MyPlate 4-Step Plan for Summer

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Practitioner Resource Alert: This post contains a free handout with lots of tips and tricks for your clients.

Tomorrow marks the official start of summer. How will your clients stay healthy and have fun?

For some practical advice, we turn to MyPlate. Here are 4 easy steps for making the summer active, healthful, and a total blast.

Step #1: Exercise

The weather is warmer, which makes summer a great time to exercise. After all, now you won't have to battle icy paths, crowded gyms, or freezing wind. Instead, paths and parks are open for exploring, pools are kicking into high gear, and new fitness classes are starting. It's totally gardening season too, which can burn off a surprising number of calories. Feel free to experiment until you find a way to exercise that is fun for you!

But let's backtrack for a minute. Why is exercise step #1 of this plan?

Well, because exercise is key to a healthy life.

RunningScreen Shot 2014-05-14 at 10.14.27 AMAccording to MyPlate, regular physical activity can help you...

  • Increase your chances of living longer
  • Feel better about yourself
  • Decrease your chances of becoming depressed
  • Sleep well at night
  • Move around more easily
  • Have stronger muscles and bones
  • Stay at or get to a healthy weight

But wait, there's more!

In addition to helping improve your life, exercise can also help stave off the health dangers that can decrease your quality of life. MyPlate asserts that exercise can reduce your risk of...

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Stroke
  • Type 2 diabetes

Now is the time. Take step #1 and find a fun way to get regular exercise.

Step #2: Stock up on Fruits and Veggies

June is Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Month, so what better time is there to explore the joys of fresh fruits and vegetables? Seasonal produce kicks into high gear in the summer months, so be sure to take advantage of the bounty!

Farmers' MarketOne great way to pick up some new fresh fruits and vegetables is by visiting a local farmers' market. At these markets, you can often try samples, talk with farmers about the best way to prepare new foods, and get trustworthy recommendations about new fruits and vegetables that you might like. Plus, you can get some exercise as you walk all around the market. For some tips about making the most of your visit to a farmstand or market, check out Farmers' Market Success: 7 Tips for the Best Trips and A Farmers' Market Tale.

If there isn't a farmers' market near you, don't despair! You can also get wonderful produce at most supermarkets. Just be sure to shop in season. Seasonal produce is fresher, tastier, and often much cheaper. Fresh fruits and vegetables that are in season during the summer include...

  • Apricots
  • Beets
  • Berries
  • Cantaloupe
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Dark Leafy Greens
  • Eggplant
  • Honeydew melons
  • Lettuce
  • Nectarines
  • Peaches
  • Plums
  • Tomatoes
  • Turnips
  • Watermelon
  • Zucchini

And that's just a sampling. Check out the seasonal produce calendar for more inspiration.

Of course, the reasons to eat fresh fruits and vegetables are many and varied. According to MyPlate "Eating a diet rich in vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may reduce risk for heart disease, including heart attack and stroke." MyPlate continues, "Eating a diet rich in some vegetables and fruits as part of an overall healthy diet may protect against certain types of cancers."

Step #3: Steer Clear of Empty Calories

Sorbet for Ice CreamSummer is chock-full of sodas, ice cream, potato salad, and chips with dip. Since many of these foods are loaded with empty calories (which are calories that don't contain nutrients or anything good for you), be sure to eat them in moderation.

Watch out for SoFAS, which are solid fats and added sugars. According to MyPlate, "Solid fats and added sugars add calories to the food but few or no nutrients. For this reason, the calories from solid fats and added sugars in a food are often called empty calories." Solid fats can endanger your heart health, while added sugars make managing weight more difficult.

Bear in mind that a little bit of empty calories can be just fine. The key is moderation, not deprivation. When you're going for a treat, have it in small portions and really enjoy it. For the rest of the time, find a more healthful alternative.

Here are some ideas for healthful alternatives to summer foods that are usually full of SoFAS...

  • Ice cream -- Replace it with sorbet or a fresh fruit granita
  • Soda -- Replace it with unsweetened iced tea or seltzer with fresh fruit slices
  • Fried chicken -- Grill the chicken instead
  • Potato chips with dip -- Try dipping fresh vegetables instead
  • Potato salad -- Roasted potatoes are a wonderful replacement
  • Milkshakes -- Fresh fruit smoothies are just as cool and refreshing

Step #4: Stay Hydrated!

Hydrate!Summer can get pretty hot.

Yeah, that's kind of a no-brainer, but it bears mentioning anyway. Hydration is especially important in the hot summer months, even more so if you're going to be active and exercising.

So how much water do you need? MyPlate maintains, "Let your thirst be your guide. Water is an important nutrient for the body, but everyone’s needs are different. Most of us get enough water from the foods we eat and the beverages we drink. A healthy body can balance water needs throughout the day. Drink plenty of water if you are very active, live or work in hot conditions, or are an older adult."

Water is a great tool for hydration. If you choose to go with a sport drink instead, check the Nutrition Facts first. How much added sugar is in a bottle? Are there empty calories? What nutrients are in the drink?

Often, it's best just to stick with water.

If you want a hydrating treat with a flavor boost, try refrigerator tea. It's inexpensive and delicious. Start by buying some decaffeinated tea bags in bulk. This often works out to $.08 per tea bag! Then take 3 of those bags and brew a big pot of tea -- about a half gallon of water. Once the teabags have steeped, add fresh fruit slices and stick the whole thing in the fridge. Boom! You have a huge amount of calorie-free and totally delicious tea, available for far less than the cost of an equivalent amount of soda.

So there you have it. A 4-step MyPlate plan for summer. Try it today!

For More Information:

  1. MyPlate's Guide to the Benefits of Physical Activity
  2. MyPlate: What Are Empty Calories?
  3. Make Better Beverage Choices with MyPlate
  4. Why Eat Fruits and Vegetables? MyPlate's Response

For Your Clients:

Did you like this post? Your clients will too! Here's an executive summary of the 4-step plan, condensed into a single page handout. Download it today!

MyPlate 4-Step PlanFor More MyPlate Resources:

Check out the great nutrition education materials available in the store! Top sellers include...

MyPlate Bulletin Board Kit
MyPlate Physical Activity Brochure for Kids
MyPlate Poster
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