March is National Nutrition, a time to look at the foods you are eating and make changes for a healthful diet. “Bite Into A Healthy Lifestyle” is the theme, encouraging Americans to choose the foods they enjoy, eat in moderation and be physically active. This follows the Dietary Guidelines for Americans which focuses on three key messages: balance calories, increase some food and decrease the consumption of others. Let’s look at these recommendations in detail to get the whole picture. The first key message is to balance your calorie intake. Eat the foods you like, but think about portion size and eat smaller servings. I sometimes will ask a person who has successfully dropped a few pounds and kept it off, how they accomplished the weight loss. The common answer is, “I just eat less.” Sometimes all it takes is being aware of what you eat and pay attention to portion size. When trying to balance calories, the other half of the equation is to increase physical activity. Get out of the chair and move; take walks, do yard work, wash and wax your car. All activity counts; so get moving. The second key message is to increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy foods. A tall order, but you ask, increase foods? Really? Yes, because the average American diet is low in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and dairy foods and they are rich in nutrients while being lower in calories. Add a few more fruits and vegetables throughout the day. At each meal, fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. For breakfast, add orange juice or fresh fruit that is in season. At lunch, add vegetables to your sandwich or crunch on vegetable slices instead of potato chips. For dinner, serve a salad with a variety of chopped vegetables or cook seasonal vegetables. If you are tired at the end of the day and don’t feel like cooking, use your microwave, it cooks food quickly. Eat fruit for snacks or serve them for a low calorie dessert. Make half of your grains whole grain foods. Read the ingredient list on the package and look for the words “whole grain.” Don’t be fooled by terms like wheat bread or wheat flour, they are often refined and lack the health benefits of whole grain foods. Milk, and foods made from milk, provide most of the calcium in our diets, a nutrient needed for strong bones and teeth. We never outgrow our need for milk because calcium flows in and out of our bones requiring a good intake of calcium for bone health. Look for low-fat versions of milk foods to eliminate saturated fats in your diet. Refuse to drink fat free milk? Start by changing to two percent milk for several months, than switch to one percent; you’ll be cutting back on the total fat. Most varieties of cheese have a reduced fat version, some may be labeled “made with two percent milk.” The third key message is to decrease your intake of sugar, sodium and saturated fats. Sugar provides empty calories to our diet. Added sugar includes high fructose corn syrup, white and brown sugar, corn syrup, honey molasses and dextrose to name a few. Can you guess the biggest source of added sugar? Soda, energy and sports drinks provide the most sugar, followed by grain-based desserts, sugar-sweetened fruit drinks, dessert and then candy. Eat these foods less often and when you are thirsty, drink water. Sodium is an essential nutrient, but we get too much of it. According to the USDA dietary guidelines there is strong evidence demonstrating in adults that blood pressure decreases when sodium decreases. Sources of sodium are salt, but also cured meat and ready to purchase baked goods. Seasoning foods with herbs and spices give flavor without increasing sodium in the diet. Saturated fats are solid at room temperature and found in animal sources of food. These fats are known increasing cholesterol in the body. To help reduce saturated fats, trim visible fat from meat and poultry, choose low fat milk foods and eliminate the use of solid cooking fats. Adopt a few changes and you’ll see big results in the way you feel. We have a great handout, “Let’s Eat for the Health of It,” call or stop by the Madison County Extension office for a copy. The University of Florida IFAS/Extension is an Equal Opportunity Institution.