March for National Nutrition Month

Balancing your schedule between classes, studying, friends, work and maybe even sleep, you may not give much thought to what your next meal will be. But before you grab that cheeseburger or pepperoni pizza, remember: What you put into your body today can set the stage for the rest of your life.

With March being National Nutrition Month, now is a good time to focus on making informed food choices.

Recently, the nation’s top health and nutrition experts made recommendations for the country’s upcoming 2015 dietary guidelines. That advisory committee’s recommendations highlighted our country’s “suboptimal” dietary patterns. Our eating behaviors have contributed to more than two-thirds of adults and one-third of children becoming overweight or obese.

Diet recommendations can be misrepresented to the public thanks to the work of certain food interest groups that are more focused on selling their product than furthering public health. We’ve been told to follow low-fat diets, high-protein diets and everything in between.

However, the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee made strong, clear recommendations that show the least amount of political influence that we’ve seen in decades. Their advice? Adopt a plant-strong diet, meaning more fruits and veggies and fewer animal products.

We need to put the emphasis back on whole, minimally processed foods — the best type of fuel to look and feel great now while protecting you for years to come.

And you can start making small, impactful changes right now.

While the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages us to “bite into a healthy lifestyle,” the first bite could be to join the global Meatless Monday movement. Choosing to take a weekly holiday from meat is an easy way to enjoy more plant-strong meals.

The benefits of a plant-strong diet reach even beyond our own personal health. The Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee reported that a diet higher in animal-based foods leads to increased greenhouse gas emissions, land use, water use and energy use. That’s right — choosing more meatless meals helps protect the environment as well as your own health.

Reducing meat consumption also reduces the number of animals exposed to inhumane factory farms practices.

Improving own health — and the health of the planet — can be overwhelming. But in this case, we have the potential to make a significant difference one bite at a time.