It’s National Nutrition Month! (Insert Cheers) This is a month that brings to focus one of the single most important things we all have to do to stay alive, you know, EAT! From drinks to snacks, appetizers to main dishes, all of these bites, licks and tastes that we have every day make up our own nutrition. What’s the catch? Many people are filling their plates, mouths and stomachs with foods that we can’t really call nutritious. (Insert sad face.) The results are in and all surveys support that how you fuel is how you feel.
The dictionary tells us that Nutrition is the process of providing or obtaining the food necessary for health and growth. There are 5 basic food groups that make up a strong nutritional foundation; they include grains, proteins, fruits, vegetables, and dairy. But in these food groups there are so many choices it can be hard to know where to start and what the best choices are. Let’s take a peek at these 5 food groups and some top choices to help you get the necessary nutrients you need and keep you feeling tip-top.
Grains. Grains are great! They are a naturally sourced food that can be so versatile. Although those watching their carbohydrates may be leery of eating grains, they do have some really nutrition dense options. Most grains come from wheat, oats, rice, rye, barley, millet, quinoa and corn. You may also know them as bread, cereal, pasta, etc. But what ones are the best? Not all grain products are created equally. Look for “whole” grain products, these are higher in fiber and protein and will leave you feeling full for a good chunk of the day. Great options: oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, and whole grain bread!
Proteins. Proteins are powerful. Packed with so many nutrients that help to fuel our bodies and keep our muscles strong and powerful. The lean proteins also supply a wide variety of other nutrients such as iodine, iron, zinc, vitamins, especially B12, and essential fatty acids. This group includes all kinds of lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds and legumes/beans. What’s the catch? Some protein options are very fatty and caloric, so you still need to be mindful of your choices and your portion sizes. Great options: chicken, turkey, eggs, nuts, seeds, lentils, beans and even chickpeas!
Fruit. Fruits are flavorful. If you are looking for something bursting with flavor and just the right sweetness, fruits are where it’s at. Not to mention they are packed with water, fiber and many of the vitamins and minerals we just can’t find in other foods. When it comes to fruits (and veggies) eat the rainbow. Choose different colored apples, grapes, melons and more. Think cherries, berries and anything citrus!
Vegetables. Vegetables are valuable. If there is one food group you can really go all out in, this is the one! Vegetables are almost always extremely low in calories but very high in their nutritional offerings. Many healthcare professionals link eating a diet rich in vegetables; to helping ward off heart disease, diabetes and even cancer. In these food groups, we also welcome legumes and beans. There are so many great choices so we will just list one of each color of the rainbow: beets, carrots, yellow beans/peas, greens, blue potatoes, eggplant, and cabbage to name a few.
Dairy. Dairy can be delightful. In general, we mean low-fat dairy, which isn’t the same as, say, a “low-fat cookie.” When something is a low-fat dairy product it means that they probably literally skimmed more fat out of the product. It’s still the same great product, but just less fat as some dairy items can be high in fat. Look for low-fat dairy milk, cheese and yogurt.
Once we know the 5 food groups it can be overwhelming to think of how to prepare a nutrition meal out of these groups. Don’t over think it. You can always start with a vegetable or protein base and add on from there. Here are some ideas.
Salads: start with greens; add in other veggies, top with a lean protein, low-fat cheese and maybe even some fruit. Add a slice of whole grain bread.
Stir Fry: sauté lots of different colored peppers, onions and any other veggies you have on hand. Add in a lean protein and a sprinkling of brown rice. Top with low-fat sour cream and maybe enjoy a piece of fruit for dessert.
Turkey burgers: mix lean turkey with spinach, carrots, onion, and apples. Grill up and serve on a slice of whole grain bread and piece of low-fat Swiss cheese. Add a little moisture by mincing a clove of garlic in 2 tbsps. of low-fat plain Greek yogurt to spread on the bread.
The options for mixing these food groups is endless and the nutritional benefits you can find will far outweigh any vitamin in a bottle or shake you see online. Eating real, whole foods, in moderation should not only keep you full and satisfied but feeling energetic and healthy. The clichés are true! Eat junk, feel like junk. Eat processed garbage, feel like garbage. Eat great, feel great. Eat well, feel well. How you fuel, is how you feel!