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National nutrition month: Personalizing your plate

Make every bite count with new USDA dietary guidelines

The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released new dietary guidelines in December, as it does every five years, based on the latest scientific evidence. Following this guidance helps us improve our health, reduce the risk of chronic disease and meet nutrient needs.

March happens to be National Nutrition Month, with a special focus on creating healthful meals that honor our cultural and personal food preferences. It’s a great time to marry the two messages to promote healthful eating: personalize your plate and make every bite count with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

The Dietary Guidelines offer four key recommendations to help make it easy to make every bite count:

  1. Follow a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage. A dietary pattern includes the combination of foods and drinks that you typically eat. Just about everybody, regardless of their health status, can benefit from making changes that lead to a healthier dietary pattern. The MyPlate graphic is a great example of a healthy dietary pattern.
  2. My favorite of the four recommendations: Honor your personal preferences, cultural traditions and your budget. In other words, personalize your plate! Our food choices are influenced by our likes and our culture, so we should strive to honor that by making these traditional foods part of our healthy eating pattern. The following are some examples of traditional and nourishing foods served up in a healthy pattern. Can you guess which type of cuisine they represent? (Answers are provided at the end of this article.)
  • Breakfast – Bitter melon with eggs, mantou (steamed bun) and soymilk
  • Breakfast – Beans and rice, with sliced tomato and cooked egg and plantain (Hint: As a Latina, this one is my favorite of the bunch.)
  • Lunch – Pancit bihon (sautéed vegetables, rice noodles with prawns or chicken) and extra vegetables

Lunch – A bowl with your choice of leafy greens, cutup vegetables, beans or tofu, fruit, nuts and cooked grains

  • Dinner – Bhindi masala (sautéed spiced okra, onion and tomatoes) with dal (lentils) and whole grain roti (bread)
  • Dinner – Grilled chicken, koresh bademjan (eggplant and tomato stew), brown rice, pomegranate and yogurt

And let’s not forget tasty and nutritious snacks such as baba ganoush with bread, a licuado (fruit smoothie) made with milk, boiled kamote (yams) with a glass of soymilk, and roasted chickpeas, to name just a few. (Check out Extension’s Chef Suzy’s video on how to make these.)

These foods are just a small snapshot of the delicious and healthy contributions the world’s cultures have to offer. For handouts and tip sheets on specific cuisines, be sure to check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics National Nutrition Month Toolkit.

  1. Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages, and stay within calorie limits. Nutrient-dense means that a food or drink is packed with beneficial nutrients relative to how many calories it provides, how much it weighs or how many detrimental nutrients it contains. An egg is an example of a nutrient-dense food, as are vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seafood, beans, peas and lentils, unsalted nuts and seeds, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and lean meats and poultry.
  2. Limit your intake of added sugars, saturated fat and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. High intake of foods and drinks that contain lots of sugar, fat, salt and alcohol can be detrimental to our health, and they are also typically high in calories. The 85/15 is good guide to help make every bite count: 85% of your calories should come from nutrient-dense sources, and the other 15% can include a little bit of those things that you should limit.

To help you get started, you can set goals, track your progress and earn badges while making positive changes with the Start Simple with MyPlate App. Of course, you can learn more about healthy eating by taking an Extension class, reading a health and nutrition publication, watching an educational video, and so much more at healthy living section of the Extension website. Here’s to making every bite count!

Answers to the types of cuisines: (1) Chinese, (2) Latin American, (3) Filipino, (4) Vegetarian, though many cultures feature delicious vegetarian choices, (5) Asian Indian, and (6) Middle Eastern.


Aurora Buffington photo
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