March is my favorite month by far – it’s designated “National Nutrition Month” by the American Dietetic Association (and it rings in a birthday for me, too!).  The theme is “Eat Right with Color” this month. It’s time to add more colorful, fiber-filled and omega-3-rich foods to your plate.  Think leafy greens; yellow, green and red peppers; ruby red tomatoes; perfectly purple eggplant; glistening pink salmon, tuna or sardines; golden, red and yellow whole grains.  Also, bid farewell to a lot of sodium by adding a bevy of colorful herbs and spices for flavor and to reap extra health benefits, too. 

There’s a whole host of nutrients just waiting to be had — make a pact with yourself, your friends and/or family to embrace some new, healthy and healing foods this month.   

With 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of children overweight and/or obese, and malnutrition running rampant as foods high in sodium, sugar and refined grains fill grocery carts nation-wide, there needs to be more focus on nutrient-dense foods – in other words, get more nutrient bang for your calorie buck!  The recently released 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans  shows that our nation’s eating habits fall short on key nutrients, such as potassium, calcium, vitamin D,  and fiber.  How can you increase these nutrients in your diet?  

– Get at least 2 cups of whole fruits a day by loading berries on to your oatmeal, top toast with a bit of all-fruit spread or throw an apple and orange in your work bag for tasty snacks during the day.

– Aim for at least 2 1/2 cups of vegetables by brightening up your plate with fresh vegetables at all meals and munch on cut-up bell  peppers, baby carrots, sliced jicama, and snap peas.   Savor the crunch of fresh veggies every day.

– Experiment with whole grains.   Refined grains or white flour products are every where from bread to pizza crust to cereal – as a result our meals and snacks are devoid of vital vitamins, minerals and fiber. So choose whole grain breads for sandwiches, watch the breading on meats and turn the grains on your plate whole with brown rice, quinoa or barley.  

– Boost beans. Another way to add fiber (and protein) is with beans and peas, such as kidney beans, black beans, split peas, pinto beans, and lentils.  (Note: green peas are in the starchy vegetable group and green beans are in vegetable group with onions, celery, cabbage and lettuces). 

– Favor fish.  Choose fish at least twice a week over other forms of protein like red meat, chicken and turkey and pork.  Fish contains powerful players in heart and immune health, omega-3 fats.  By contributing omega-3 fats like EPA + DHA to your diet, you can do wonders for your vascular system, while taking in some high quality protein. Adults should aim for at  least 8 – 12 oz. per week (children should eat less). 

Even pregnant women can benefit from 8 ounces per week of the lower mercury fish, such as wild salmon, tuna, halibut, mackerel and sardines.  (Steer clear of the big four: king mackerel, shark, swordfish and tilefish). 

– Drink water and avoid sugary beverages.  Americans are drinking too many calories – period.  Try to avoid getting calories from your liquids by watching gourmet coffee drinks, sports drinks, fruit punch, juice and alcoholic beverages.  The calories can add up fast! 

– Don’t forget to move.  Exercise goes hand-in-hand with eating well.  So aim for at least 150 minutes (or 20 minutes a day) — to balance calories in with calories out.  Remember, the more muscle you have, the more calories you will burn at rest. 

Just think, if it takes 30 days to form a new habit (or change an old one), use the month of March as your first step toward creating a healthier lifestyle.  I’d love to hear how you got your start today…