Hello and Happy National Nutrition Month!
My name is Alyssa Fernandes, and in addition to being Miss New Hampshire USA, I am also a very proud Registered Dietitian (RD)! I am honored to work so closely with the New Hampshire American Heart Association to share my nutrition knowledge and make heart health happen throughout our state.
National Nutrition Week was established in 1973. Due to popular demand, National Nutrition Week became National Nutrition Month in 1980, and our country has continued to celebrate ever since. Every March, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages everyone to focus on the importance of making informed food choices, and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is “Eat Right, Bite by Bite”.
“Eat Right, Bite by Bite” is a theme that I apply to my professional practice every day. I personally love this theme. It means that eating well is not about making a drastic lifestyle change overnight or adapting to a restrictive diet. It is about balance, self-compassion, and patience. Let’s be honest, change takes time, our bodies need nutrients, and happiness is important.
My approach to supporting sustainable lifestyle change is heavily focused on education. When people understand the basics of metabolism and how our bodies use nutrients, they become empowered to make purposeful changes in their lives at their own pace. The education that I provide is based on evidenced-based information from credible resources. I strongly encourage others to be critical of the information and resources that they refer to as well.
The American Heart Association is a credible source that I refer to often which is why I am so proud to work with this organization. The American Heart Association’s Dietary Guidelines provide the basis of a balanced diet, which are applicable to individuals fighting heart disease as well as the general population. Have you ever heard the quote, “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”? That is how I feel about these dietary guidelines. Obviously, no one eats perfectly every single day. The point is to do our best to get close, because after all we need the right fuel to function. Ask yourself if you’re making your best decisions most of the time. If not, what is one small change you feel ready to make?
I’d like to share the recommendations for a healthy eating pattern based on the American Heart Association’s guidelines. If you are looking to make a healthy change in your life, I encourage you to create a goal around one of the components below. I will write some examples of goals to use as inspiration.
As you make daily food choices, base your eating pattern on these recommendations:
- Eat a variety of fresh, frozen and canned vegetables and fruits without high-calorie sauces or added salt and sugars. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables.
Goal: I will fill half of my plate with vegetables at dinner at least 3 nights per week.
Goal: I will add raspberries to my oatmeal in the morning.
- Choose fiber-rich whole grains for most grain servings.
Goal: I will make my sandwiches with 100% whole wheat bread instead of white bread.
- Choose poultry and fish without skin and prepare them in healthy ways without added saturated and trans fat. If you choose to eat meat, look for the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy and delicious ways.
Goal: I will order grilled chicken instead of fried chicken at dinner.
Goal: I will try making cheeseburgers with lean ground beef.
- Eat a variety of fish at least twice a week, especially fish containing omega-3 fatty acids (for example, salmon, trout, and herring).
Goal: I will serve fish for dinner on Friday nights.
- Select fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy products.
Goal: I will switch from 2% milk to 1% milk.
- Avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
Goal: I will pack my lunch the night before to avoid eating fast-food for lunch.
- Limit saturated fat and trans fat and replace them with the better fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated.
Goal: I will use olive oil for cooking instead of butter.
Goal: I will add peanut butter to my bagel instead of cream cheese.
- Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
Goal: I will choose unsweetened tea instead of sweetened tea.
- Choose foods with less sodium and prepare foods with little or no salt.
Goal: I will try seasoning my food with garlic powder instead of garlic salt.
- If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation.
Goal: I will limit my alcohol consumption to one drink per day.
- Follow the American Heart Association recommendations when you eat out and keep an eye on your portion sizes.
Goal: I will reassess how hungry I am when I am half-way through my meal. If I am full, I will ask for a box to go.
People are sometimes frustrated to hear that my professional recommendation is to consume a balanced diet, whether their goal is weight gain, weight loss, or weight maintenance. It is not the secret recipe or “cleanse” that they had in mind. The truth is, a balanced diet and healthy eating pattern protect and preserve health. Fad diets are frequently under review, some having negative side effects and/or long-term health outcomes. It is my ethical duty to look out for the total health of others while supporting their goals, and a balanced diet is historically and scientifically the best approach.
Instead of a temporary diet, I encourage you to invest in habits that will last forever. Every day is the perfect day to make one better choice. This year aim to Eat Right, Bite by Bite!