Consider putting more plants on your plate

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<i>Donna Krug is the District Director and Family &amp; Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research &amp; Extension – Cottonwood District.&nbsp;</i>
Donna Krug is the District Director and Family & Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research & Extension – Cottonwood District. 

Those of you who know me are not surprised that I love this time of year. Warmer days mean longer and more frequent bike rides. Besides the physical activity that comes with the start of Spring, March is also designated as National Nutrition Month. A couple of weeks ago I put the finishing touches on the revision of a fact sheet and leaders guide I wrote ten years ago titled, “More Plants on the Plate.” The fact sheet includes updated information about the benefits of filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. A generous portion of a grain dish, preferably whole grain, and a small portion of a lean protein round out the foods to fill your nine-inch plate. Dairy or calcium rich foods should also be part of a healthy diet.

The benefits of making dietary changes are amazing. Nutrient dense vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are naturally low in calories and fat. They also are naturally high in fiber which can help keep your digestive system healthy. Consuming a diet featuring more plants is good for your health – today and tomorrow. 

We have heard so much lately about how important a strong immune system is. Complex carbohydrates are easy to digest, and the antioxidants in plants actually help strengthen your body’s immune system. Many people with heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and various autoimmune diseases have been able to alleviate their symptoms by eating more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds, and consuming fewer solid and added fats, added sugars and refined grains.

Let’s talk a bit about the food that is being consumed in America. Calorie balance, which is one key to a healthy weight, can be achieved when calories consumed from food and drinks equal the calories used for physical activity and metabolic processes. It may sound simplistic but calorie imbalance – or consuming more calories than the body uses – is one reason for the growing national and global epidemic of obesity. 

Consider the quality of calories and nutrients in the food consumers are choosing. Research reported in the American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide found that regardless of body weight, many people of all age groups consume too much solid fat, cholesterol, sodium, added sugar and refined grains. Too much of these may increase the risks of certain chronic diseases. A small serving of these energy-dense foods contains a large number of calories. Choosing unhealthy foods instead of nutrient-dense choices, foods that contain many nutrients in relationship to the number of calories, makes it harder to meet nutrient recommendations and control calories. Many choices high in sodium, added fat, and added sugar come from highly processed food. Or they may be choices made from a fast food menu. Preparing more food at home, where you control the ingredients, provides the best chance for healthy alternatives. 

Just as important as the plate you are eating from is the beverage you choose to drink. Sugary soft drinks or specialty coffee drinks fill you up with empty calories and provide little nutrition. A glass of water is the healthier choice. Other points to consider as you work toward eating a healthier diet include:

  1. Start your day with breakfast.
  2. Include a fruit or vegetable at every meal or snack.
  3. Reduce portion sizes.
  4. Eat slowly and eat only until you are no longer hungry. 
  5. Choose to eat more nutrient dense foods. (Choose an apple instead of that piece of apple pie)
  6. Eat whole foods instead of highly processed foods. 

Many people simply live to eat. For improved health, now is the time to eat to live. It may not easy to change eating habits overnight.  At first you may find it challenging to avoid processed foods. But gradually, as more vegetables, fruits, grains and legumes are added to your daily menu, you will discover or rediscover what nutrient dense foods taste like. Let’s look for ways to put “more plants on the plate.”

Donna Krug is the District Director and Family & Consumer Science Agent with K-State Research & Extension – Cottonwood District. You may reach her at: [email protected] or (620)793-1910. 

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