March is National Nutrition Month, celebrated across America from home kitchens to school cafeterias, office-building cafes and fine-dining restaurants. Sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, National Nutrition Month is an education and information campaign that stresses the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound physical exercise habits.
This year’s “Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day” theme encourages the personal food preferences and healthful eating styles of people with diverse lifestyle, cultural and ethnic traditions.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics is the world’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals dedicated to helping people enjoy healthful lives through their daily diets. The group’s website, www.eatright.org, offers the public free facts and tips about a variety of nutrition topics.
“We all owe it to ourselves at any age to fuel our minds and bodies with the best nutrition possible,” said Gene Lennon, owner of Right at Home Santa Clara County. “In our work with seniors, we find that many elderly rely on microwavable convenience foods that often contain extra fats, sugar and salt that complicate existing health conditions. Eating right doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive. Sometimes only a few adjustments are needed.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture publishes “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” with the five food groups that compose a healthy diet. Online at www.ChooseMyPlate.gov, people can access dozens of resources for healthful eating, plus nutrition tips, sample menus and recipes. The MyPlate site also helps determine how many calories you need each day and gives examples for people over age 51.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends shifts in dietary nutrients as people age, including more:
• Calcium and Vitamin D to help maintain strong bone health. Older adults should eat three servings of vitamin D-fortified low-fat or fat-free milk or yogurt daily. Other sources of calcium-rich foods include dark-green leafy vegetables, canned fish and fortified cereals and fruit juices.
• Vitamin B12 is often low in people older than 50. Lean meat, fortified cereals and some fish and seafood are excellent sources of vitamin B12.
• Potassium is found in fruits, vegetables, and milk and yogurt products. To lower high blood pressure, seniors should increase potassium in their diets while reducing sodium or salt intake.
• Fiber found in whole-grain breads and cereals, beans, peas, fruits and vegetables is a natural way to stay regular, prevent Type 2 diabetes, control weight and lower one’s risk for heart disease.
• Healthful fats, found in olive oil and peanut oil, for example, are considered polyunsaturated or monounsaturated versus the saturated and trans fats found in many commercially processed and baked foods.
Storage and preparation
Dietitians and nutrition experts stress not only the types of foods people eat, but also the importance of safely storing and preparing foods to prevent illness.
Proper handwashing with warm, soapy water for at least 20 seconds can eliminate nearly half of all food-borne illnesses.
Storing foods in the refrigerator set cooler than 40 F also will reduce the risk of eating contaminated foods.