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Celebrating National Nutrition Month

March is National Nutrition Month, a time to return to the basics of healthy eating. This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which sponsors the annual event, encourages everyone to "Eat Right, Your Way, Every Day."

This theme emphasizes the advantages of developing a healthful eating plan that incorporates individual food choices and preferences. You can eat right and still enjoy the foods you love with a plan tailored to your lifestyle, traditions, health needs and of course, tastes. You don't have to give up most of your favorite foods if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with physical activity.

To get started on the path to healthier eating, here are some tools that will help you make wise decisions when it comes to your total diet or overall pattern of food choices.

MyPlate (www.choosemyplate.gov), which is based on the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, uses a dinner plate icon as a visual cue to promote healthier eating at mealtimes. It recommends that you make about half your plate with fruits and vegetables; about one-quarter protein, such as lean meats, black beans and tofu chunks; and about one-quarter grains, preferably whole grains.

Dairy also is an important part of every meal. Think fat-free or low-fat for a serving of milk, yogurt or cheese. You will get as much calcium as whole-fat products but consume fewer calories and fat.

To help stay on track, check out SuperTracker (www.supertracker.usda.gov). This free, online tool from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will help you develop a personalized nutrition and activity plan and track the foods you eat and your physical activities.

You can set up a personal profile or start by clicking on MyPlan, which spells out what and how much you should eat based on your age, gender and level of physical activity. The Food-A-Pedia feature allows you to look up nutrition information for more than 8,000 foods by comparing foods side-by-side for calories, sodium, fats and added sugars to help make healthier choices. Food Tracker makes it easy for you to keep track of the foods you eat and compare your choices to your nutrition targets.

The site also lets you manage your weight, track your physical activity, set personal goals with tips and support from your own virtual coach and review your progress as well as your eating and exercising trends over time.

For other helpful tips for eating healthy, visit the National Nutrition Month web site (www.eatright.org/nnm).  Or contact Diane Mincher, UVM Extension nutrition and food specialist, at (802) 388-4969 or (800) 956-1125 (within Vermont) or by e-mail at diane.mincher@uvm.edu.

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