Good nutrition starts ‘From the Ground Up’

Missourians wanting to improve their health should start at ground level — where fruits and vegetables grow.

“Good nutrition begins with the choices we make,” Margaret Donnelly, director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, stated in a news release. “Instead of reaching for that bag of potato chips, make a healthy choice by grabbing an apple, orange or some other type of nutritious snack.”

With the adult obesity rate exceeding 28 percent in Missouri, nutrition experts say a healthy eating plan is more important than ever. Careful eating is one of the simplest and best ways to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of serious illnesses, including heart disease and diabetes, two of the leading causes of death.

Besides plenty of fruits and vegetables, a healthy diet includes whole grains, low-fat and fat-free dairy products, lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and nuts.

The benefits of a healthy diet are so pervasive that March has been designated National Nutrition Month.

The theme for this year’s event is “Nutrition From the Ground Up.”

Fruits and vegetables are a key to good health because they provide many of the nutrients a person needs without adding unwanted calories. Only 20 percent of adults in Missouri get the recommended five or more servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

Fresh fruits and vegetables often are recommended. But research has shown that most fruits and vegetables in any form are high in nutrition.

The American Dietetic Association offers the following tips for choosing fruits and vegetables.

For canned fruits and vegetables:

• Fruit packed in juice contain less added sugar and fewer calories, so look for labels that say “packed in juice” or “unsweetened.”

• When cutting back on sodium, look for labels on canned vegetables that say “no salt added” or “reduced sodium.” Rinse canned vegetables before using.

• For maximum flavor, use canned fruits and vegetables immediately after opening. Store unused portions in airtight containers in the refrigerator or freezer to retain taste and nutritional quality.

For frozen fruits and vegetables:

• Choose plain vegetables or those with low-fat sauces to control calories and fat.

• Look for unsweetened fruit to cut calories. Fruit is already sweetened by nature.

• Frozen fruit bars are a nutritious snack, but read the label to make sure they are made with 100 percent fruit juice.

For dried fruits:

• Dried fruit makes a healthy snack, but it also can be used to add flavor and nutrients to salads, cereal and pancakes.

• Choose portions carefully. Dried fruits contain fiber and vitamins A and C, but they also contain more calories than fresh fruit due to natural or added sugar.