“Go Further with Food” is the year’s encouragement put forth by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for National Nutrition Month® (NNM). This annual campaign started in 1973 as a week-long event focusing on the importance of making better food choices and encouraging people to create healthy eating and physical activity habits. NNM expanded to a full month of awareness activities and educational promotions in 1980. Also, on the second Wednesday of March, Registered Dietitian Nutritionists are celebrated for their commitment to helping people live healthier through better nutrition and healthy eating habits.
As a healthcare professional, Nutrition Awareness activities in March provides you with a perfect opportunity to spend a few minutes talking to your patients about healthy eating and physical activity. For example, having a quick conversation with a patient about the benefits of eating foods that contain carotenoids to ward off cell damage from free radicals. Without getting too technical, explain how carotenoids can help prevent certain cancers and can help maintain healthy eyesight. An easy way to find foods that contain higher levels of carotenoids is by their color. Foods that are red, orange, deep yellow, and some leafier dark green vegetables are all good choices. Mention to your patients that these types of veggies are easy to find and include tomatoes, spinach, sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, and squash.
Another easy conversation to have with a patient is a reminder about the benefits of vitamin C which helps protect the body against infection and cell damage. Most people enjoy at least some citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruits, and sweet, juicy tangerines.
A somewhat more challenging introduction to healthy eating is trying to convince your patients that they should care about cruciferous vegetables. While trendy foodies are well aware of what this diverse group of vegetables can do for a recipe, most “meat and potato” eaters might shy away from being adventurous. The key is explaining how these veggies come in all shapes, colors, and tastes. Cruciferous vegetables are rich in vitamin K, phytonutrients that help lower inflammation, and vitamins A and C. Broccoli, cauliflower, kale, bok choy, radishes, and arugula are all examples of veggies that should be on your plate.
There are plenty of resources for clinicians to help them encourage their patients to develop healthier habits. One source that is sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture is ChooseMyPlate.gov and provides a plethora of information about nutrition, healthy eating on a budget, recipes, and other targeted information. The American College of Cardiology also maintains a very educational website CardioSmart.org focusing on how diet impacts overall health and wellness from the inside out. The clinician’s page on CardioSmart contains posters, fact sheets, and other timely information that can be conveniently distributed to patients. For other healthy lifestyle resources developed for nurses and others who want to share information, the Preventive Cardiovascular Nurses Association (PCNA) maintains a Heart Healthy Toolbox which provides downloadable resources on healthy eating, physical activity, and other total health lifestyle choices.
With all of the information available, there is no good reason to avoid having a healthy nutrition conversation with your patients or at least have some handouts prepared and ready for distribution. In the comment section below, please share your ideas about the best ways to encourage your patients to adopt healthier eating habits. You can also join the discussion on our Facebook page.