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March 18, 2009 > Celebrate National Nutrition Month: Start Eating Right . . . for Life

Celebrate National Nutrition Month: Start Eating Right . . . for Life

Every March for the past 29 years, the American Dietetic Association (ADA) - the world's largest organization of food and nutrition professionals - reminds Americans about the importance of good nutrition during National Nutrition Month. The theme of this year's celebration is "Eat Right." But, what does "right" mean?

"'Right' is a word that means different things to different people, and the same is true about good nutrition," says Kim Alvari, registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager at Washington Hospital. "With the variety of healthy foods we have available to us, the choices are wide open and everyone can find a healthy diet to fit their age, lifestyle and needs. It's a matter of educating yourself about what your body needs and, then, making healthy choices."

Eating right isn't so much about "good" or "bad" foods, explains the ADA. It's about choosing foods that are "nutrient-rich."

"The majority of your food choices should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients - and lower in calories," recommends the ADA. "Making smart food choices can help you stay healthy, manage your weight and be physically active."

To help educate and motivate visitors and staff, Washington Hospital is celebrating National Nutrition Month with a series of special events in the hospital cafeteria.

"We'll be highlighting certain nutrients and giving out healthy recipes and other free materials," explains Alvari. "One week, we'll focus on calcium and dairy products. Another week, we'll have information on increasing the fruits and vegetables in your diet."

Calcium is important for all

Getting enough calcium and vitamin D is important for everyone, especially children, adolescents and older adults. Because they are at an age when their bodies are building the greatest part of their bone structure, adolescents need more calcium than at any other time of life. At the same time, many youngsters tend to want to drink more soda.

"This is a bad time to be substituting sodas for milk, which has the calcium needed to grow strong bones," comments Alvari.

Older adults need more calcium to help maintain bone health. Besides milk, calcium-rich foods include yogurt, fortified cereals and fruit juices, dark green leafy vegetables and canned fish with soft bones.

Adequate amounts of vitamin D are critically important for everyone because it helps the body to absorb the calcium taken in through foods. Your body naturally produces some vitamin D when you are exposed to direct sunlight. Good dietary sources of vitamin D are fortified foods such as milk, yogurt, margarines and cereals. Other sources include catfish, sardines, salmon, tuna and egg yolks. If you take a calcium supplement or multivitamin, be sure to take one that contains vitamin D.

Add more fruits and vegetables

Eating lots of fruits and vegetables is critical to a healthy diet.
"One place where you can find a great selection of fruits and vegetables is at your local farmer's market, but you can also get lots of nutrients from frozen or canned fruits and vegetables," explains Alvari. "That way, you don't always have to wait until a certain item is in season. This gives you lots of different options. If you're worried that canned foods have more sodium, look for low sodium products or cut back on the salt you eat at other times of the day."

It doesn't have to cost more

In today's stressful economy, many people may worry that changing to a healthier diet will be more costly.

"It really is a myth that eating healthy is more expensive," states Alvari. "Just keep your meal plans simple and make wise choices when you're shopping. This will keep the cost down."

For example, check the sales at your market before planning meals so you can select items that are on sale. Sometimes, it's a matter of being willing to put in a little more time chopping and preparing rather than purchasing ready-to-eat items. For instance, you can buy a head of fresh lettuce or spinach rather than purchasing the more expensive bagged variety.

Caring for the environment is also on the top of people's minds today. In California, even in winter, you can get a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables that don't have to be shipped a great distance or from overseas to reach your supermarket.

"When you buy locally grown foods, it lowers the amount of fuel needed to get an item from field to fork," adds Alvari. "At Washington Hospital, our chef always looks for local foods when planning menus for our patients and in the cafeteria."

National Nutrition Month's theme to "Eat Right" is a call to action for every American to learn more about food and to become healthier by making wise choices.

"While you're thinking about eating healthy, don't forget to do some type of physical activity for a total of at least 30 minutes on most days of the week," Alvari reminds us. "By heeding the call to 'Eat Right' and staying active, you can make a real impact on your overall health and quality of life."

Learn More

For more information about National Nutrition Month, visit the web site of the American Dietetic Association at To learn more about Washington Hospital's Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program, visit

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