Healthy Lifestyle Habits for National Nutrition Month
March 1, 2021
by Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN for the North Carolina SweetPotato Commission
March is the start of National Nutrition Month, and while life doesn’t slow down or change significantly for this occasion, it’s a great time to be reflecting on how you can embrace a healthy lifestyle year-round.
Despite what many online influencers or diets may infer, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition. Because all people are of different sizes and have different goals, each person has varying nutrition needs. However, here are some core foundational aspects of nutrition that help support a healthy lifestyle in future months.
- Include Foods from All Food Groups — Each macronutrient has a function. Carbohydrates, like sweetpotatoes, provide quick and long-acting energy to fuel your long days, whether you’re working or a stay-at-home parent. Protein helps maintain muscle mass, which is important for functional living, like lifting your children and cooking, or your fitness goals. Protein is also involved in hormones, which carry signals throughout your body. Fat is important for providing adequate energy and flavor to a variety of foods as well as helping with lubrication and transportation of nutrients within the body.
- Stay Hydrated — Staying hydrated will help maintain health throughout the life cycle and allow you to stay energized for whatever life demands of you. While drinking half of your body weight in ounces (example: 200 lbs. = 100 ounces/day) is great place to start, any form of exercise or physical activity often requires more fluids, as well as electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, to enable proper hydration. Sweetpotatoes are a great source of potassium, and incorporating them in a recipe with sodium, can help provide electrolytes and hence, enhance hydration.
- Reduce Added Sugars — The overconsumption of added sugars is linked to chronic health conditions, such as obesity, cancer, dental caries, diabetes and more. Added sugars provide extra calories without nutritional benefits. Instead, try to limit added sugars, while sticking to a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy, lean meats, beans and legumes. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans limit added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day.
- Don’t Skip Meals — Complete meals are the best opportunity for nourishing your body with adequate energy (calories) and nutrients. Skipping meals can lead to overeating later in the day, but can also leave you feeling tired, sluggish and uncomfortable. While practicing mindful eating techniques can help you slow down while eating, your crazy life might not always allow you the time to.
Even if you are eating on the go and cannot enjoy your food mindfully, eating a meal distracted is better than not eating a meal at all. Start your morning with an easy breakfast, like Egg Stuffed Sweet Potatoes or Sweet Potato Breakfast Muffins paired with some high protein yogurt, pack hydrating and nutrient dense snacks and lunch options, and end the day with a balanced dinner to nourish and thank your body for all the work it has done.
- Don’t Skimp on Sleep — Sleep is so important for overall health and wellness. Inadequate sleep is linked to an increased risk of chronic disease, poor memory and cognitive function, increased risk of injury and illness (Source). Aim for 7-8 hours nightly. Adequate rest will help with staying energized throughout the day.
- Eat More Fruits and Vegetables — Most Americans are not getting the recommended 4-5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Fruits and vegetables provide essential nutrients and antioxidants to reduce inflammation in the body and help promote overall wellness.
How can you increase your fruit and vegetable intake? Can you add some fruit to breakfast? Can you pack a snack that includes fruits and/or vegetables, like Sweet Potato Coconut Energy Bites or Sweet Potato Hummus? Finding new recipes to cook your favorite produce options can be a wonderful way to make fruits and vegetables more exciting and flavorful.
- Stay Active — Whether you’re accruing your activity by cleaning the house, or with a form of physical activity you like, or a combination of both, staying active is great for our heart health, longevity, energy levels, sleep and more. Just be sure to adequately fuel and hydrate before and after your activity!
Now, it’s time to take these principles and apply them to your own life. While you may have your own routine with some of these, others may require a conscious effort. Remember that it takes doing something several times (sometimes, 20 or more) to develop a habit, so practice makes perfect.