FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — Healthy eating seems to mean different things to different people. For some, it’s bland, complicated or expensive. For others, it means replacing their favorite foods with something less tasty or convenient.
It doesn’t have to mean any of those things however, as long as a variety of nutritious foods from all the different food groups are regularly included in one’s diet.
Each March, during National Nutrition Month, the Fort Leonard Wood community is invited to learn more about making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits.
This year’s theme calls people to, ‘Celebrate a World of Flavors,’ by incorporating favorite or new cultural foods and traditions into meals. Enjoying different flavors and adding a variety of foods from around the world is a tasty way to nourish oneself while also appreciating diversity.
The food groups
The food groups — dairy, grains, proteins, fruits and vegetables — each provide different nutrients the body needs to function properly, so consuming foods from each group every day is very important for health. The goal is to fill half the plate with vegetables and some fruit; one-fourth with lean proteins; and one-fourth of the plate with whole grains.
Dairy products, including milk, yogurts and cheeses, are important for building and maintaining strong bones. Many dairy products also contain protein, fats and some carbohydrates. Dairy products are rich with nutrients, including calcium, phosphorous, vitamins A, B12 and D, potassium, zinc, choline, magnesium and selenium.
Calcium and vitamin D, together, are essential for building bones, teeth and maintaining bone strength as one ages. Potassium — found in dairy, fruits and vegetables — is essential for maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Best sources of dairy include low-fat or fat-free sources with low or no added sugars. For anyone who is lactose intolerant — or ethically opposed to consuming dairy products — and worried about not getting enough calcium and vitamin D, there are non-dairy or dairy alternatives, including calcium-fortified juices — such as orange juice — canned fish, tofu, milk alternatives, like soy and almond milks, tahini, and some leafy greens, like spinach, kale and bok choy.
In addition to vitamins and minerals, grains contain carbohydrates, protein and fiber. Whole grains — including whole wheat breads, whole grain cereals, brown rice or foods with whole grain flours — are the most nutritious choice of grains because they have the complete grain, compared to refined grains or “white” grains. A whole grain has the coating of the grain (the bran), the nutrient rich inner part (the germ) and the soft starchy inner white portion (the endosperm).
The bran and germ contain most of the B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals like iron and magnesium that make whole grains more nutritious. Fiber can also help reduce cholesterol levels; lower risk for heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes mellitus; help people meet weight-loss goals; and prevent constipation. Women should aim for at least 25 grams of fiber daily, and men should aim for 38 grams. The best way to confirm grains are whole grain is to check for “whole grain” or “whole wheat flour” in the ingredients.
Proteins are needed because they are the building blocks for muscles, bones, skin, blood, enzymes, hormones and vitamins. High-protein foods contain B vitamins like niacin, thiamin, riboflavin and B6, along with vitamin E, iron, zinc and magnesium.
Many Americans get enough daily protein but most do not meet recommended amounts for seafood, nuts and seeds, and soy products. Consuming these foods can increase the body’s unsaturated fat intake (also known as the heart healthy fat), dietary fiber and vitamin D.
The best choices of protein include lean proteins or proteins lower in saturated fats. This includes eggs; tofu; turkey; canned meats in water rather than oil; fresh fish; chicken without the skin or chicken breast; and leaner cuts of beef, pork and lamb — look for products labeled with terms such as “loin” or “round,” or that otherwise contain less than 4.5 grams of fat per 3.5 ounces of meat, or the greater than 90 percent ground options.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are full of essential vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Different colored fruits and vegetables provide different nutrients for the body, so it is very important to eat a variety of colors every day.
Antioxidants are substances that defend the body against harmful free radicals. Too many free radicals in the body increase the risk of heart disease, cataracts and cancer. Free radicals also increase inflammation and break down the skin’s collagen, which can lead to increased wrinkles and blemishes.
Phytonutrients are powerful antioxidants that protect the body from chronic diseases, including heart disease and cataracts. They also have cancer-fighting effects — the phytonutrient hesperidin, for example, which is found in most citrus fruits, actually helps increase blood flow. Therefore, anyone who regularly gets cold hands and feet should try eating more oranges or bell peppers.
The bottom line
These days, everyone is looking for the perfect diet to follow, but the truth is, one person’s perfect plate does not have to look like anyone else’s — and it shouldn’t. The key to good nutrition is to include variety from all the food groups and to incorporate favorite cultural foods, flavors and traditions.
Call 573.596.1762 to set up an appointment with a registered dietitian at GLWACH. All Tricare beneficiaries are welcome and no referral is necessary.