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Nutrition Month

In 1973, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics chose one week in March to devote to raising awareness of healthy eating. The awareness campaign became a month-long event in 1980. Today, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics works closely with the United States Department of Agriculture to ensure that more Americans have access to affordable, safe, and nutritious food. Both organizations also promote the importance of making good choices when deciding what to eat. The theme for this year’s campaign is Nutrition: It’s a Matter of Fact.

How Food Choices Affect Your Health

According to the Department of Health and Human Services, one-third of American adults are obese. This means their body mass index (BMI) is at 30 percent or higher. Another one-third fall into the overweight category, which includes those with a BMI between 25 and 29.9. Perhaps even more troubling, 17 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 have a body weight that puts them into the obese category.

Even when people remain at a healthy weight, making unhealthy food choices puts them at risk of developing several serious diseases. These include diabetes, certain types of cancer, high blood pressure, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Unfortunately, these diseases are showing up at younger ages. One reason for this is that people develop their lifelong eating habits in childhood. By teaching children to eat healthy from the start, they will have a much easier time carrying these habits into adulthood.

Nutritional Guidelines for Children

Since infants and toddlers don’t yet receive all nutrition from food, we encourage you to work with your child’s pediatrician to establish the most appropriate feeding schedule. Once your child reaches age 2, his or her nutrition needs are similar to your own. Be sure to serve your son or daughter an adequate amount of fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and low-fat dairy to encourage physical, emotional, and cognitive development. It’s also important to limit the calories your child consumes from saturated fat, trans fat, and sugar.

Below are some general guidelines for children’s nutrition by age and gender offered by the Mayo Clinic.

Ages 2 and 3, Girls and Boys

  • Calories: 1,000 to 1,400
  • Dairy: 2 cups
  • Grains: 3 to 5 ounces
  • Fruits: 1 to 1.5 cups
  • Protein: 2 to 4 ounces
  • Vegetables: 1 to 1.5 cups

Ages 4 to 8, Girls

  • Calories: 1,200 to 1,800
  • Dairy: 2.5 cups
  • Grains: 4 to 6 ounces
  • Fruits: 1 to 1.5 cups
  • Protein: 2 to 4 ounces
  • Vegetables: 1 to 2.5 cups

Ages 4 to 8, Boys

  • Calories: 1,200 to 2,000
  • Dairy: 2.5 cups
  • Grains: 4 to 6 ounces
  • Fruits: 1 to 2 cups
  • Protein: 3 to 5.5 ounces
  • Vegetables: 1.5 to 2.5 cups

Ages 9-13, Girls

  • Calories: 1,400 to 2,200
  • Dairy: 3 cups
  • Grains: 5 to 7 ounces
  • Fruits: 1.5 to 2 cups
  • Protein: 4 to 6 ounces
  • Vegetables: 1.5 to 3 cups

Ages 9-13, Boys

  • Calories: 1,600 to 2,600
  • Dairy: 3 cups
  • Grains: 5 to 9 ounces
  • Fruits: 1.5 to 2 cups
  • Protein: 5 to 6.5 ounces
  • Vegetables: 2 to 3.5 cups

Ages 14-18, Girls

  • Calories: 1,800 to 2,400
  • Dairy: 3 cups
  • Grains: 6 to 8 ounces
  • Fruits: 1.5 to 2 cups
  • Protein: 5 to 6.5 ounces
  • Vegetables: 2 to 3 cups

Ages 14-18, Boys

  • Calories: 2,00 to 3,200
  • Dairy: 3 cups
  • Grains: 6 to 10 ounces
  • Fruits: 2 to 2.5 cups
  • Protein: 5.5 to 7 ounces
  • Vegetables: 2.5 to 4 cups

Recommendations to Change Your Eating Habits

Even if you or your children don’t eat healthy now, it’s never too late to change. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that everyone try to incorporate at least six of the following eight tips:

  1. Drink skim or one percent milk: These both have the same nutrients and amount of calcium as two percent and whole milk, but with less saturated fat and fewer calories.
  2. Include fruits and vegetables on at least half of your plate: When it comes to preparing your plate for a meal, go for color as much as possible. Choose dark green, orange, and red vegetables like broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes to brighten things up a bit. Fruit can be part of the main dish, a side dish, or even a desert. A colorful plate means that your body receives the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that it needs for optimal health.
  3. Choose lean protein: Protein is an essential part of your diet, but make sure that you select meats that are at least 90 percent lean. Examples of protein sources include meat, eggs, nuts, dry beans, seafood, seeds, and poultry.
  4. Select whole grain wheat at least half the time: Whole grains include ingredients like whole wheat, wild rice, brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, and buckwheat. Whole grain is a healthier alternative because it doesn’t contain refined grains.
  5. Drink more water and skip the sugar-filled drinks: Not only does water have no calories, it helps quench thirst and keeps you properly hydrated. Soda, energy drinks, and soft drinks are a go-to for many people and are also a leading contributor of sugar and calories in the American diet. If you get tired of drinking water, try adding a lime or lemon to it for more flavor.
  6. Reduce your sodium intake: Too much salt in the diet leads to a host of serious complications. To reduce how much you consume, read labels closely and choose foods labeled as low or no sodium.
  7. Reduce intake of solid fats: Everyone needs some fat, but only in moderation. Some major sources of fat in this country include pizza, cookies, cake, processed foods, fatty meat, and ice cream.
  8. Include seafood in your diet: Seafood contains omega-3 fatty acids for heart health as well as minerals and protein. Be sure to include fish such as tuna, trout, and salmon and shellfish such as oysters, crab, and muscles in your diet at least once a week.

If you have been meaning to eat healthier, challenge yourself to cross one or two things off the list each week in March in honor of National Nutrition Month.

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