UF/IFAS Extension agent: Smart eating tips for National Nutrition Month

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — How’s that New Year’s resolution holding up? If you resolved to eat healthier in 2017, you have a second chance during National Nutrition Month, which runs through March.

The theme for this year’s observance is “Put your best fork forward,” according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.  Experts from the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences have a few tips to help you get started.

“Putting your best fork forward means making every bite count and getting the most out of our ‘food investment’ —  a forkful of salad gives us a lot more than a forkful of pie,” said Nan Jensen, family and consumer sciences agent in Pinellas County with the UF/IFAS Extension Family Nutrition Program.

“As we celebrate National Nutrition Month, I would encourage everyone to eat a variety of foods from all food groups,” said Lacey Corrick, education and training specialist for the UF/IFAS Extension Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP).

Corrick and Jensen recommend starting with small changes that will improve your health over time.

“Special diets can help you lose weight, but you may not be able to keep that weight off in the long run,” Jensen explained. “Gradual changes, on the other hand, are something you’ll be able to live with for the rest of your life.”

  1. Cut back on sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soft drinks.

“This doesn’t mean you have to eliminate these, at least not all at once,” Jensen said. “You can start by replacing one of your normal drinks with another beverage that doesn’t have added sugar, such as carbonated water with a splash of fruit juice. This can make a big dent in your calorie allotment.”

  1. Put fruits and veggies center stage.

“We always say make half your plate fruits and vegetables,” Jensen said. This visual check makes it easier to know whether you’re getting enough of these food groups in your diet.

“Most people think only fresh vegetables matter, but the truth is that canned, frozen and 100 percent vegetable juice also count as servings,” Corrick added. “If you’re drinking fruit juice, make sure to look for the words ‘no added sugars’ or ‘100 percent juice’ on the label.”

  1. Sneak plants into your snacks.

“It takes a little planning, but try bringing an easily portable fruit or vegetable to work as a snack. This can help you get more servings of these foods into your routine,” Jensen said.

  1. Mix up your grains.

“Whole grains have fiber, which may reduce the risk of heart disease, as well as other important nutrients, like the B-vitamins and some minerals,” Corrick said.

However, you don’t need to switch to all whole grain foods all at once.

“The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say to make half your grains whole, but you can make the switch a little at a time,” Jensen said. “For example, you can try adding in small amounts of whole wheat pasta to white pasta.”

  1. Know what’s fresh when.

Produce is usually fresher and cheaper when it’s in season. “The Florida Fresh App is a great way to find out which fruits and vegetables are in season in our state,” Jensen said. “If you have a home garden — a great way to introduce kids to how food is grown — the app can also tell you when to plant what,” she added.

The Florida Fresh App is available on Android and iOS mobile devices. Also visit www.choosemyplate.gov for healthy recipe ideas and nutritional recommendations.

Caption: The theme for this year’s National Nutrition Month is “put your best fork forward,” which means making every bite count toward better health. UF/IFAS photo

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By Samantha Grenrock, 352-294-3307, grenrosa@ufl.edu

The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.