We recently launched a series of nutritional status calculators that will help you determine how much of a particular nutrient you might need to reach optimal status. But before we get to that, let’s talk about National Nutrition Month. All of our blogs in March will in some way celebrate how nutrition impacts your health and lifestyle — no matter what your age is.
What is National Nutrition Month?
National Nutrition Month is an annual campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. During the month of March, everyone is invited to learn about making informed food choices and developing healthful eating and physical activity habits.
This year the focus is “Personalizing Your Plate.” There is no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition and health — and we at OmegaQuant agree! We are all unique with different bodies, goals, backgrounds and tastes, which is why it is important to tailor a healthful eating plan that is as special as you are.
Equally important is making sure your diet is delivering the nutrition you need. But first, let’s review the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics’ top suggestions for healthy eating and personalizing your plate.
20 Health Tips for Personalizing Your Plate
The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics believes there are simple tips that will lead to better habits and good nutrition. Some are relatively obvious (check out #1), while others may come as a surprise (check out #17).
- Eat Breakfast
Start your day with a healthy breakfast that includes lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Try making a breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, low-fat cheese, salsa and a whole wheat tortilla or a parfait with low-fat plain yogurt, fruit and whole grain cereal.
- Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies add color, flavor and texture plus vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber to your plate. Make 2 cups of fruit and 2 1⁄2 cups of vegetables your daily goal. Experiment with different types, including fresh, frozen and canned.
- Watch Portion Sizes
Use half your plate for fruits and vegetables and the other half for grains and lean protein foods. Complete the meal with a serving of fat-free or low-fat milk or yogurt. Measuring cups may also help you compare your portions to the recommended serving size.
- Be Active
Regular physical activity has many health benefits. Start by doing what exercise you can. Children and teens should get 60 or more minutes of physical activity per day, and adults at least two hours and 30 minutes per week. You don’t have to hit the gym – take a walk after dinner or put on music and dance at home.
- Get to Know Food Labels
Reading the Nutrition Facts panel can help you choose foods and drinks to meet your nutrient needs.
- Fix Healthy Snacks
Healthy snacks can sustain your energy levels between meals, especially when they include a combination of foods. Choose from two or more of the MyPlate food groups: grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy, and protein. Try raw veggies with low-fat cottage cheese or hummus, or a tablespoon of nut or seed butter with an apple or banana.
- Consult an RDN
Whether you want to lose weight, lower your health-risks or manage a chronic disease, consult the experts! Registered dietitian nutritionists can help you by providing sound, easy-to-follow personalized nutrition advice.
- Follow Food Safety Guidelines
Reduce your chances of getting sick with proper food safety. This includes: regular hand washing, separating raw foods from ready-to-eat foods, cooking foods to the appropriate internal temperature, and refrigerating food promptly. Learn more about home food safety at www.homefoodsafety.org.
- Drink More Water
Quench your thirst with water instead of drinks with added sugars. Stay hydrated and drink plenty of water, especially if you are active, an older adult or live or work in hot conditions.
- Get Cooking
Preparing foods at home can be healthy, rewarding and cost-effective. Master some kitchen basics, like dicing onions or cooking dried beans.
- Order Out without Ditching Goals
You can eat out and stick to your healthy eating plan! The key is to plan ahead, ask questions and choose foods carefully. Compare nutrition information, if available, and look for healthier options that are grilled, baked, broiled or steamed.
- Enact Family Mealtime
Plan to eat as a family at least a few times each week. Set a regular mealtime. Turn off the
TV, phones and other electronic devices to encourage mealtime talk. Get kids involved in meal planning and cooking and use this time to teach them about good nutrition.
- Banish Brown Bag Boredom
Whether it’s for work or school, prevent brown bag boredom with easy-to-make, healthy lunch ideas. Try a whole-wheat pita pocket with veggies and hummus or a low sodium vegetable soup with whole grain crackers or a salad of mixed greens with low-fat dressing and a hard-boiled egg.
- Reduce Added Sugars
Foods and drinks with added sugars can contribute empty calories and little or no nutrition. Review the new and improved Nutrition Facts Label or ingredients list to identify sources of added sugars.
- Eat Seafood Twice a Week
Seafood – fish and shellfish – contains a range of nutrients including healthy omega-3 fats. Salmon, trout, oysters and sardines are higher in omega-3s and lower in mercury.
- Explore New Foods and Flavors
Add more nutrition and eating pleasure by expanding your range of food choices. When shopping, make a point of selecting a fruit, vegetable or whole grain that’s new to you or your family.
- Experiment with Plant-Based Meals
Expand variety in your menus with budget-friendly meatless meals. Many recipes that
use meat and poultry can be made without. Vegetables, beans, and lentils are all great substitutes. Try including one meatless meal per week to start.
- Make an Effort to Reduce Food Waste
Check out what foods you have on hand before stocking up at the grocery store. Plan meals based on leftovers and only buy perishable foods you will use or freeze within a couple of days. Managing these food resources at home can help save nutrients and money.
- Slow Down at Mealtime
Instead of eating on the run, try sitting down and focusing on the food you’re about to eat. Dedicating time to enjoy the taste and textures of foods can have a positive effect on your
- Supplement with Caution
Choose foods first for your nutrition needs. A dietary supplement may be necessary when nutrient requirements can’t be met or there is a confirmed deficiency. If you’re considering a vitamin, mineral or herbal supplement, be sure to discuss safe and appropriate options with an RDN or another healthcare provider before taking.
Calculate What You Need to Personalize Your Nutrient Intake
We believe as the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics does that nutrition should come from food first. But the reality is most people do not have the perfect diet and even those that do need to make up for their nutritional gaps with solutions like dietary supplements. But how much should you take of any one nutrient? That cannot be determined with accuracy without assessing what your nutritional status is first.
This is where tests like the Omega-3 Index and Vitamin D come in. OmegaQuant’s range of tests help people achieve optimal status of important nutrients like omega-3s and vitamin D.
If you’ve already taken one of our tests and you were below optimal status, then checking in with our calculators will help you find out what you need to get into the “desirable” zone. Each calculator is described below.
Our Vitamin D calculator has been designed to help people who want to reach a desirable level in the blood. Many studies have tied an optimal status of Vitamin to a healthier heart and stronger immune system, among many other benefits.
What the Vitamin D calculator does is estimate the dose you need to get to a protective level of 30 ng/mL. So how much vitamin D do you need to reach optimal status? It depends on a lot of factors. For example, a person weighing 150 lbs with a Vitamin D blood level of 15 ng/mL and current intake of 1000 IU/day would need to increase their total intake to more than 2800 IU/day to achieve a blood level of 30 ng/mL.
A person with the same current and target blood level and intake, but who weighs more, like 200 lbs for example, would need a dose of at least 3400 IU/day.
Omega-3 EPA & DHA
The Omega-3 Index calculator results provide a guide for how much omega-3 you may need to reach a desirable blood level of 8%. The best way to know if a supplement or dietary change is working for you is to test and re-test.
A person with an Omega-3 Index level of 4% who doesn’t take any supplemental omega-3 or eat fish regularly should try to take at least 1400 mg EPA and DHA per day in triglyceride form or 2200 mg in ethyl ester form to reach 8% within about 3 months.
A person with an Omega-3 Index level of 6% who takes 500 mg EPA and DHA per day and eats fish twice per month should try to take at least 1100 mg EPA and DHA per day in triglyceride form or 1700 mg in ethyl ester form to reach 8% within about 3 months.
Use the estimate from the calculator to make a plan to increase your EPA+DHA intake. For example, the calculator may recommend you take 1235 mg EPA+DHA per day and to meet that goal, but you might take 1500 mg EPA+DHA per day because of the amount in your supplements. It is not necessary to match the calculated dose exactly.
Eating fish at least 2 times per week or taking a supplement with both DHA and EPA are excellent for both general wellness and treating specific conditions.
Most higher concentration supplements (in the US) and pharmaceutical omega-3 products are ethyl ester formulations. It is very important to take these kinds of supplements with a meal containing fat.
Triglyceride or “reconstituted triglyceride” formulations are often advertised as such, and typically are better absorbed but we still recommend taking them with food.
Krill oil is the main omega-3 supplement in the phospholipid form.
Fish contains EPA and DHA as phospholipid and triglycerides mainly.
This information is not reported on supplements in a standardized way. If the form is unknown, use the EPA+DHA targets for the ethyl ester formulations.
The Prenatal DHA level is meant to be a guide for how much DHA you may need in your diet to reach your Prenatal DHA target. Up to 3,000 mg per day of EPA and DHA is considered safe. We recommend you retest after 3-4 months to see if your diet changes are working for you. Please consult your healthcare provider before making any major changes to your diet.
A pregnant woman with a Prenatal DHA level of 3% who doesn’t take any supplemental DHA or eat fish regularly should try to take at least 700 mg DHA per day to reach 5% within 3 months.
A pregnant woman with a Prenatal DHA level of 4% who takes a supplement with 200 mg DHA per day should try to boost her daily intake to at least 500 mg DHA per day to reach 5% within 3 months.
Mother’s Milk DHA
The Mother’s Milk DHA level is meant to be a guide for how much DHA you may need in your diet to reach the optimal target. Up to 3,000 mg per day of EPA and DHA is considered safe. We recommend you retest after 1-2 months to see if your diet changes are working for you. Please consult your healthcare provider before making any major changes to your diet.
A lactating woman with a Mother’s Milk DHA level of 0.15% who doesn’t take any supplemental DHA or eat fish regularly should try to take at least 200 mg DHA per day to reach 0.32% within a month.
A lactating woman with a Mother’s Milk DHA level of 0.20% who takes a supplement with 200 mg DHA per day should try to boost her daily intake to at least 300 mg DHA per day to reach 0.32% within a month.
Have fun with these calculators but always know that you should speak to your healthcare provider about these results to make a plan for how you can reach optimal status. And if you are already there, congratulations! Make sure you continue to maintain the dietary changes you made to reach that optimal zone — whatever it might be.