March: A Month Dedicated to Good Nutrition

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Leave it to dietitians to designate a month for healthful eating. Why March? That’s a good question. March, in my opinion, is pretty dreary. And here in New England, there’s always the risk of a nor’easter this time of year, but it’s also not unheard of to have temperatures in the 70s.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that March designated as National Craft Month, National Poetry Month, and Red Cross Month (in addition to featuring National Pig Day!). It’s also known as National Nutrition Month. So, for that reason, my postings for the month of March will be dedicated to nutrition in one form or another.


What Americans Say
Do you believe that you eat healthfully? Are you at all curious about what other people believe regarding a healthy diet? If so, read on. This past November, Consumer Reports conducted a national phone survey of 1,234 adults living in the United States. This survey asked them about their eating habits and what, if anything, they did to follow a nutritious eating plan. Here are the results. As you read them, ask yourself how you would have answered if you’d been part of the survey!

Weight. The participants were asked about their height and weight (don’t some of us tend to embellish a little?).

  • 21% were “obese”
  • 36% were “overweight”
  • 35% were at an “appropriate” weight

Fifty percent described themselves as being overweight or obese, and about 6 in 10 of the respondents actually were, so that’s not too far off. And one in three said their weight was in a healthy range, but according to their BMI (body-mass index), they were actually overweight. Very few people said they were overweight when they really weren’t.

Fact checker. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 34% of adults are obese and another 34% of adults are overweight. Obesity is defined as a BMI of 30 or higher and overweight is a BMI of between 25 and 29.9.

Dieting. Despite our nation’s weight issues, it appears that most people try to “eat right.” Fifteen percent of people surveyed said that they were tracking their calorie intake, and 59% said that they were strict or careful about what they ate although weren’t following a diet. And another 23% pretty much ate whatever they wanted. Forty-four percent were able to control their weight without dieting. Twenty percent had lost weight but gained it back.

Fact checker: The CDC doesn’t keep track of how many people are dieting at any one time, but according to a Gallup poll conducted in 2009, 27% of Americans are serious about trying to lose weight, while 55% said they would like to lose weight. So, while a fair number of people really do want to lose weight, only about half of them actually make an effort to do so.

Food choices: We all know that losing weight and keeping it off can be hard, so perhaps people’s perceptions of their weight and weight loss attempts are somewhat skewed from what the facts tell us. But did people fare any better when answering questions about food intake?

  • Eating five servings of fruits and vegetables every day or on most days: 58%
  • Choosing whole grains, such as brown rice, over refined grains: 60%
  • Limiting sweets and sugar: 53%
  • Limiting fat intake: 51%

More than 66% of respondents believed that they ate enough vegetables. When they were asked why they didn’t eat more, 30% said it was because the vegetables would go bad too quickly or were hard to keep fresh. The most commonly eaten vegetable? Lettuce or salad greens. Seventy eight percent of those surveyed ate lettuce or other salad greens at least once a week. The next most popular vegetable was tomatoes, followed by carrots, potatoes, broccoli, corn, and peppers. The least favorite vegetable was parsnips: 87% of people said they never ate them. Swiss chard, bok choy, turnips, artichokes, eggplant, and okra made the “least popular” list, too.

Fact checker: Set yourself apart from the crowd and give one of those “unpopular” vegetables a try. Take parsnips, for example. They’re a root vegetable and actually sweeter than their carrot cousin. They’re high in vitamin C, along with folic acid, potassium, and fiber. One half-cup of cooked parsnips has just 55 calories and 13 grams of carbohydrate. To cook them, slice parsnips into matchstick-size pieces. Drizzle with some olive oil and sprinkle with black pepper and a dash of sea salt. For more flavor, sprinkle on some thyme or rosemary. Bake at 400˚F for about 40 minutes until the parsnips are soft on the inside.

As for the sugar and sweets? Americans eat way more than they think. According to the USDA, each person, on average, consumes 156 pounds of sugar per year! That’s like eating 31 five-pound bags of sugar. I know you’re thinking that there’s no way you eat that much. And perhaps you don’t. But you likely are eating more than you think. Only 29% of our sugar intake comes from sucrose, or table sugar. The rest is embedded in the food we eat. And not just in cookies, candy and cake. Peanut butter, salad dressing, soft drinks, ketchup, yogurt and cereal are some of the culprits. While you can’t (and don’t have to) avoid sugar altogether, you can cut back by reading ingredient lists and choosing items that list sugar, corn syrup or high fructose corn syrup towards the end of the list (or not at all).

Conclusions? We all could probably do a bit better with our eating. But, as the saying goes, little by little we’ll get there!

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