Time to shed those winter pounds?
During winter, we tend to spend more time indoors and reach for comfort foods at meals. As the days grow longer and we see the first signs of spring, it’s a good time to think about greening up our diet.
March is National Nutrition Month®. Organized by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the campaign encourages people to focus “on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits.”
Adding greens to your diet is a healthy start. They boost your metabolism and immune system.
Amy Rose Sager RDN, LDN, CLT, is a dietician and nutrition expert for the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNA). She’s also a member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Through her work at the VNA and her own practice, Leap into Wellness, she helps patients learn how to increase the amount of plant food they eat.
She advises people to take a look at the ingredients in their cupboards as part of a spring cleaning ritual.
Listen To Your Gut
“There are over 80,000 items in the grocery store today and a lot of them have additives that can affect your gut. Over-processed foods assault your gut and cause inflammation. Some additives can change your gut flora, even increase your hunger so you want more food,” she said. “Our food choices can either improve our digestion process or hurt it. Eating real food in its natural form is healthier for the body.”
According to Leap into Wellness, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), fibromyalgia, chronic depression and other conditions can be triggered by foods or chemicals in a patient’s diet.
Power Up Your Plate
Sager advises the following ways to spruce up our diets for spring:
- Increase legumes – beans and lentils are high in fiber, low in fat and a great source of protein.
- Incorporate berries – many have cancer-fighting compounds.
- Eat more greens – 1½ cups of different kinds of greens are beneficial. Some greens have naturally occurring nitrates that can help open arteries.
- Hydration is huge – our body is 60-75% water (our brains are 85% water). When we increase fiber we need to make sure we’re hydrated. In addition to drinking more water, carrots, strawberries and oranges all have high water content.
- Make sure half of your plate is vegetables, Sager advised. By increasing vegetables and fiber, you can eat more food but have fewer calories.
“I would rather count fiber – 10 grams per meal – than calories,” she said.
Fiber is only found in plant food. She offered these examples: A half-cup of beans can have 7 grams of fiber; add a vegetable and you get 10 grams of fiber.
According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, fiber helps the body rid itself of excess toxins, carcinogens, and hormones that would otherwise be reabsorbed into the bloodstream. They recommend squash, radishes, mushrooms and other plant foods that are loaded with cancer-fighting dietary fiber.
Some vegetables have added health benefits.
“Asparagus is a pre-biotic food. It helps fuel bacteria in the gut, as do leeks, chives, and onions,” Sager said. “Foods like broccoli, kale, and collard greens can work as natural detoxifiers.”
Starch can be butternut squash, roasted potatoes, or even sweet potato fries, she said. And quinoa and millet are whole grains and contain nutrients that help reduce the risk of chronic diseases.
Sager also recommends adding plant fats to our diets.
“Add nuts or nut butters, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds. They have fat but also have magnesium and zinc so they’re beneficial to the body,” she said. A serving size is 1 ounce, which is about 23 almonds or 14 walnut halves, or ¼-cup pumpkin seeds (a good source of magnesium and iron), she added.
She suggests that we eat meat more like a condiment.
A healthy diet doesn’t have to be boring. In fact it’s full of colorful, delicious choices.
“Experiment with what tastes best and works best for you,” Sager said.