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Celebrate good nutrition with little steps and MyPlate

By ALETHEA PRICE

Boyle County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences

March is National Nutrition Month. As you may know, I am a huge fan of good nutrition. And you should be too. Need a little motivation to get in the groove of good healthy food? Let’s talk a little about how you can improve your nutrition with some small, easy changes to your diet.

MyPlate is the way that we talk about the food groups nowadays. It’s at the top of the list of things to know when it comes to getting a balanced diet. MyPlate is nice because it is a picture of a plate with sections for each food group. If you are a visual learner this representation of a balanced plate is pretty great.

Now that you’ve been introduced to the idea of MyPlate, why not get better acquainted? There are lots of things I’d like you to know about good nutrition. Today, I’m going to just break it down in a very simple way so that you can gain something helpful that relates to each food group. Take a look at that plate. The first thing that jumps out to me is that half the plate is covered with fruits and vegetables. Ideally, when you fix your plate, this is what it should look like. Believe it or not, one plate is a serving. That’s all you need. If your plate has half fruits and veggies on it at each meal then you’re one step ahead of the game.

Looking even further at the fruits and vegetables side of the plate, there is one thing I want you to remember about both food groups. Eat a variety. Eat all sorts of different fruits and vegetables because some have different nutrients in them than others. In order to get all the benefits you have to eat all the fruits and veggies. Basically, eat the rainbow. Red and blue foods such as bell peppers, berries, and tomatoes are rich in antioxidants. Orange and yellow foods are rich in vitamin C, among other things. Green veggies have calcium, fiber and potassium. Eat them all and you get them all. All the nutrients, that is.

Next up, why don’t we ‘lean in’ with protein. Always choose lean cuts of meat. Chicken, beef, pork; all of these are perfectly fine to get healthy servings of lean protein. Don’t forget about your plant based protein. Beans, legumes, nuts and seeds are packed with protein as well. Be careful about eating lots of nuts and seeds, as they are very high in fat. They make a great snack on the go when portioned correctly. Also, try and get some more fish in your diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are pretty great if you want to keep your sanity long into old age. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for your brain and heart. Another way to get protein is through dairy products; which we will get to that food group in a minute.

Moving on around the plate we have our grains. Meat and grains are no problem for us in America. We tend to eat way more of these two food groups than we really need. You’ll be excited to know that you can cover a slightly larger portion of your plate with grains than protein. When it comes to the grains group, try and make all your grain options whole. Whole grain products are easy to find, which make it even easier to make the switch. White bread to whole grain bread, white rice to brown rice and white pasta to whole wheat pasta are just a few of my favorite examples. Check your ingredients list to see that whole grain flour is listed first. That way you know you’re getting a good whole grain product.

Last but not least we have the delicious dairy group. Low fat dairy is where it’s at. One percent milk, cheese and yogurt are great sources of calcium and vitamin D. Plain, non-fat, Greek yogurt is a protein packed option that can serve as a smoothie starter, dipping sauce, or healthy snack. Put some fruit or honey on it and you’ve got a healthy cheesecake fake-out dessert.

Briefly back to milk. I know that skim milk is the lowest fat option of cow’s milk but I’m not going to tell you to jump from whole milk to skim overnight. There’s only one thing I hate more than lying and that’s skim milk, because it’s water lying about being milk. If you like skim milk, more power to ya. I’m proud of you, I commend you on your extremely healthy choice of milk. But I’m a 1% or almond milk kind of girl. If you’re lactose intolerant try soy, almond, coconut, cashew or lactose free “milk” products.

Now that you’ve got the basics you can celebrate National Nutrition Month with some healthy lifestyle changes. Eat the rainbow, all the fruits and veggies. Choose lean protein options and don’t forget about plant based protein. Make your grain choices whole grain. Don’t forget about that low fat dairy.

If you have questions or comments about the column, or if you’d like more information feel free to contact me by email at a.price@uky.edu.