March is National Nutrition Month in the United States, an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The Alabama Cooperative Extension System Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed) said it is committed to promoting a healthy lifestyle and helping Alabama residents make informed food choices.

The theme for National Nutrition Month this year is “Personalize Your Plate,” which Katie Funderburk, Alabama Extension specialist and registered dietitian, said fits rights into SNAP-Ed’s mission.

“We love this year’s theme since meeting people where they’re at and encouraging them to make healthier choices that work for them is what SNAP-Ed does best,” Funderburk said.

Creating new food habits doesn’t happen overnight. Still, simple changes each day can add up to big differences in your overall eating pattern. Recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans highlight several key features of a healthy eating pattern.

Fruits and vegetables

The dietary guidelines recommend at least 2 cups of fruits each day. All fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits such as apples, pears, bananas, berries and citrus fruits are great options for personalizing your plate to add natural sweetness and flavor.

“Figs are one of my favorite fruits and can be grown right here in Alabama,” Funderburk said.

A good rule to follow is to make at least half your plate fruits and vegetables, according to MyPlate, a program funded through the USDA.

When it comes to vegetables, the dietary guidelines recommend at least two and a half cups daily. Vegetables offer various flavors, textures and colors to explore, each with its own unique health benefits. For example, red and orange foods such as bell peppers and sweet potatoes provide vitamins A, C and K.

Sofia Sanchez, Alabama Extension community health specialist and registered dietitian, said beets offer nutrients that promote blood vessel health.

“Try roasting sliced beets with a drizzle of olive oil in the oven for a different option,” she said.

Another option could be adding leftover veggies from the previous night’s dinner to a morning omelet or breakfast wrap.

Thinking about protein

Healthy diet patterns include various protein foods, which can come from both animal and plant sources. The guidelines recommendation includes sourcing protein from lean meats, seafood low in methylmercury, and beans low in added sodium.

Including some unsalted nuts and sunflower seeds when on the go makes for a crunchy snack to boost your protein intake. Try adding some dried fruit like raisins, cranberries or chopped dates for a bit of sweetness to your snack.

Grains and dairy are important, too

The guidelines recommend adults make at least half of their grains whole. Try incorporating a new grain into your dinner this week, such as whole-grain rice or quinoa.

Enjoying a hot breakfast with whole grains like oatmeal will help meet recommendations. However, think about trying other whole grains like buckwheat or millet for a potential new breakfast favorite. 

Dairy can be tricky because the guidelines’ recommendation for daily amounts varies based on a person’s age.

However, most individuals would benefit by increasing their dairy intake in fat-free or low-fat forms, whether from milk (including lactose-free milk), yogurt or a soy beverage.

For more information about what SNAP-Ed does to improve Alabamians’ quality of life or about tips for living a healthier lifestyle, visit LiveWellAlabama.com or find them on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.

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