By Maria Dellanina
March is nationally recognized as National Nutrition Month, a time when nutrition and physical activity are celebrated…kind of. Sure, this month might mean a lot to registered dietitians and dietetics major but do those who aren’t in the field recognize its importance? The theme of this year’s NNM is “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle,” which encourages people of all ages to adopt nutrition and fitness patterns that will reduce their risk of chronic disease and will help them to maintain a healthy weight.
In 2012, the Centers for Disease Control reported that about half of all adult Americans have one or more chronic diseases. Interestingly, the most common chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, cancer and diabetes are some of the most preventable health problems in the U.S. These diseases can all be prevented, by the most part, through a balanced diet and adequate exercise. The poor quality of the average American’s diet is reflected by the high prevalence of these diseases.
A few ways we, as college students, can change our lifestyle right now to prevent these problems in the future is to:
- Incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet
- Reduce our intake of sodium and added sugars
- Eat less fried foods and choose grilled options instead
- Add a cardio (3x/week) and strength training (2x/week) routine into your busy schedule
- Drink more water and limit calories by drinking fewer alcoholic beverages
There are some very helpful tips and tricks that can make the above list easier to accomplish. Before you go out to eat, check the restaurant’s menu online and evaluate which options are the best. You might be surprised to find how unhealthy restaurant meals can be. An entrée at Olive Garden can pack a 1500 calorie punch and several contain more sodium than the 2000 mg daily limit. Look for options that are low in sodium, fat, calories and sugar and contain protein and vegetables. If you decide what you will eat before you go out, you are so much more likely to stick with that healthier option once you get there. If you are going to eat in the dining hall on campus, you can use Dining Service’s app or website, dineoncampus.com to determine which options are the healthiest.
Second, try to start out one meal a day with a small salad (hint: swap iceberg lettuce with spinach for more protein and vitamins!). This is an easy way to increase your vegetable intake and you may find that if you start your meal with a salad, you are more likely to make healthier choices and eat less for the main meal.
Finally, plan your week and decide on times where you can fit 30 minutes of exercise into your busy schedule. The short-term benefits of exercise include higher quality sleep at night, a more positive mood, lower stress levels and increased focus. The long-term benefits of exercise include reduced risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases, increased muscle mass and stronger bones, to name a few.
Although you may find it difficult to squeeze in healthy eating and exercise when you have work and school to attend to, the benefits of a healthy lifestyle are too plentiful to use time as an excuse. Starting a new lifestyle now will lead to healthy habits in the future, which can lower your healthcare costs and stress levels for a lifetime. This National Nutrition Month, I encourage you all to “Bite into a Healthy Lifestyle” and use a few of my suggestions to change your life for the better starting right now, because it is never too early to start eating right.