We all make many daily decisions about food, whether it is packing lunch, planning dinner, fueling for exercise, or grabbing a quick snack. Each decision makes a difference for health, budget, and the environment. March was National Nutrition Month and this year’s theme “Go Further With Food” encourages planning to reduce food loss and waste. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one third of all food grown is lost or wasted worldwide, and much of that waste occurs in the United States where about 40% of all food goes uneaten every year. This is equivalent to approximately 60 million tons of produce worth $160 billion. In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, wasted food takes up the most space in American landfills. It is estimated that only 3% of discarded food in the United States is composted. Sadly, some of this waste is about aesthetics. People don’t want to buy “ugly” fruits and vegetables. That is, if they even reach the grocery stores. Much of the produce is left to decay in the fields or removed post-harvest for not meeting cosmetic standards. After making it past harvest, foods risk being discarded by grocery stores, foodservice, restaurants, and households. All of this waste adds up. Thousands of pounds of food are thrown away due to low demand, food past the “sell by” date that is still safe and edible, or aesthetics. On a positive note, the Rhode Island Community Food Bank program, Retail Rescue connects local and national retailers with its member agencies to turn “food waste” into donations. This and other programs like it deserve to be celebrated. According to the USDA, 12.8% of Rhode Islander’s (more that 56,000 households) and 13% of the U.S. (16.3 million households) are food insecure, which means that they often do not know where their next meal will come from. Being part of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center team, this is close to my heart. My LivFit program there is designed to help people turn pantry staples into healthy meals for their families with nutrition education and cooking instruction. The program is free and open to all of Newport County. The best way to become a part of the solution is to reduce food waste by planning meals, using leftovers creatively, composting, and donating to your local food pantry.
It is time to start thawing out after the long winter. Store those winter coats, hats, and boots, and get ready to garden, golf, walk, or just get outdoors and focus on rejuvenating and renewing. Being stuck in the house through snow storms and cold weather this winter had many of us turning to comfort foods and other sweets and treats. Use this time to prepare the body for healthier eating, improve digestion, and eliminate cravings by cleansing your diet with detoxifying foods. The liver is the body’s main detoxification center. Be careful of extreme detox diets that do not provide adequate nutrition. Starvation is not the path to a more energetic, healthier you, but the following ten foods are.
Artichokes – stimulate bile flow, which helps break down fats and eliminate inflammatory substances in fatty foods, thus improving liver function.
Apples – loaded with fiber, which helps remove toxins and waste from the body.
Avocado – contain the nutrient glutathione, which blocks the absorption of harmful fats by the intestine and aids in liver cleansing.
Beets – contain plant pigments called betalains, which have anti-inflammatory properties and help to repair and regenerate cells, especially in the liver.
Broccoli – works with liver enzymes to eliminate toxins and has antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Other cruciferous vegetables, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and cabbage have the same cleansing properties.
Fennel – high in fiber and low calorie, it contains vitamin C, which has antimicrobial and antioxidant properties and supports immune system function.
Ginger – natural stomach soother, aids digestion and detoxification by increasing the rate at which food moves through the intestine and flushing waste out.
Onions and Garlic – contain flavonoids that increase production of the powerful liver antioxidant, glutathione giving them anti-bacterial and immune boosting powers.
Kale – high in fiber and contains sulfur-based glucosinolates, which provides support for the liver detoxification system.
Lemongrass – stimulates blood circulation and digestion while also helping to cleanse the organs (bladder, digestive tract, kidneys, and liver) and expel toxins.
Yogurt/Kefir (with live and active cultures) or Kimchi – contain probiotics, which help maintain healthy gut bacteria, aid in digestion, and boost immunity.
De-Stress Your Table for a Healthy Weight
In addition to food and beverage choices, environment can have a major impact on healthy eating. The following ideas will help you improve your dining experience to stay slim.
· Eliminate distractions by turning off the computer, television, and cell phones during meals. Play soft, soothing music instead, and dine quietly and slowly. Making mealtime a relaxing experience aids digestion.
· Set the table so that it looks appealing. This makes dinner a special, enjoyable time.
· Fill your glass (with water that is). Drinking two cups of water before meals has been shown to promote weight loss. Make water your beverage of choice before and during meals.
· Have positive conversation and avoid negative comments and arguments. Savor each bite and enjoy each other’s company.
· Have only the vegetable serving dish on the table during meals. Keep all other serving dishes away from the table. Better yet, refrigerate any leftovers after each person fills his/her plate.
· Use smaller plates and utensils. Smaller plates mean smaller portions. Average plate size has increased from 9 to 14 inches over the past 50 years. Today’s typical American dinner plate used to be the serving “platter” for a family dinner. Try using the larger plate for salads and vegetables and the salad plate for proteins and carbohydrates. The same is true for utensils. By using smaller utensils, you will take smaller bites, which leads to slower eating and allows time for your body to register feelings of fullness.
Stay Healthy Together
Since more time is spent indoors during the winter, it is easier to catch viruses from others. By making some changes to your diet, you can be more prepared to fight the spread of germs and maintain energy levels through the winter months. Stay healthy as a family by adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Follow the guidelines below to get started.
Eat A Rainbow every day. Make colorful eating a game by having each family member track the colors that they eat during the day. This makes nutrition fun and motivates everyone to eat fruits and vegetables. A little healthy competition doesn’t hurt either. Add a fun prize (not food) for the person with the most colorful diet.
Involve the entire family in meal planning and preparation. Kids are more likely to try something if they helped make it. This is a great way to introduce new foods and make them exciting.
Snack healthy. Fresh fruits and vegetables make great snacks, especially when served with a tasty dip, like hummus, peanut butter, or yogurt.
Eat together. Family meals are important for development. Not only do they promote healthy eating habits and decrease the risk of obesity but they also improve social behaviors.
Play together. Aim for at least 30 minutes of activity daily. Playing in the snow counts so get out there and build a snowman together.
Keep your family fit and healthy through the winter by making nutrition and exercise accessible and exciting.