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National Nutrition Month encourages health, wellness

By Tricia Hopper

MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Sandwiched between high-calorie holidays and swimsuit weather, March offers the perfect time of the year for people to consider healthier nutrition.

March is National Nutrition Month, and this year's campaign, "Eat Smart, Stay Healthy," focuses on the importance of healthy eating choices and physical activity.

Melissa Mixon, human nutrition specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said healthy eating means looking at everything consumed over time, not just a single food, a single meal or even a single day.

"The key is eating a variety of foods in moderation and including all the food groups. All foods can fit into a diet, just remember that portion size is the key," she said.

Managing weight involves balancing energy entering the body with energy burned.

"If a person takes in more calories or expends less energy through activity than their body needs, they will gain weight," Mixon said. "If they take in fewer calories or burn more energy through exercise, they will lose weight."

Managing weight is not easy, and people make many mistakes, especially concerning the goals they make. Mixon suggested subtle changes in eating habits and lifestyle rather than drastic ones.

"Giving up all soft drinks or all desserts or deciding to exercise for two hours every day isn't realistic. Think in smaller terms, such as choosing water or diet drinks with meals or saving desserts for very special occasions," Mixon said. "Another option would be to adjust from whole milk to 2 percent milk fat, then later try fat-free milk."

For people on the go, eating healthy often falls by the wayside. When making a fast-food run, Mixon suggested leaving the condiments off or opting for a salad.

"Do not super-size your meal," Mixon said. "It's tempting to get double the food for half the price, but unless you are splitting the meal with another person, you don't need it."

Also, planning ahead can save calories and time in the long run. Make a menu for the week, and prepare more at one meal, saving half for a "planned-over" meal, which is more intentional than leftovers. Freeze meals for the next week.

Parents should remember that children are imitators, especially pertaining to food consumption and exercise patterns. When adults snack while watching television, their children are likely to want to do the same.

"Habits learned in childhood are hard to break as adults," Mixon said.

Eating as a family at the table rather than in front of the television is one way to teach healthy eating habits. Avoid keeping empty calories, like those in cookies or chips, around the house.

Physical activity is just as important as making wise food decisions.

There are many small ways to increase the body's metabolism, which increases calories burned. Mixon suggested taking the stairs rather than the elevator, parking at the far end of parking lots and even taking a brisk 10-minute walk during lunch.

"Research shows that 10 to 15 minutes here and there really does work," Mixon said. "Short spurts do add up. This may mean waking up 10 minutes earlier in the morning to ensure daily exercise gets done, but make it a priority."

Change takes time, and patience is key.

"Most people want to see immediate results," Mixon said. "You didn't get out of shape overnight, so you shouldn't expect to become fit overnight either."

-30-

Released: Feb. 26, 2004
Contact: Dr. Melissa Mixon, (662) 325-3080

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