Did you know March is National Nutrition Month? The 2015 campaign encourages Americans to “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle.” If you do not already make nutrition and exercise a priority, this month is a good time to start. Even small changes can make a big difference over time.
Which diets are best? The sheer volume of information available on the web can make eating healthy a daunting task. In addition, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee report last month reversed many long-held dietary beliefs. Low-fat diets are not as crucial to maintaining good health as previously thought. Eggs do not actually contribute significantly to cholesterol levels. Finally, recent studies show that artificial sweeteners are nearly as detrimental to your health as real sugar.
Let go of the low-fat diet and focus on nutritional balance. Choose a diet that you can adhere to long-term. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee recommends fueling your body with a heart-healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet. A 2013 study found that the eating pattern of a Mediterranean diet significantly helped prevent cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. Other research points to reduced risk of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
The Mediterranean diet provides variety and lasting health benefits.
Here are the basics:
Make meals plant based. Include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts with every meal. These foods provide essential vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines also recommend a plant-based diet to ensure adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables are consumed daily.
Dairy products, especially yogurt and cheese, are encouraged. Avoid sweetened yogurt brands and choose one rich in probiotics. A good option is Nancy’s Yogurt based in Eugene, Oregon.
Limit red meat and use fish, eggs and poultry instead. Aim to eat fish at least twice a week for the Omega-3 fatty acids.
Olive oil is a staple ingredient in Mediterranean cooking. Unlike the low-fat guidelines of the 1980s, the Mediterranean diet encourages consumption of healthy fats. The fat in olive oil, monounsaturated fat, works to reduce cholesterol levels. Other healthy fats prominently found in the Mediterranean diet include Omega-3 fatty acids from fish and nuts. Avoid products like butter or processed food that contain unhealthy saturated and trans fats.
Finally, a daily 5-ounce serving of wine contributes to heart health.
Any type of dietary change can be overwhelming at first. Find recipes that work for your schedule and preferences. Start small, be patient and don’t give up. Your body will thank you for it.