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:
- U.S.-Style Eating Pattern
- Healthy Mediterranean-Style Eating Pattern
- 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.