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How to 'Personalize Your Plate' During National Nutrition Month

Healthy Balanced Dinner

 Burcu Atalay Tankut / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • During National Nutrition Month, nutrition experts are encouraging people to "personalize their plate" to avoid nutrition gaps and meet their unique nutritional needs.
  • Some popular eating patterns can leave people lacking in adequate amounts of key nutrients if they eliminate entire food groups from their diets.
  • Looking at your dietary habits can help you determine what you need to eat to support your health goals.

Following a satisfying, tasty, and healthful diet is a goal that many people strive for, but it’s not always easy to achieve. Often, people are compelled to try fad diets that promise a lot but are difficult to maintain.

With March being National Nutrition Month, it's a good time to focus on how you can make changes to your diet that will benefit your nutrition goals throughout your life.

This year, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' theme for National Nutrition Month is “Personalize Your Plate," which focuses on individualizing healthy eating to achieve health goals.  

What Does "Personalize Your Plate" Mean?

Every time that you choose a meal or snack, your plate is being “personalized." Our choices are shaped by many factors—not only our taste, but more complex factors like access to food, culture, and tradition. That’s why a “one-size-fits-all” nutrition plan never works. 

A healthy eating pattern includes a variety of foods from all food groups. Each food group offers a unique package of nutrients that, when combined, sustain our health now and in the future. Avoiding whole food groups can leave us nutrient gaps, which can lead to health concerns and chronic disease. 

Filling Nutritional Gaps

When people follow specific diets, they run the risk of having gaps in their overall nutrition—especially if they are cutting out entire food groups. No matter which diet a person is following, a registered dietitian will look at the whole picture of what a person is eating to determine whether they are getting all the nutrients they need.

Below are four examples of popular dietary practices paired with dietitian-approved tips for personalizing your plate if you follow them.

Keto

The ketogenic diet (keto diet) is a popular diet plan—mainly because it can help people lose weight. However, because it is high in fat, low in carbs, and moderate in protein, following the keto diet means that many foods are eliminated or severely restricted. 

Research has shown that following the keto diet can put you at risk of missing out on important nutrients. According to one study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, people on a variation of a low carb diet had a lower intake of key nutrients, including:

Personalizing your plate to be compliant with keto diet restrictions while also making sure that you are getting enough nutrients is incredibly important. You need to make sure that you're plenty of eating low-carb vegetables that supply folate (like greens), eggs, as well as certain fortified cheeses for vitamin D and nuts for vitamin E.

Lactose-Free

If a person follows a lactose-free diet, it is often because they are lactose intolerant (an inability to tolerate lactose). Lactose is the natural sugar found in dairy foods, which means these foods need to be limited or avoided. However, when people eliminate dairy foods, they run the risk of missing out on key nutrients that support their bone and brain health.

To minimize the risk when you need to go “lactose-free," you can personalize your plate with alternate foods that contain calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and other nutrients found in dairy foods. 

Rather than eliminating dairy foods altogether, opt for hard cheeses—like cheddar or parmesan, which contain almost no lactose. You can also try cultured dairy products such as yogurt or kefir. These products contain beneficial bacteria that help your body digest lactose and are tolerated by many people who are lactose intolerant. 

Plant-Forward/Flexitarian

A plant-forward or flexitarian diet focuses on eating a lot of fruits, vegetables, beans, and nuts while limiting animal products like meat and eggs. While these dietary patterns are linked to many health benefits, the diets can also be lacking in certain key nutrients like calcium and vitamin D.

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, most Americans are not getting enough calcium and vitamin D in their diets.

Plant foods are rich in many nutrients, but they are not rich in all nutrients. To avoid nutritional gaps, try combining plant foods with nutrient-dense and meat-free foods.

Dairy foods and eggs nicely complement a plant-based diet by adding high-quality protein, which is important for flexitarians and vegetarians who might be limiting their meat intake. Protein is crucial for our muscles and for keeping us full longer.

Try a bean taco salad topped with plain Greek yogurt and reduced-fat cheese or blueberry overnight oats made with flax seeds, yogurt, and low-fat milk to reap the nutrition benefits of a plant and dairy pairing. 

A Busy Lifestyle

If your days are jam-packed and you find yourself eating on-the-go more often than not, you may need to make a point to find easy ways to ensure variety in your diet. 

You might feel like time is an obstacle to eating well, but research has shown that it's possible to do with the right strategies. The first step is accepting that you are not likely to make home-cooked meals every day and focus on finding solutions that work for you. 

A little preparation can go a long way. Try planning your meals and snacks over the weekend to help you stay fueled during the busy week ahead.

Busy, stressed-out people tend to lean on convenience foods like pre-packaged snacks. Instead, have a piece of fresh fruit handy that is portable and easy to toss in your bag. You can also try keeping individual cups of yogurt ready-to-grab. 

An Individualized Strategy

Personalizing your plate can help you succeed on your nutrition journey. You'll be more likely to stick with healthy eating habits and behaviors if the food that you eat meets your needs and tastes good. If you're not sure where to start, reach out to a Registered Dietitian for guidance.

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3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Calton JB. Prevalence of micronutrient deficiency in popular diet plans. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Jun 10;7:24. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-7-24

  2. US Department of Health and Human Services. US Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025.

  3. Pelletier JE, Laska MN. Balancing healthy meals and busy lives: associations between work, school, and family responsibilities and perceived time constraints among young adults. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2012 Nov-Dec;44(6):481-9. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2012.04.001