In addition to the start of spring, and the celebration of all things Irish, March is also National Nutrition Month. It can often be difficult to separate fact from fiction in all the headlines that blare out at us about trying one diet over another, or that one study or another shows something completely different from what we’ve always thought to be true when it comes to our health.

What most researchers, those in the medical and nutrition fields, health practitioners and Oregon State University, tend to agree on is that overall, the basis for good nutrition is in the consumption of fruits and vegetables (these can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or in the form of 100 percent juice), lean protein and whole grains (except those grains with gluten, which is off limits to people with Celiac’s Disease), and low-fat or fat-free dairy products (unless you have an allergy or are lactose intolerant).

However, there is more to nutrition than simply what you put in your mouth. There are considerations such as personal preference (no matter how many times you’ve heard broccoli is good for you, you’ll never get passed the fact that, to you, it tastes like eating a green Brillo pad), who else lives in your house, their ages, calorie needs, allergies or food sensitivities, your budget, how physically active you are, your and your family’s schedules, cultural preferences and so on.

If you have young children or seniors who share the same household, those people will have vastly different calorie needs. Children are still growing and need more calories, while seniors may feel like eating less than they may have in the past. If there are food allergies or sensitivities in the household, this will definitely dictate what everyone eats. Budget is a huge consideration when it comes to the food you buy. However, people on all budgets can eat nutritiously with a little planning. Practices such as buying fruits and vegetables in season (sorry, no peaches in December), buying from local producers, taking advantage of sale items and buying in bulk, can pay off in big dividends when it comes to the family food budget.

Cooking and meal preparation for households whose members have food allergies or sensitivities can be challenging, but it is possible. For example, if someone in your house has an allergy to gluten (a protein found in wheat and some other grains), there is no reason why the family can’t still enjoy a spaghetti dinner. Pasta now comes in rice, corn and quinoa varieties and is just as nutritious as the wheat variety. Many people say, in terms of taste, they can’t tell the difference between wheat past and gluten free pastas. There are also gluten free breads that can stand in for the usual garlic bread made from wheat bread.

According to the USDA’s myplate information (found at the website www.myplate.gov) a nutritionally balanced meal, at breakfast contains one item from the fruit, dairy, and grain or/protein groups (three items total). At the evening meal, a balanced meal contains something from four of the five food group—protein, vegetables, dairy, and grains. Something from all of the food groups is preferable.

For more information on appropriate portion sizes for different ages, genders and activity levels, and recipe suggestions, go to the website for myplate. For more information on nutrition and healthy recipes, got to www.food hero.org.

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