Healthy Eating – Tips for a Healthy Diet and Better Nutrition
Healthy eating is not about strict nutrition philosophies, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, and keeping yourself as healthy as possible – all which can be achieved by learning some nutrition basics and incorporating them in a way that works for you.
Choose the types of foods that improve your health and avoid the types of foods that raise your risk for such illnesses as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Expand your range of healthy choices to include a wide variety of delicious foods. Learn to use guidelines and tips for creating and maintaining a satisfying, healthy diet.
Here are some tips for how to choose foods that improve your health and avoid foods that raise your risk for illnesses while creating a diet plan that works for you.
Eat enough calories but not too many. Maintain a balance between your calorie intake and calorie expenditure—that is, don’t eat more food than your body uses. The average recommended daily allowance is 2,000 calories, but this depends on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity.
Eat a wide variety of foods. Healthy eating is an opportunity to expand your range of choices by trying foods—especially vegetables, whole grains, or fruits—that you don’t normally eat.
Keep portions moderate, especially high-calorie foods. In recent years serving sizes have ballooned, particularly in restaurants. Choose a starter instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything.
Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains, and legumes—foods high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, low in fat, and free of cholesterol. Try to get fresh, local produce
Drink more water. Our bodies are about 75% water. It is a vital part of a healthy diet. Water helps flush our systems, especially the kidneys and bladder, of waste products and toxins. A majority of Americans go through life dehydrated.
Limit sugary foods, salt, and refined-grain products. Sugar is added to a vast array of foods. In a year, just one daily 12-ounce can of soda (160 calories) can increase your weight by 16 pounds. See suggestions below for limiting salt and substituting whole grains for refined grains.
Don’t be the food police. You can enjoy your favorite sweets and fried foods in moderation, as long as they are an occasional part of your overall healthy diet. Food is a great source of pleasure, and pleasure is good for the heart – even if those French fries aren’t!
Get moving. A healthy diet improves your energy and feelings of well-being while reducing your risk of many diseases. Adding regular physical activity and exercise will make any healthy eating plan work even better.
One step at a time. Establishing new food habits is much easier if you focus on and take action on one food group or food fact at a time
Healthy eating begins with learning how to “eat smart”. It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat. Paying attention to what you eat and choosing foods that are both nourishing and enjoyable helps support an overall healthy diet.
1) Take time to chew your food: Chew your food slowly, savoring every bite. We tend to rush though our meals, forgetting to actually taste the flavors and feel the textures of what is in our mouths. Reconnect with the joy of eating.
2) Avoid stress while eating: When we are stressed, our digestion can be compromised, causing problems like colitis and heartburn. Avoid eating while working, driving, arguing, or watching TV (especially disturbing programs or the news). Try taking some deep breaths prior to beginning your meal, or light candles and play soothing music to create a relaxing atmosphere.
3) Listen to your body: Ask yourself if you are really hungry. You may really be thirsty, so try drinking a glass of water first. During a meal, stop eating before you feel full. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly. Eating just enough to satisfy your hunger will help you remain alert, relaxed and feeling your best, rather than stuffing yourself into a “food coma”!
4) Eat early, eat often: Starting your day with a healthy breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism, and eating the majority of your daily caloric allotment early in the day gives your body time to work those calories off. Also, eating small, healthy meals throughout the day, rather than the standard three large meals, can help keep your metabolism going and ward off snack attacks.
Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body. But what exactly does that mean? What are good carb, protein, and fat choices for developing your own healthy eating plan? Below you will find more details on each of these topics.
Carbohydrates – food composed of some combination of starches, sugar and fiber – provide the body with fuel it needs for physical activity by breaking down into glucose, a type of sugar our cells use as a universal energy source.
1) Bad carbs are foods that have been “stripped” of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. They have been processed in order to make cooking fast and easy. Examples are white flour, refined sugar, and white rice. They digest so quickly that they cause dramatic elevations in blood sugar, which over time can lead to weight gain, hypoglycemia or even diabetes.
2) Good carbs are digested more slowly. This keeps your blood sugar and insulin levels from rising and falling too quickly, helping you get full quicker and feel fuller longer. Good sources of carbs include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, which also offer lots of additional health benefits, including heart disease and cancer prevention.
Whole GrainsIn addition to being delicious and satisfying, whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart. Make whole grains an important part of every meal.
Make sure you’re really getting whole grains. Focus on including grains that are in their whole form, such as whole grain brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley in your meals. When you want to eat healthy grains in the form of breads or cereals be aware that the words stone-ground, multi-grain, 100% wheat, or bran, don’t necessarily mean that a product is whole grain. Look for the new Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council. If there is no stamp look for the words “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat,” and check the ingredients to make sure each grain listed is specified as whole grain. Some good sources are dark breads and toasted wheat cereals.
Avoid: Refined grains such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods (fruit, vegetables and whole grains) and is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fiber helps support a healthy diet by:
1) Helping you feel fuller faster and longer, which can help prevent overeating.
2) Keeping blood sugar levels even, by slowing digestion and absorption so that glucose (sugar) enters the bloodstream slowly and steadily.
3) Maintaining a healthy colon – the simple organic acids produced when fiber is broken down in the digestive process helps to nourish the lining of the colon.
The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble:
1) Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and can also help to lower blood fats and maintain blood sugar. Primary sources are beans, fruit and oat products.
2) Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water, so it passes directly through the digestive system. It’s found in whole grain products and vegetables.
A healthy diet should contain approximately 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but most of us only get about half of that amount.
Vegetables and Fruits: Vitamin, antioxidant and fiber powerhouses
Vegetables and FruitsFruits and vegetables are low in calories and are packed with vitamins, minerals, protective plant compounds and fiber. They are a great source of nutrients and vital for a healthy diet.
Fruits and vegetables should be part of every meal, and be your first choice for a snack. Eat a minimum of five portions each day. The antioxidants and other nutrients in these foods help protect against developing certain types of cancer and other diseases.
Greens: Dark leafy green vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet since they are packed with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and Vitamins A, C, E and K. Greens help to strengthen the blood and respiratory systems. They are currently the most lacking food in the American diet. Be adventurous in your choice of greens: kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage are just a few of the many options.
Sweet Vegetables: Naturally sweet vegetables are an excellent way to add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets. Some examples of sweet vegetables are corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or yams, winter squash, and onions.
Fruit: Eating a wide variety of fruit is another very healthy part of any diet. They provide us with beneficial properties such as natural sugars, fiber, Vitamins and antioxidants. Choose fresh or frozen, and focus on variety. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
Go for the brights: The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Avoid: Fruit juices can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per cup; avoid or dilute with water. Canned fruit often contains sugary syrup, and dried fruit, while an excellent source of fiber, can be high in calories. Avoid fried veggies or ones smothered in dressings or sauces – you may still get the vitamins, but you’ll be getting a lot of unhealthy fat and extra calories as well.
Support your health and the environment by eating locally-grown food
Eating fresh food is an important part of a healthy diet. It has become standard practice for fruits and vegetables to be shipped across the country or even across the world before they arrive on our supermarket shelves. Locally-grown food is fresher than what you’ll find in the supermarket, which means that is tastier and more nutritious. And since the food travels a shorter distance to get to you, it is better for the environment and helps us reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Following are some ideas on easy ways to increase your consumption of fresh local foods.
1) Visit a local farmer’s market. Farmer’s markets are springing up all over the U.S. They usually offer a wide variety of products such as fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, eggs, and meat. Small farmers care about their land and the health of their farms, so even if they are not “certified organic” the food they produce is of a very high quality.
2) Join a Community Supported Agriculture group (CSA). A CSA is partnership between a local farm and its members who sign up and pay in advance for a box of goods that they will receive on a regular basis (typically once a week). These partnerships help farms receive a better price for their products while giving you a wide variety of fresh local produce.
By supporting your local farmers you are also supporting the local economy. To find local growers, farmer’s markets, and CSAs in your area, visit Local Harvest.
Putting protein into perspective
During digestion, protein in food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the basic building blocks our bodies use to create its own protein. Our bodies need protein to maintain our cells, tissues and organs. A lack of protein in our diets can result in slow growth, reduced muscle mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system. Protein gives us the energy to get up and go –and keep going. Keep in mind that it is vital to eat healthy protein that is free of hormones and antibiotics. Also, the majority of people in the U.S. eat more protein than is necessary. So focus more on getting higher quality versus more quantity. Each person is individual and may need different amounts of protein depending on their body and activity level.
1) A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. Examples are animal-based foods such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs, and cheese.
2) An incomplete protein source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids.
3) Complementary proteins are two or more incomplete protein sources that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. For example, rice and dry beans. Similarly, dry beans each are incomplete proteins, but together, these two foods can provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs.
4) Do complementary proteins need to be eaten in the same meal? Research shows that your body can combine complementary proteins that are eaten within the same day.
Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and Tofu: alternative sources for healthy proteins
Nuts, Seeds, Beans, and TofuBeans, nuts, nut butters, peas, and soy products are good sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Many of the foods in this group provide iron, which is better absorbed when a source of vitamin C is consumed with the meal
Choose: Black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, lentils, and other beans. Nuts like almonds, walnuts and pecans. Soy products like tofu, soymilk, tempeh and veggie burgers. All of these are great sources of protein for vegetarians.
Avoid: Salted or sugary nuts; refried beans.
Dairy products and other sources for calcium and vitamin D
Milk and other dairy productsDairy products provide a rich source of calcium, necessary for bone health. Most are fortified with vitamin D, which helps the small intestine absorb calcium. Calcium can also be found in dark green, leafy vegetables, such as kale and collard greens, as well as in dried beans and legumes.
Recommended calcium levels are 1000 mg per day, 1200 mg if you are over 50 years old. Take a vitamin D and calcium supplement if you don’t get enough of these nutrients from your diet.
Choose non-fat or low-fat dairy products that do not contain rBST (bovine growth hormone). If you’re lactose-intolerant, choose lactose-free and lower-lactose products, such as lactose free milk, hard cheeses and yogurt.
Avoid full-fat dairy products or products from cows treated with rBST.
Fats: avoid the bad fats and enjoy the good fats
Fats are another vital part to a healthy diet. Good fats are needed to nourish your brain, heart, nerves, hormones and all your cells, as well as your hair, skin, and nails. Fat also satisfies us and makes us feel full. It’s the type of fat that matters in addition to how much you consume.
1) Saturated fats, primarily found in animal sources including red meat and whole milk dairy products, raise the low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Substitute lean meats, skinless poultry, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish and nuts. Other saturated fat sources include vegetable oils such as coconut oil, palm oil and foods made with these oils.
2) Trans fat raises low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol that increases your risk of coronary heart disease (CHD), as well as lowering HDL, or good cholesterol. Trans fats are created by heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas, a process called hydrogenation. Primary sources of trans fat are vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods, and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.
3) Monounsaturated fats – People following traditional Mediterranean diets, which are very high in foods containing monounsaturated fats like olive oil, tend to have lower risk of cardiovascular disease, Primary sources are plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil, and olive oil. Other good sources are avocados; nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans; and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds.
4) Polyunsaturated fats – These includes the Omega-3 and Omega-6 groups of fatty acids which your body can’t make. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in very few foods – primarily cold water fatty fish and fish oils. Foods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood and help prevent dementia. See below for more on Omega-3. Other sources of polyunsaturated fats are sunflower, corn, soybean, and flaxseed oils, and walnuts. It is important to know that these oils become unhealthy when heated due to the formation of free radicals, which can lead to disease.
How much fat is too much? It depends on your lifestyle, your weight, your age and most importantly the state of your health. Focus on including Monounsaturated fats and Polyunsaturated fats in your diet, decreasing Saturated fats, and avoiding Trans fats as much as possible. The USDA recommends that the average individual:
1) Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of calories
2) Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)
3) Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2 grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet)
4) Limit cholesterol to 300 mg per day, less if you have diabetes.
Managing all fats in your diet
Dietary cholesterol is also is a very important form of fat that has its own set of considerations. See Healthy Fats to learn more on managing fats your diet.
Healthy Fats and Oils to support brain and body functions
Healthy Fats and OilsFoods rich in certain omega-3 fats called EPA and DHA can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve your mood and help prevent dementia. The best sources for the EPA and DHA omega-3 fats are fatty fish such salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Canned albacore tuna and lake trout can also be good sources depending on how the fish were raised and processed.
1) You may hear a lot about getting your omega-3’s from foods rich in ALA fatty acids. Main sources are vegetable oils and nuts (especially walnuts), flax, soybeans, and tofu. Be aware that our bodies generally convert very little ALA into EPA and DHA, so you may not get as big of a benefit from these foods.
2) Some people avoid seafood because they worry about mercury or other possible toxins. But most experts agree that the benefits of eating 2 servings a week of cold water fatty fish outweigh the risks.
The role of sugar and salt in a healthy diet
Sugary Drinks and Sweets
It is natural to like sweets. And it is okay to enjoy them as an occasional treat, but it is vital to keep consumption to a minimum. Refined sugar is one of the bad carbs mentioned above. Not only does it cause problems with our blood sugar level, but it also uses up stored resources within our body (such as minerals and enzymes) in order to process the sugar. In addition there are many negative health effects that sugar contributes to including: hypoglycemia, suppression of the immune system, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, headaches, and depression.
Choose sweet treats that are home made or have naturally occurring sugar, such as fruits. Try making your favorite dessert with half or one-third less sugar than usual. Make dessert a special event once a week. Many foods have naturally occurring sugars, such as fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. Incorporate naturally sweet foods into your diet to help crowd out unhealthy sweets. Strawberries, apples, sweet potatoes or winter squash are all great options.
Avoid or severely limit sugary drinks – they are an easy way to pack calories and chemicals into your diet without even noticing it. One 12-oz soda has about 10 teaspoons of sugar in it! And just because a soda is sugar-free doesn’t make it healthy. Recent studies have shown that the artificial sugar substitutes used in soft drinks may interfere with your body’s natural regulation system and result in your overindulging in other sweet foods and beverages. Try water with a squeeze of lemon or water with a splash of 100% fruit juice.
Once again the problem with salt comes with the over-use and over consumption of processed salt most commonly used. It is best to limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day – the equivalent to one teaspoon of salt. Most of the salt in our diets comes from processed, packaged, restaurant, and fast food. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen meals can contain hidden sodium that can quickly surpass this recommended amount. Many of us are unaware of how much sodium we are consuming in one day.
Salt itself is not bad. A high quality sea salt can have up to 90 minerals, which are healthy for our body. Look for sea salt that has a reddish or brownish tint, has no coloring, additives, chemicals and has not been bleached.