Dates to remember

Monday: 4-H Council meeting, Mandan

March 12: Morton County Ag Day, Bismarck

March 13: Fumigation certification, New Salem

March 19: General pesticide certification, Morton County Courthouse, Mandan

Only 25 percent of the U.S. population consumes adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables.

Does that percentage include you? If not, that is OK. Small changes can add up to big improvements in our health.

Socially, we have become invested in health and nutrition. You hear about the next best diet on the local news station, your Facebook friend sells a new product, and meanwhile, your cousin tells you that sugar is the key to living longer. We are consumed by several different recommendations and guidelines, so how do we know what we really should be eating?

Nutrition is a science. The topic consistently is being researched to ensure optimal health. One thing we do know is that a magic pill and cure-all diets just do not exist. Finding reliable sources is important when looking for nutritional advice.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture created a guide to healthful eating called My Plate (www.choosemyplate.gov). The guide separates the plate into five categories, which represent all the food groups. The five groups are fruit, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy.

Despite the fact that you should eat from all the food groups, you should put an emphasis on fruits and vegetables. Healthful eating patterns that include vegetables and fruit are associated with a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Half of your plate should be filled with an array of colorful fruits and vegetables. Fresh, frozen, canned and dried fruits and vegetables all count in helping us meet that guideline.

Fruits and vegetables add flavor and texture to a meal. Fruit is naturally sweet and can reduce the amount of added sugar sources you consume. Vegetables taste great in cold or hot dishes, and make a delicious snack and an easy side dish.

During March, which is National Nutrition Month, reflect on the food you typically eat. Where could you add extra fruits and vegetables? Start with one meal at a time and focus on including more produce in place of other less healthful options.

Here are some ideas to help you increase your fruit and vegetable intake:

• Cut and wash all produce before storing it in the refrigerator.

• Keep colorful fruit and vegetables where you can see and grab them easily for an on-the-go snack.

• Fill your freezer with frozen vegetables to steam for an easy side dish.

• Blend fruits and vegetables into a smoothie.

• Use vegetables as pizza toppings.

• Replace chips with a crunchy vegetable and low-fat dressing.

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Vanessa Hoines is an extension agent with NDSU Extension/Morton County. She holds a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer science education and food and nutrition and a master’s degree in child development and family science.