Dietitians: Cut back on sugar, salt during National Nutrition Month

By: Cari DeLamielleure-Scott | West Bloomfield Beacon | Published March 18, 2016


METRO DETROIT — March is National Nutrition Month, and dietitians are urging people to review their food habits and get back to the basics of eating healthy. 

National Nutrition Week began in 1973, but as the number of people interested in promoting nutrition increased, the program expanded and became National Nutrition Month in 1980. National Nutrition Month is sponsored by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Food is always a hot topic because everybody eats,” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics spokesperson Toby Smithson said. “Everyone’s interested in food. It’s a hot topic for the public, but also, dietitians really enjoyed taking the month to message out about healthy eating.” 

Even though March is dedicated to nutrition, celebrating healthy eating is important every day, Smithson said. A theme is chosen each year, and this year’s theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.”

“There’s a couple messages within the theme that are really important. One is centered around mindful eating, and (the second is) to take time with your traditional foods and appreciate and focus on the pleasures and flavors that food offers as it nourishes your body,” Smithson said. “Eating healthy can be very flavorful.” 

Shawna Broida, a dietitian at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital, said this year’s theme encourages people to take time from their busy schedules to enjoy food. Eating while watching television, driving or sitting at your desk is not a pleasurable way to enjoy food, she said. 

“If we can take the time to taste our food, listen to our bodies (and) stop eating when we’re full, that would help us eat less,” she said. 

If there is one change a person is going to make to their eating habits, Broida recommends it be adding more vegetables because they “automatically make us eat less of those more unhealthy foods,” including high-fat meats, cheese, butter and white bread. While those do have a place in a person’s diet, they should be used as a flavor booster instead, she said. Half of a person’s plate should be fruits and vegetables.

Smithson said simply cutting out or cutting back on salt and sugar can make a big impact on a person’s health. Instead of using salt to enhance food flavors, she recommended exploring different herbs and spices. For example, Smithson said a person could add cinnamon to oatmeal or a sprig of rosemary to an ear of corn when cooking it on the grill. 

When it comes to ditching sugar, Broida said the easiest place to start is either cutting back or ditching the pop and sugary drinks — including sweetened iced teas and energy drinks — completely. 

“We want to consume less of added sugar in our diet. The sugar that comes from fruit and our low-fat dairy products, and the sugar that comes from the starch in our food, that’s fine,” Broida said. 

The American Heart Association recommends that women eat fewer than 6 teaspoons of added sugar a day, and men eat fewer than 9 teaspoons of added sugar because sugar has shown that it can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, Broida said. 

If you have to have a dessert, Broida recommended sharing the dessert with someone or minimizing how frequently you eat it.

“You can have it if you halve it,” she said. 

Broida also suggested cutting out high fructose corn syrup, because even though it’s commonly used as a sweetener, it doesn’t add any nutritional value, unlike whole food sweeteners like pure maple syrup and agave, which have trace minerals that are good for the body. 

So how do you eat healthy on a budget? 

Plan your meals. 

Smithson said that by planning a menu for the week, people can ensure they’ll have all the tools and resources needed for healthy meals. People should also start eating balanced meals that incorporate at least three food groups per meal.

Look for sales. Consider what produce is in season and avoid brand-name products. Frozen vegetables are also a cheap and healthy choice, Broida said.

Price out convenience foods. Even though produce seems expensive, purchasing a bag of chips or ready-made foods adds up. People should avoid the grocery aisles and instead stick to the outside of the store where the basics — low-fat dairy, produce, lean meats — are located.

For more information about National Nutrition Month or for healthy recipes, visit, or