Whenever you think about eating a healthy, well-balanced diet, you may think that you have to give up foods and restaurants you enjoy and that you must eat a boring regimen of meals every day. That can be discouraging, especially if you have certain cultural, ethnic and lifestyle practices that you include in your eating habits. However, eating healthy does not mean you must give up your preferences and tastes in foods; you can make small adjustments to your diet while still enjoying the foods you love.

March is National Nutrition Month and the theme for the month is "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day." This theme encourages everyone to continue following their food preferences, lifestyle, culture and health practices, but to make healthy food choices within those preferences and practices.

Good nutrition is also one of the Army surgeon general's top priorities for building and sustaining good Soldier and family member health through the "Performance Triad." Nutrition, along with a focus on healthy activity and sleep, is one of the three legs of the triad.

Choosing to eat a healthy diet has many benefits, including enhancing fitness and performance. As well, consuming a healthy, well-balanced diet may reduce a person's risk of developing certain chronic diseases, including high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and some types of cancer, as well as obesity. Many Americans do not meet the recommended guidelines for a well-balanced diet, which includes each of the five major food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy products.

If you have decided to choose a more healthy diet, here are a few simple tips you should follow every day, no matter what your food preferences are:

•Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet each day: Place fruits and vegetables in highly visible places on your kitchen counter, pack fruits and vegetables in a cooler to take with you when you are on the go, and choose steamed vegetables as side items when eating at your favorite restaurant (rather than choosing vegetables cooked in butter and oil or covered in sauces, which add extra calories from fat).

•Eat more whole grains: Choose whole wheat breads and pastas and whole grain rice rather than white varieties of these items.

•If you enjoy meat as part of your diet, choose low-fat options, such as lean cuts of beef and chicken, and certain types of fish (such as salmon and trout). If you do not eat meat, you can get protein from beans, soy products, nuts and seeds. Eggs are a good source of protein, but you should limit the amount of egg yolks you consume to no more than one a day since they contain cholesterol and saturated fat.

•Choose low-fat and low-calorie dairy products, such as skim milk, rather than whole milk; limit the amount of cheese you consume.

•Decrease your intake of salt and high sodium foods. Check labels for low-sodium items.

•Make better beverage choices by drinking plenty of water every day, and choosing calorie-free beverages, 100 percent fruit juices, and fat-free milk.

•Pay attention to portion sizes. Many people eat more than the recommended serving size of foods, so choose smaller portions. Stop eating when you feel satisfied.

•Always practice food safety by washing your hands before preparing and eating food and by keeping raw meat and fish separate from fruits and vegetables when preparing meals.

Eating right does not mean that you must give up your food preferences. Eating right, your way, every day means taking small steps that will make a big impact on your health no matter what your lifestyle and cultural preferences are.

Page last updated Thu February 28th, 2013 at 15:20