If there’s one thing we love at P&N, it’s a reason to eat! Luckily, the folks at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (formerly the American Dietetics Association) agree, and have officially named March National Nutrition Month. Now, we know what you’re thinking: “Great, another lecture on why I should be eating kale chips and acai berry smoothies when all I want is a taco.” But don’t worry – this year’s theme, “Eat right, your way, every day,” focuses on healthy yet delicious recipes from all ethnic and regional cuisines. Their suggested sample menus include stir-frys, gnocchi, and yes, even tacos.
The Academy believes that each person’s diet should be what works best with his or her own cultural customs and personal tastes. “Eating is not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ proposition,” said spokesperson Vandana Sheth. “As a registered dietician, I am asked every day, ‘What should I eat?’ The answer, of course, is ‘it depends.’”
Instead of advocating particular foods or types of cuisine, the Academy now recommends keeping the foods on your plate in the proper balance. The classic “Food Pyramid” that most of us grew up with has now been replaced with the newer “MyPlate” system, which advocates filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables, one-quarter with lean proteins, and the final quarter with whole grains. Additionally, the system recommends supplementing each meal with a fat-free or low-fat dairy product. This system allows everyone to choose the foods that work best for them while still maintaining a healthy balance. “With the countless and increasing varieties of foods that are available today, people who live virtually anywhere can follow the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines and its MyPlate symbol to eat healthfully within the preferences of any culture,” said Sheth.
These percentages may vary slightly for pregnant women, who will need more nutrients than usual. In addition to your prenatal vitamins, boost your iron level with fortified cereals, beans, and chicken or fish. For a higher calcium intake, stick to fortified dairy products. The Academy also recommends that you eat 8-12 ounces of high Omega-3, low mercury seafood, like salmon or shrimp, every week. If you have any food allergies or choose not to consume certain foods, you may want to consult a registered dietician for a personalized meal plan that fits both your lifestyle and your culture.
Of course, not all traditional dishes are exactly healthy. Instead of forgoing these favorite foods, the Academy recommends giving them a slight twist to make them healthier. For example, chopped spinach can be added to the dough for gnocchi, and kidney beans can bring additional protein and fiber to many soups and stews. As Sheth stated, the Academy has made an effort to provide “an array of options that can accommodate the food preferences, cultural traditions and customs of the many and diverse groups who live in our country.”
While finally getting the green light to celebrate by eating across cultures is great, it gets even better. The Academy’s guidelines and suggested menus can also provide inspiration to try some cuisines you might not have had before. The African pumpkin-and-cinnamon dish got our mouths watering, and the Latin American mango smoothies are definitely at the top of our to-do list. Head over to the Sample Menus and Recipes page and get inspired. Eating right has never tasted so good!