard presents as a pretty healthy flavor booster," Mangieri says, "But sodium watchers listen up. Just one teaspoon of regular yellow mustard contains 60 milligrams of sodium."
And tomatoes, ketchup's primary ingredient, hail almost entirely from Florida and California. Mangieri praises the tomato for its vitamin C, potassium and fiber. "Tomatoes are also loaded with lycopene, a pigment that acts as an antioxidant in the body, protecting cells against damage from free radicals," she says.
Potato salad is a mainstay in many family holiday get-togethers. "Though still feared by many, the white potato is actually loaded with nutrition and relatively low in calories," Mangieri says. "Just one medium potato provides 20 percent of our daily requirement for potassium and 30 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C." Which state is tops at growing tubers? If you guessed Idaho, you're right. Farmers in that Northwestern state produce approximately 30 percent of the conventionally grown potatoes in the U.S., followed by Washington, Wisconsin and Oregon. When it comes to organic potatoes, though, Idaho loses its crown. Washington, Colorado and California combine to account for almost 70 percent of the total harvest of our nation's organic spuds.
With huge swaths of our country's middle blanketed by it, eating corn on the cob on the Fourth of July just feels right, doesn't it? However, most of the 12.3 billion bushels of corn harvested in 2011 were not eaten off the cob—that corn was mostly used in production of processed foods and animal feeds. And contrary to what you might expect, the biggest producers of sweet corn aren't Nebraska or Iowa; they are Florida, California, Georgia, Washington and New York! And the biggest producers of organic sweet corn are Washington and Oregon. "Like most vegetables, corn is packed full of nutrients and phytochemicals, such as vitamin C, beta carotene, some B vitamins, and is a good source of fiber," Mangieri says. "Just one ear of corn provides 3 to 4 grams of fiber and about 130 calories."
If you reach into the cooler and crack open a cold one, chances are high that it was brewed in California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon or Wisconsin. According the Beer Institute's Brewer's Almanac, these five states have the most licensed breweries. And there's good news: that beer can be good for your health. "Moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages, including beer ... has been shown to improve heart health, such as raising HDL cholesterol and decrease LDL cholesterol," Mangieri says. "Remember that beer has calories. If you're counting your calories, a light beer may be a better option for you."
For a healthier Independence Day treat skip the cookies and opt for sweet watermelon instead! "One cup of watermelon cubes contains only about 50 calories but is packed full of beneficial antioxidants, including lycopene, which has been shown to be protective against certain cancers," Mangieri says. "It is also an excellent source of vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A." As with many other fruits and vegetables, California is the undisputed champion of watermelon production too. The Golden state harvests one of every five conventionally grown watermelons, and almost half of the organic watermelons grown in the United States! Other big conventional watermelon growing states are Florida, Texas, Georgia and Indiana. And the organic watermelons that aren't from California probably were grown in Florida, Wisconsin, New Jersey or Indiana.