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March is National Nutrition Month: Here’s how you can reach your nutrition goals

Note: This post is written by the team of The ONE Group (Oncology – Nutrition – Exercise) at Penn State College of Medicine as part of a first-person blog about their work. Learn more about the group here.

One reason to look forward to March (besides March Madness) is that March is National Nutrition Month. This is a great reason to kick start some healthful eating and physical activity habits and to challenge yourself to make more informed food choices.

This year’s theme for National Nutrition Month is “Personalize Your Plate.” One size does not fit all when it comes to nutrition and health. We need to tailor our food and physical activity choices to meet our needs. We all have different tastes in food, our health goals and food budgets vary, and we have unique bodies that may require different kinds of fuel to keep us happy and healthy. It is easy to develop unhealthy food and activity habits as we all are juggling family, job and life responsibilities, and sometimes taking care of ourselves just gets pushed to the bottom of the checklist. In the last year, we all have experienced more family, job and life stress than we thought we could handle. But, 2021 holds lots of hope and opportunity for health and happiness.

Participating in National Nutrition Month is a great way to focus on a nutrition and physical activity plan that works for you. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide nutrition recommendations based on science, are updated every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines came out in December 2020 with a few key messages that might help you think about your nutrition and physical activity goals.

One key message is to incorporate more plant-based foods into our diets for their nutritional value and to help reduce the risk of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease and cancer. When we plan our meals, about half of our plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of our plate should be whole grains, and a quarter of our plate should be from lean sources of protein (which could — and maybe should — be plant-based sources of protein such as beans, lentils and nuts at least a few days of the week). Most Americans don’t eat enough fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes. In fact, only one in 10 adults eats enough fruits and vegetables. One goal for National Nutrition Month might be to have your plate include healthy, nutrient-dense foods from all the food groups, including fruits and vegetables.

What we also know is there are four nutrients or foods that most Americans get too much of: added sugars, saturated fat, sodium and alcoholic beverages. So, a second goal for National Nutrition Month might be to try to eat less one of those nutrients, foods or beverages.

Some strategies to help you meet your nutrition and physical activity goals are:

  • to make a grocery list and plan meals in advance
  • keep healthy ingredients on hand
  • and try a new food, a novel spice or a different recreational activity that involves being active during the month of March.

Whatever your nutrition and physical activity goals are, personalize your plan to meet your needs and launch 2021 with a healthy start.

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