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Somewhere Over The Rainbow

Local Dietitian Shares Nutrition Tips On 'Eating Right With Color' For Busy Families

Mary Ann Nash works as a Nutrition Coordinator and Certified Specialist in Oncology at the Community Cancer Center at Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. She has been a Registered Dietitian for 25 years and has worked in obesity, eating disorders, diabetes, cancer, and disease prevention.

Nash enjoys the arts, and once danced for the NYC Ballet. She is also a master chef, and enjoys experimenting with different styles of cuisine. She loves the T-Tapp exercise program, and finds that turning to physical activity can soothe her when she is stressed.

This week’s column will focus on the nutrition component of leading a healthy lifestyle in honor of National Nutrition Month, which began March 1.

Q: The theme of this year's National Nutrition Month is "Eat Right with Color." What does this mean? 

A: The focus of this year’s National Nutrition Month is to return to the basics of healthy eating by adding a variety of “colors” to one’s plate.  The colors of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins and quality dairy products add 10,000’s of phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals to your diet.  These are “powerhouses” to the body providing it with the antioxidants necessary to prevent disease.  We have only touched the surface of just how much nutrition is found in the “color” of our foods.  The next time you put your plate together think about it as a painting – very boring to look at if it is all white but very eye catching with a multitude of color.

What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles for families trying to lead a healthy lifestyle?

I think that today’s families are “juggling” work, school and activity schedules which changes the home eating environment.  Most families find both parents working and time is limited so that cooking and eating is often on the run.  Many families no longer “sit-down” to eat a meal together, which minimizes the quality time that they spend together as a family.

What are some easy ways busy families can fit in more fruits and vegetables?

  • Keep a bowl of whole fruits on the table, counter or in the refrigerator – when we see things and they are easily available, we are more apt to eat them.
  • Top your morning cereal with fresh berries, bananas or whatever fruit is in season.
  • Make a smoothie with frozen fruits – they are great ways to start the day and there is a great variety of frozen fruits.
  • Have a low-fat dip available for cut-up vegetables and fruits.  Not only kids love to “dip” their veggies but so do the adults.  Adding fat to fruits or vegetables also helps your body “use” the phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals.
  • Include chopped vegetables or fruits in pasta sauces, casseroles, quick breads and muffins. 
  • Shred carrots or zucchini into meatloaves or casseroles – you’re adding vegetables and increasing the flavor.
  • Keep frozen stir-fry vegetables in the freezer all the time.  For a quick meal add chicken breast, beef strips or vegetables only and serve over brown rice.  You can add a green salad and complete the meal.
  • Add a banana to your peanut butter sandwich or have a sliced apple with peanut butter for a snack.
  • Make a berry parfait using low-fat yogurt, frozen berries and top with a whole grain cereal.

If someone is trying to decide between fresh, frozen, or canned fruits/vegetables, what advice would you offer them? 

It depends on the time of year.  I always teach people to buy what is in season for their area since most of what is out of season is being picked in an unripe state so it is never allowed to reach its full “nutrition potential.”  Most of the time in the Northeast, frozen is the way to go.  Now there are several options of frozen vegetables that organic but even those that are not are picked at their peak, “bathed” several times and then flash frozen, retaining all of their nutritional value.  During the summer months try to buy locally grown produce – you are not only supporting your local farmers but are getting a true “bang for your buck”.

What local community resources would you recommend for people interested in learning more about leading a healthy lifestyle?

At Lawrence & Memorial Hospital, we have a nine-week series entitled “Healthier, Happier You,” which takes you from soup to nuts nutrition-wise and also teaches you to cook basic, simple yet wonderfully tasting meals.  You can also check out the L&M Facebook page for upcoming wellness events.

For more information or to register for an upcoming Healthier, Happier You program, call 860-442-0711 ext. 3109.

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