Making Every Bite Count
‘Make Every Bite Count’ is the healthy eating message delivered in the new 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and a perfect theme for March which marks National Nutrition Month®. (1) National Nutrition Month® is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that aims to provide nutrition education, supporting individuals in making informed food choices and developing healthy eating and physical activity habits. (2) In doing so, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides the framework for nutrition professionals to help individuals achieve a healthy and nutritionally adequate diet.
How do we ‘make every bite count’? A good place to start is by consuming nutrient-dense foods and beverages at least 85% of the time. That means more fruits and veggies, high-fiber foods like beans and legumes, whole grains, and healthy fat from sources like cold-water fatty fish (salmon), olives, avocados, and their oils. This also means limiting added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, and alcoholic beverages which is easier than you think when you start to fill your diet with nutrient-dense food and drink options.
Not sure where to begin? Here are 5 ways to jumpstart a more nutrient-dense diet.
1. Add a serving of veggies to your breakfast.
There is nothing easier than adding 2 handfuls of greens like spinach to your breakfast smoothie or by sautéing them as an addition to your eggs. If you love egg sandwiches and breakfast burritos like me, try adding arugula to your sandwich for a peppery kick and roasted vegetables like sweet potatoes to your burritos.
2. Make a list of 5 to 10 nutrient-dense snacks.
Unlike meals, snacks tend to be an afterthought. When nutrient-dense options are unavailable, we often reach for salty and sugary treats like potato chips and a soda. To avoid this trap, make a list of 5 to 10 nutrient-dense snacks that you are sure to have on hand and ready to go when you’re looking for something between meals. An apple with a handful of almonds, low-sugar Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, cottage cheese with berries, seeded crackers or veggie sticks with hummus, a banana with 1-2 tablespoons of nut butter, are just a few quick ideas.
3. Identify 3 nutrient-dense, go-to meals.
We all have days when deciding what to cook for dinner feels like too much of a burden, so fast food seems like the best solution. Unfortunately, it’s typically not the most nutrient-dense solution. For days like this, I like to have a few go-to meals that include healthy, nutrient-rich foods that I know everyone in the family will eat. My pressure cooker provides the perfect all-in-one solution for these moments – brown rice, black beans, a can of green chili enchilada sauce, and 2 chicken breasts make a quick, easy, and delicious dinner that’s protein and fiber-rich.
4. Find and cook one new recipe each week
Exploring new recipes is easy with the abundance of food bloggers and recipe developers out there. A quick search on the internet can lead to a plethora of recipes to choose from and the discovery of different ethnic flavors and cuisine with exciting herbs and spices. Cooking one new recipe each week will help build your food/recipe database, making it easier to identify those nutrient-dense, go-to meals.
5. Consume half your weight in ounces of water each day
Water is a vital nutrient that plays a key role in physiology and performance, both physical and mental performance. It acts as a lubricant, a coolant, a solvent, a shock absorber, and a carrier for other nutrients and waste products. (3) Staying well-hydrated means drinking water before feeling thirsty. If life gets hectic and water is the last thing on your mind, try keeping a water bottle or infused water jar on hand and setting a timer as a reminder to take a few gulps every hour.
What steps will you take towards a more nutrient-dense diet?
1. US Department of Agriculture; US Department of Health and Human Services. 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. https://www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020- 12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Published December 2020.
2. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. National Nutrition Month® https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month.
3. Jéquier E, Constant, F. Water as an essential nutrient: the physiological basis of hydration. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2010;64:115-123.