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NEWS | March 2, 2011

Color your plate

By Greer Gowen, RD, LD Joint Base Charleston Health and Wellness Center, nutrition program manager

It's National Nutrition Month and the American Dietetic Association is encouraging everyone to "Eat Right with Color." Adding more color to a plate ensures a well balanced meal with a wide variety of nutrients to improve diet and lifestyle.

Here are some helpful tips to make sure all the colors of the MyPyramid are part of your daily diet:

Add some fiber with your grains!
Don't assume because bread is brown or the package says wheat bread, that it is actually a whole grain product. When choosing grains, make sure the word 'whole' is in front of the grain. White rice, bread and pasta lack many important nutrients, so spring for whole wheat bread, pasta and brown rice at the grocery store.

Popeye says 'eat your spinach!'
Vitamins and minerals are abundant in vegetables. Instead of consuming a multivitamin, try adding different vegetables, fresh, frozen, raw or cooked, into daily meals and snacks to help meet the minimum of two and a half cups per day. This may seem like a daunting task, but adding peppers, spinach or mushrooms to an omelet in the morning can help the day get started right. Pile some veggies onto a sandwich and have a side salad with lunch. Instead of French fries for dinner, season a baked potato with herbs or spices or make a quick stir-fry with veggies. The snickers bar may be calling your name for the afternoon snack attack, but raw vegetables with a low-fat dressing or hummus dip may just hit the spot.

An apple a day!
Whether it's fresh, frozen, canned or dried, fruit does not require much preparation, is affordable and loaded with vitamins and minerals. An orange, strawberry or kiwi gives a healthy dose of vitamin C, while mangoes, cantaloupe and dried apricots are good sources of vitamin A. Reach the recommended two cups per day by adding blueberries or raisins to cereal for breakfast, an orange or apple with lunch and a banana for an afternoon snack. Instead of ice cream for dessert, a bowl full of blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries with a dollop of whip cream can satisfy a sweet tooth. Juice counts for fruit intake, however, make sure it is 100 percent juice and not a juice blend concentrate.

Get caught with a milk (or yogurt) mustache!
Dairy foods are not only important for strong bones but also for building muscle and a healthy heart. Yogurt, cheese, and milk provide calcium, protein, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin D. Be heart healthy and choose the low-fat and low-sodium options. There are numerous lactose-free options such as soy, almond or rice milk for lactose intolerant people.

Power up with protein!
Meat, poultry, fish, dried beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds make up a wide variety of protein choices. When choosing meats, skinless poultry and lean cuts of meat such as the loin or round are healthier choices. Don't add more unhealthy fats by frying or breading meats. Try grilling, broiling, roasting, stewing or stir-frying. Cook a meatless meal one night and serve beans, tofu or soy. Salmon, tuna, herring, mackerel and halibut, which are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Know your fats!
Fat helps absorb the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, which are essential to maintain healthy hair, nails and skin. It is a concentrated source of calories so don't consume to much fat. Choose healthy sources of fats such as the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which can be found in olive oil, canola oil, fish, nuts, seeds, olives and avocado instead of saturated and trans fats found in commercially baked goods, processed foods, stick butters and margarines. An easy way to differentiate a healthy fat from an unhealthy fat is its form. Most healthy fats are liquid at room temperature while unhealthy fats such as butter and lard are solid. Any food that has 'hydrogenated' or 'partially hydrogenated' contains unhealthy fats that clog the arteries leading to high cholesterol, heart disease and obesity.

The next time you sit down for a meal or snack, make sure your plate is not looking a little drab or monochromatic. Dress up your plate with a variety of colors using the plate method. Fill up half of your plate with vegetables while making a quarter of it a low-fat meat and another quarter fourth a grain.

As Mary Poppins might say "a spoonful of color will keep the medicine away."