Food plays a big role in our lives.
It can be the center of a social gathering, the basis of a career, even a form of art — but most importantly, it supports healthy living.
But if you're always on the go or just don't know where to begin, maintaining healthy nutrition can be a challenge.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics developed the nutrition education campaign to teach people about the importance of a healthy lifestyle with a focus on choosing healthy foods and staying active. If you've been looking to make some healthy changes in your life, now is the perfect opportunity to get started. Here are a few tips to help.
1. Find Healthier Alternatives
Delicious doesn't always equate to healthy, and that means some of your favorite foods might not always be the best choices. Fortunately, almost every food can be made a bit healthier with a few simple swaps. Love a good hamburger? Cut calories and fat with a turkey or veggie patty, or consider eating a bun-less burger to remove some simple carbohydrates from your plate.
Swap your side of fries with roasted jicama sticks.
Craving sweets? Bake cookies with whole wheat flour or use applesauce in place of butter. With a simple search, you can find some great recipes for making your favorite foods just a little healthier so you can still enjoy meals you love.
2. Plan Your Meals
A healthy eating plan ensures that your body gets the daily nutrients it needs, says the National Institutes of Health, but making one requires a little planning. If you don't have a plan, it's easy to make less-than-healthy choices when your days get busy. Sit down and plan out your meals before your week begins. Make a grocery list and be sure you have all the necessary ingredients on hand.
Cook a few items — such as grilled chicken, hard-boiled eggs or roasted veggies — ahead of time so that you have them ready to go on a busy weeknight. Taking a couple of hours to make a game plan can help you stay on track throughout the week.
3. Swap Your Beverages
Sugar-sweetened beverages have little nutritional value and pack on empty calories throughout your day. And people who regularly consume at least one or two sugary drinks are 26 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, according to the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and are at greater risk of obesity, heart attacks and gout.
So why not try cutting them out of your diet? Instead of a sugary soda, try jazzing up your water by infusing it with some fresh fruit or adding a squeeze of lemon.
4. Try the 80/20 Rule
Think that your diet needs to be perfect to be healthy? Think again. Following the 80/20 rule is a great way to look at your diet. Eighty percent of your time, you follow a healthy diet chock-full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. The other 20 percent is reserved for your favorite foods, which may not be as healthy. A healthy eating plan, as established by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, limits saturated and trans fats, added sugars and sodium, but a balanced diet should include foods that support your health and some foods you really enjoy. (Just be careful not to binge-eat.)
How can you make sure you're maximizing that 80 percent? The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends filling half of your plate with varied fruits and veggies, making half of your grains whole grains, varying your proteins and minimizing salt, sugar and fats.
5. Get to Stepping
Between working desk jobs, taking long commutes and binge-watching our favorite TV shows, most Americans sit way too much, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In order to be healthier, we need to move.
The common recommendation is to get 10,000 steps — or about 5 miles — in a day, which should fulfill the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week. Walking 30 minutes a day can help improve your blood pressure, help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers.
It's OK if you're not walking 30 minutes yet or if have no idea how many steps you take. Start wearing a pedometer and try to increase your steps a little bit at a time. You might not hit your goal every day, but small improvements can really add up.
Try to see where you can sneak in a bit of extra movement in your daily routine. Small actions, such as taking the stairs, parking farther away or walking to a co-worker's desk instead of sending an email, can add up over time.
March is a great month to focus on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. How can you improve your nutrition and activity during this National Nutrition Month?