As March draws to a close, there are many reasons to be grateful for this particular month. More hours of sunshine. The first day of spring. Tips of green poking out from blankets of soil. And the ideal opportunity to focus on the fuel you put into your body each day.

Why? Because March is National Nutrition Month! Sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign to help Americans make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits. Before we flip the page on the calendar, let’s use these last few days to focus on what we put into our bodies and how it contributes to lifelong health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease cause seven out of 10 deaths in the United States each year, and account for 75% of all health care costs. One of the most important keys to preventing and managing chronic illness (along with exercise, regular health screenings, and avoiding tobacco) is proper nutrition.

Every five years, the Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture publish the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This 125+-page guide details the research and data behind governmental recommendations for nutrition. Medical professionals, educators, policymakers, and others use this guide to aid in their decision-making, education, and community outreach.

The 2015-2020 guide includes the following recommendations for all-around good health:

  • Follow an eating pattern across the lifespan that supports a healthy body weight and reduces the risk of chronic illness. Choose nutritious foods from all the food groups – fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, grains, and oils.
  • Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount. Nutrient-dense foods include those that provide vitamins, minerals, and other substances that have positive health effects. Examples include leafy greens, blueberries, chicken breast, nuts, and low-fat milk and cheese. If dairy isn’t your thing, there are many non-dairy options that satiate and add nutrition value, such as almond, soy and coconut milk.
  • Limit calories from added sugars and saturated fats and reduce sodium intake. Avoid such items as soda, pizza, chips, deli meats, and processed foods.
  • Shift to healthier food and beverage options. Consider personal preferences to maintain switches over time. For example, if you like soda, consider flavored seltzer water. Rather than ordering fettuccine alfredo, try a pasta primavera with garlic, olive oil, and a little shredded parmesan, with a bean pasta. Just had the red lentil penne and it was delicious!
  • Support healthy eating patterns for all. Encourage healthier choices at home, work, school, and social and community gatherings to help change the collective mindset.

For more information on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and for other tips and resources on health eating, visit choosemyplate.gov. Or for a more personalized approach, reach out to one of the nutritionists and health coaches available in the SimplaFYI Community, who can help you develop healthy eating patterns to last a lifetime.  Not a Member? Join SimplaFYI today: www.simplafyi.com/members

Carol Swanson is a Health & Wellbeing writer and can be reached at: cegoodswan@gmail.com