When choosing whole grains, lean protein and colorful fruits and vegetables, it’s important to savor the flavor — and be creative in the kitchen — to discover the benefits of a healthy eating lifestyle.

The Galveston County Health District recognizes March as National Nutrition Month. This annual nutrition campaign is geared at educating the public on the importance of making informed food choices.

Eating healthier can help reduce a host of chronic diseases including heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancers and obesity.

Many of us don’t eat enough servings of fruits and vegetables daily. In fact, it’s estimated only 25 percent of people in the United States consume an adequate amount, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

A great tool to use to ensure you’re eating a well-balanced meal is MyPlate. The concept is easy enough. MyPlate focuses on variety, amount and nutrition. It divides meals into five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — all aimed at building a balanced meal. It also helps you become more mindful of portion sizes.

Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants in all forms, whether it’s fresh, frozen, canned or dried. They’re also low in calories. Looking for something sweet to eat? Pick up some fruit. It’s naturally sweet and can help fight cravings so that you don’t find yourself reaching for a candy bar or piece of cake.

When it comes to dairy, choose low-fat or fat-free options for milk, yogurt and cheese. Go for whole grains when building your plate. Whole grain bread, brown rice and quinoa are great options. For breakfast, whip up a bowl of oatmeal. Whole grains not only provide vitamins and minerals, but dietary fiber. At least half of the grains you eat should be whole grains.

Finish off your plate with lean protein like round steaks and roasts, skinless poultry, fish, eggs, beans, nuts and seeds.

MyPlate varies based on age, gender, height, weight and physical activity levels.

You should also check out Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL), the health district’s new initiative geared at making Galveston County the healthiest county in Texas. Our goal is to educate the community on how to make informed food choices and develop good eating and physical activity habits.

HEAL launched online at www.gchd.org/HEAL this year with a goal of helping residents lead a healthier and more active life. The site includes videos on how to read a nutrition label and how to pick the best ingredients when shopping, regardless of your budget, plus food storage tips, nutritional infographics and examples of different eating styles. You’ll also find a Diabetes 101 page with a video on how to read a nutrition label and diabetes-friendly recipes.

There are also monthly exercise videos you can do at home, cooking videos for adults and children, along with healthy recipes and tips for shopping on a budget. We’ve included links to walking trails and community parks that have free workout equipment.

For more information on living a healthy lifestyle, visit www.gchd.org/HEAL and www.eatright.org.

Eileen Dawley is the chief nursing officer of the Galveston County Health District.

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