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March is Nutrition Month

National Nutrition Month is more relevant than ever as Americans seek sound nutrition information that can help them manage their weight and health conditions. Explore the history of National Nutrition Month, the key recommendations for healthy eating patterns, and the five nutrients of public health concern.

What Is National Nutrition Month?

The seed for National Nutrition Month was planted in 1973 when the president proclaimed the country’s first National Nutrition Week.1 The theme “Invest in Yourself—Buy Nutrition” was promoted on radio, television, and even bumper stickers. Members of the American Dietetic Association (now called the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics) quickly embraced this public health opportunity and worked to organize promotional events at community centers, schools, and health facilities across the country.

This flurry of activity and the associated press coverage gave nutrition professionals an unprecedented opportunity to reach the public with sound, actionable nutrition information. The success of National Nutrition Week secured its spot on the national calendar. Today, this nutrition education campaign spans the entire of month of March, with a focus on helping Americans make informed food choices and encouraging healthy eating and physical activity habits.

Understanding the Dietary Guidelines for Americans

To ensure up-to-date, evidence-based nutrition information is available to American consumers, as well as to nutrition professionals who advise patients and manage large-scale food service operations (like school lunch programs), the government releases a revised Dietary Guidelines for Americans every five years.

The latest release, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020,2 is also the basis for the recent changes in required nutrition labeling of foods. In addition, it provides an update on the current nutritional status of Americans, drawing attention to nutrients of concern and identifying healthy eating patterns that Americans can adopt to meet their nutritional needs.

The 3 Healthy Eating Patterns

A healthy eating pattern is described as one that is calorie appropriate and includes a variety of nutrient-dense foods. It should also limit foods with excess saturated fat (to less than 10% of daily calories), trans fat (to as low as possible), sodium (to less than 2,300 mg daily), and added sugars (to less than 10% of daily calories). 

The three healthy eating patterns described in the current Dietary Guidelines that can be used to meet Americans’ nutritional needs are the:

  1. U.S.-Style Eating Pattern
  2. Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern
  3. Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern

The U.S.-Style Eating Pattern is based on the traditional American diet (which includes all the food groups) but emphasizes healthier versions—such as whole grains, lean meats, and fat-free dairy—and boosting fruit and vegetable intake. Shifting to healthier versions of the foods and beverages Americans already consume is a way to promote sustainable behavior change. Simple, effective examples include replacing white bread with whole bread, butter with olive oil, and soda with water.

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The Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern is another option. Higher in seafood and fruits, but lower in meat, poultry, and dairy, this diet reflects the eating habits of many Mediterranean countries, which are known for lower rates of diet-related diseases. 

In contrast, the Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern excludes all meat, poultry, and seafood but does include dairy. Compared to the U.S.-Style Eating Pattern, the Healthy Vegetarian Eating Pattern includes more legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

The 5 Nutrients of Concern

The Dietary Guidelines also identify five nutrients of public health concern, which are:

  1. Dietary Fiber
  2. Calcium
  3. Vitamin D
  4. Potassium
  5. Iron

Dietary fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and potassium are under-consumed by the general population, while iron is under-consumed by specific segments of the population (i.e., young children, pregnant women, and women of childbearing age). The under-consumption of these nutrients is associated with certain health risks. 

Sufficient intake of dietary fiber is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Calcium, along with vitamin D (which promotes calcium absorption), is important for maintaining bone integrity during aging. Potassium plays a variety of roles in heart, nerve, and kidney function, with adequate intake linked to a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, and stroke.

Higher nutritional requirements for iron put certain groups at increased risk for iron-deficiency anemia. Iron is essential for transporting oxygen throughout the body. A deficiency can lead to symptoms such as weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat.

Spread the Word this March

Now's the perfect time to remind consumers across the country of the importance of good nutrition and to spread the word that even little changes can add up to big improvements in health. To learn how you can boost your foods, beverages, and supplements with the most important nutrients, contact Glanbia Nutritionals.


References

1. Denny, S. (2006). National Nutrition Month: A Brief History. Retrieved from https://www.eatright.org/~/media/eatright%20files/nationalnutritionmonth/nnmhistory_032006jada.ashx 
2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2015-2020, 8th Ed. (2015). Retrieved from https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/guidelines/