By Scott Wooldridge - Contributor

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National Nutrition Month stresses variety, sustainability in 2018

March 9, 2018

“Go further with food” is the theme of this year’s National Nutrition Month, and a local dietitian says the theme encourages Americans to look at sustainability and more healthy ingredients as they think about food.

“The theme is really appropriate for this day and age where we’ve seen nutrition and wellness go from being defined solely by nutrient content to looking more at the function of nutrition,” says Samantha Osterhaus, MPH, RD, LD, a wellness coordinator at Eurest/Compass Group, who oversees foodservice at Blue Cross’ Eagan campus.

National Nutrition Month was created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and is observed every March. The organization seeks to help Americans make informed food choices and develop sound eating and physical activity habits.

By helping consumers focus on sustainability along with nutrition, this year’s theme allows people to think about both human wellness and the sustainability of the planet. “The two things are very interconnected,” Osterhaus says.

Reducing waste

With better planning, consumers can reduce food waste, which can lead to more efficient use of food and fewer resources spent in disposal of unwanted food.

One of the things that Osterhaus recommends is preparing food at home whenever possible. “Cooking from home is a great way to address nutrition and sustainability,” she said. “For one thing, you can control how much sodium or sugar is in your food.”

And she points out that from a sustainability perspective, cooking at home also allows you to reuse ingredients. More food prepared at home usually means fewer meals at restaurants, where a lot of things end up getting thrown away.

“Leftover food at home doesn’t have to be wasted,” she adds. “If you’re cooking from home and you make too much soup, you can stick it in the freezer and pull it out on a different day.”

Osterhaus also notes that preparing meals at home can be done in an efficient and timely manner. “We’re all very busy, and it definitely takes time to cook from home,” she said. “You can plan your meals when you make your grocery list and prepare things on the weekend. Leftovers can be reused, so you don’t have to start from scratch with some meals. Planning ahead, even if it takes time, in the long run will save time and allow people to stick to a budget more easily.”


Choosing variety brings balance

Along with good nutritional choices, Osterhaus said most nutritionists now stress having variety in your diet. “A wide variety of fruits and vegetables will allow you to address a wide range of nutrition needs,” she said. “As long as you focus on the variety and make sure you’re eating from all the food groups, you’re not really going to be lacking.”

Remembering to eat a variety of foods means that you won’t overdo any one food or food group, Osterhaus says. “It allows you to achieve that elusive thing called balance.”

Variety can also mean choosing frozen instead of fresh foods, if that is the more practical choice. “A lot of people think to be healthy, food has to be fresh,” Osterhaus said. “The reality is that canned and frozen food can also be healthy. Fruits and vegetables are actually frozen at peak freshness and ripeness, so they might be more nutritional than some things you buy fresh.”

She adds that food canned in water, not syrup, will be healthier. Additionally, rinsing canned fruits and vegetables is also recommended in some cases, as it can help reduce sodium content.

Talk to an expert

Osterhaus encourages people to talk to a registered dietitian in order to develop a plan that best fits their lifestyle and situation. Making a few minor changes in diet, in addition to an active lifestyle, can have a tremendous impact on an individual or family’s health. “Registered dietitians are the nutrition experts,” she said. “They’re the best place to get advice that is customized to fit your needs.”

Remember though, that “it’s not a one-size-fits all thing,” she says. “There’s a lot of information out there, so it’s important to talk to a registered dietitian because their job is to help translate that information and make it easier for people to understand and implement in their own lives.”

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