It's spring and that New Year's resolution to improve your weight may now just be a guilt-filled memory. But, the days are getting longer. Temperatures are gradually getting warmer (although not soon enough for many of us) and spring produce is hitting the shelves of your local grocery store. This is a great time of year to part ways with the heavy meals that see us through the winter and start eating better, lighter and healthier foods. It's a great time for dietitian, like me, to help get you on the right track.

First, some reasons for you to consider as to why you should eat better.

Poor eating habits (under- or over-eating) don't give us enough of the healthy foods we need each day. It can affect our nutrient intake, including proteins, carbohydrates, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals (which include antioxidants) as well as fiber and fluid. It impairs our ability to enjoy and lead an active life, contributes to stress, fatigue and our capacity to work. In the long term, it can contribute to the risk of developing certain illnesses and diseases such as:

• Obesity

• High blood pressure

• High cholesterol

• Heart disease and stroke

• Type-2 diabetes

• Osteoporosis

• Certain cancers

• Depression

• Tooth decay

• Eating disorders

Nearly all associations, societies and government agencies associated with any of the conditions on this list agree that when it comes to the effects of nutrition on your body, your health depends on what you eat and your activity level, which can be threatened if you don't eat well.

The American Heart Association's recommendations follow that train of thought:

• Eat more fruits and vegetables, particularly green leafy veggies and dark colored fruits. Aim for 4-5 servings every day.

• Eat more whole-grain foods. Like fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods are low in saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in fiber. Whole-grain foods include whole-wheat bread, rye bread, brown rice and whole-grain cereal.

• Use liquid vegetable oils such as olive, canola, corn or safflower as your main fat. Limit how much fat or oil you use in cooking and use liquid vegetable oils in place of solid fats.

• Eat more chicken, fish and beans than other meats. In general, skinless poultry, fish and vegetable protein (such as beans) are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol than other meats (beef, pork and lamb).

• Read food labels to help you choose healthy foods. Food labels provide information to help you make better food choices. Learn what information to look for (for example, sodium content) and how to find it quickly and easily.

Last but not least, don't forget hydration. Water makes up more than half of your body weight. Every cell, tissue and organ in your body needs water to function correctly to maintain temperature, remove waste and lubricate your joints. Water is essential for good health.

Like any lifestyle change, don't try to do too much too soon. This can weaken your resolve to make changes. Add these simple healthy eating habits to your daily life over the next few weeks and you'll see just how easy it is. By making small changes like these over time, and taking them one at a time, not trying to rush into all of them at once, the changes are more likely to stick.

St. Mary's Medical Center is so committed to health through nutrition, we've devoted a department to it. St. Mary's Dietary Department provides personalized nutrition education and counseling to teach individuals the skills necessary to manage nutrition care wisely.

Whether you plan to do this on your own, or need a little help, let's call it a spring resolution. And it's one I think you can keep.

Erin M. Plumberg is a Clinical Dietitian at St. Mary's Medical Center. To schedule an appointment for nutritional counseling at St. Mary's, call 816-655-5515, option 2.