March has been declared National Nutrition Month® by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics to encourage everyone to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits. This year’s theme, Fuel for the Future, resonates with me because I believe the best is yet to come, and I strive to consistently fuel my body with foods that promote a healthy future using these eight tactics.
1. Stay Hydrated. As we age, our sense of thirst can diminish. Strive to consume six ounces of fluid each hour you are awake, but stop about two hours before bedtime. If you are exercising, you will need more. Unless you sweat heavily for long periods, you should not need an electrolyte supplement. Remember that all unsweetened fluids, except alcohol, count toward your hydration needs.
2. Honor Your Hunger and Fullness. I am often asked, “How often should I eat?” My response is always, “Eat when you are hungry.” I encourage my clients to ask themselves four questions before deciding to eat.
What is my intention in eating right now?
If the intention is to resolve hunger, how hungry am I?
What do I truly desire right now?
It’s good to be hungry when we begin eating because you enjoy food more, but you avoid becoming so hungry that you cannot make good decisions. Before you take your first bite, set an intention to notice when you are no longer hungry and stop eating when you are 80 percent full.
3. Pay Attention While You Eat. After sleep, fueling our bodies is the most important daily activity, so make the activity count. Studies show that when we remove distractions and focus on food, we enjoy it more, remember what we ate, and can consume 15 percent fewer calories. If you need to achieve a healthy weight, this simple step could help you achieve your goal.
4. Reduce Ultra-processed Food Intake. Numerous studies have shown a strong association between consuming ultra-processed foods and poor health outcomes. These food-like substances bear little resemblance to their natural source and contain ingredients not found in supermarkets.
5. Consume Plenty of Polyphenols. Polyphenols are powerful, biologically active agents found in plants. These mighty midgets may improve digestion, brain function, and blood sugar levels and protect against blood clots, heart disease, and certain cancers. Increase your opportunity to reap the benefits of polyphenols by varying the types of plants (vegetables, fruits, legumes, and healthy fats) you consume. Strive for five servings of non-starchy vegetables daily, and you will boost your intake of many polyphenols.
6. Focus on Fiber. The average person needs at least 30 grams of fiber daily, but most Americans consume only half that amount. All minimally processed plant foods contain fiber, with the superstars being ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and beans. Whole grains, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and seeds are good fiber sources. Five servings of vegetables provide about 10 grams of fiber.
7. Work Up to One Serving of Cooked Beans Daily. Beans and legumes are nutritional powerhouses and an outstanding source of fiber and digestive-resistant starches. You can save money by buying dry beans and cooking them yourself, but I take the shortcut and stock my pantry with various organic canned beans. If you enjoy a meal in the form of a smoothie, white beans are a fantastic addition.
8. Consume Live and Active Cultures. Foods such as yogurt, kefir, and naturally fermented sauerkraut contain microbes that spend a few days in the large intestine, making your commensal bacteria happier. A cup of dairy or non-dairy unsweetened yogurt easily fits into a plant-slanted diet. Fermented vegetables are high in sodium, so use only one or two tablespoons daily.
Track Your Progress. I love the Nutrition GPA app, developed by a registered dietitian, Monica Reinagle. You can download it for free from the App Store or Google Play. At the end of each day, you answer a set of questions, and the app gives you a letter grade. You don’t have to achieve an “A” every day to improve your health, but the more days you do, the better your chances.