March is National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month

For over 50 years, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics has used National Nutrition Month as a campaign to bring awareness about healthful eating and activity. In Kentucky, this is a great time of year with warmer days and more resources beginning to be available. Wellness is on the minds of many in January with the new year and March brings favorable weather to put plans into action. This year’s theme is “Beyond the Table,” bringing to light the farm-to-table concept and addressing improved nutrition any way you eat meals. Registered Dietitians are working together this month on common themes to bring awareness to relevant food and nutrition topics.

Registered Dietitians (RDs), sometimes referred to as Registered Dietitian Nutritionists, are expert authorities on all things food and nutrition related. These are credentials health care providers that work in a variety of settings from doctor’s offices, hospitals, health departments, supermarkets, private practice, food service and the food industry just to name a few. Registered Dietitians have completed certified undergraduate programs, completed a mandated internship with over 1200 hours, successfully passed a certification examination (similar to boards with other professions) and maintain continuing education hours to stay up to date on food and nutrition topics. Many RDs hold advanced degrees and some even have further credentialing in a specialty area such as diabetes, weight management, renal, oncology or nutrition support.

Messaging this month is to think Beyond the Table. Many of our lives today have strayed away with the lives previous generations have lived. While as a society we have learned so much, we have also traded other nuances with food and nutrition considerations included. These sub themes were selected in trying to keep an inclusive mindset with relevance and benefit to as many people as possible. They are specific concepts with many ways to actualize.

Stay Nourished on Any Budget

A common complaint while working as an RD is “eating healthy is so expensive,” or “I don’t have the budget like my doctor has, there is no way I can afford to eat as they tell me to.” This is one of my favorite myths to bust with clients! Buying healthful foods is not only done at a local health food store or boutique market. With a little planning, coupon clipping and/or shopping around you can make your food dollars stretch further. Fresh produce is excellent, but frozen or canned are also good alternatives. Most grocery stores carry no salt added varieties of many canned goods and those are a staple in my household. Even simple ideas like planning what meals you will have in a week can help reduce food waste and stretch your food dollars. If you plan to buy a 3 pack of bell peppers and plan to use 2 peppers for fajitas- try adding a pepper to your chili to avoid wasting. Alternately, try slicing into strips and freezing the leftover pepper for your next batch of fajitas. Incorporating more meatless meals is another healthful tip to stretch your budget, and it may be a way to help lower your cholesterol as an added bonus!

Even if you struggle with food insecurity at times, know your local resources such as soup kitchens, food pantries and blessing boxes. Look into benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) or WIC services to help establish a reliable source of food for you and/or your family.

See a Registered Dietitian

Do you have questions or concerns about food, nutrition or weight management? If so, ask your healthcare professional for a referral to a Registered Dietitian. RDs are the only health providers that can provide comprehensive Medical Nutrition Therapy (MNT). MNT differs from general diet education in that all health concerns are considered to provide tailored education to meet your nutritional needs and achieve health goals. Did you know that a Registered Dietitian can help with chronic conditions such as kidney disease, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, cardiovascular disease and even pulmonary conditions? Clients of LivWell can request a consult with the on-staff Registered Dietitian by asking your provider, case manager or calling directly.

No plans to have a one-on-one consult with an RD? While the one-on-one advice from an RD can be invaluable, you may just have a few questions that are food and nutrition related. Look for health articles written by a Registered Dietitian or make sure the health tracking application you utilize had RD influence in design or they employ Registered Dietitians. Looking for the RD credential can be one tool that helps filter through the mound of information available on ever changing food and nutrition trends.

Eat a Variety of Foods from All Food Groups

Incorporating different foods from all the food groups (fruits, vegetables, grains/starches, proteins, dairy and fats) is the ultimate goal. Variations of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals are associated with different colored fruits and veggies. It’s important to change up what we routinely eat to get a balanced diet with food sources of a variety of nutrients. Looking for ways to change up your family’s meals? Try cooking an ethnic dish you may normally only consume at a restaurant. Or use a different form of the same food- like serving frozen green beans instead of canned.

Eat with the Environment in Mind

To be honest, this phrase triggers my brain to think “they must be talking about locally sourced produce, or grass-fed meat.” While both are tied to lessen the impact on the environment, there are so many other ways everyone can honor this nutrition-theme. Meal planning to reduce waste- this may mean using the pack of chicken breast in two different recipes, freezing leftovers or even cutting your recipes in half to reduce leftover that you dislike eating. Purchasing in season foods and from local farmers markets when able are other great options- this reduces transportation needs and the carbon footprint associated with these foods. Did you know that some farmer’s markets even participate in Senior Dollars or Double Dollars? These are state funded programs that either provide seniors with a dollar amount to use at farmer’s markets or allow WIC/SNAP beneficiaries the option to purchase foods with their benefits. Call ahead to see if your market offers any of these programs. You can also grow your own foods at home or in a community garden. It can be as simple as a favorite herb on your window sill or a tomato plant on your apartment balcony. A garden can be as complex as you’d like with as long or as short of a growing season to meet your schedule and likes. Know another friend that gardens- try swapping harvest to increase the variety of foods your family consumes.

I hope you take time this month to consider how you and your loved ones nourish your bodies. I hope you take pause and recognize the amazing things our bodies are capable of and consider fueling them in the best way within your means. Happy National Nutrition Month!

-Ruth Bartolo MS, RD, LD, CNSC