Healthy food is no longer a problem
“Eat healthy” – this is probably the most common nutrition advise you will hear. If you want to know more about healthy eating, it is not difficult as you may think. We all want to eat healthy when it comes down to it but we don’t always know how. You don’t need strict food programs anymore. They can be costly and honestly, they aren’t always easy to follow or even very tasty. You just need to make some changes to your every day dietary habits. The dietary guidelines for Americans 2015-2020 have recently been published on this and are scientifically proven to keep us healthy and fit when followed.
The principals of healthy eating
Recent dietary guidelines identified three basic principles for healthy eating.
- The total foods and beverages we consume represents our eating pattern. It’s like a puzzle. Our eating pattern is measured according to the total calorie amount we need for a day, not by each single food we eat. While saturated fats, salt, sugar, etc. are unhealthy, the best thing is to stick to the recommended calorie intake. Choosing healthier options can come later once you are used to eating the proper amount of calories.
- Foods should be our primary source of nutritional need. Every individual should fulfill their nutritional goals primarily by choosing nutrient dense foods. Foods rich in vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, and other natural ingredients have a positive effect on our body. The excess amount of nutrition we can’t get from our foods can be enhanced by fortified foods or supplements.
- Healthy eating patterns are not strict, they are adaptable. We should have multiple options for establishing healthy eating patterns. These patterns are different from person to person and can vary based on cultural background, socio-economic status, access to healthy food, and personal food preferences.
How healthy food affects your life
Research-based evidence suggests that most noncommunicable diseases are associated with our eating habits. There is strong evidence that cardiovascular diseases, including risk of heart attack and stroke, can be effectively controlled by healthy eating habits. Type 2 diabetes mellitus, certain cancers (colorectal, breast), neurological disorders, and congenital abnormalities also have evidence based association with our eating habits.
The recommended healthy eating plan is discussed below. When you decide to eat healthy, you can adjust the food choices within this plan based on likes and dislikes. Intake of mainly fruits and vegetables is identified as the best source of vitamins and minerals, while whole grain in slightly less amounts should provide plenty of fiber. Low-fat or fat-free dairy products, legumes, and lean meats are important choices as well. However, even refined grains, sugar, and sugary foods or beverages also have a place. However, the amount and frequency are very limited. Sticking to this plan won’t be too difficult and you can still enjoy some of the foods you love most.
Vegetables can be separated into five subgroups – dark green, red and orange, legumes (beans and peas), starchy, and others. You can eat healthy vegetables any way you prefer, either cooked or raw. All fresh, frozen, dried, and canned forms of vegetables are good choices. Vegetables are rich in vitamins (vitamin A, K, C, B6, thiamine, niacin, folate) and minerals (potassium, copper, magnesium, manganese, iron). Some vegetables are also rich in fiber. Each individual sub group is specific for certain nutrients. As an example, red and orange vegetables have high amounts of vitamin A and dark green vegetables are rich in vitamin K. Legumes will be high in fiber. You can alter your choices of vegetable as you like. In fact, having a wide variety of vegetables is good for balanced health. The recommended amount of vegetables for a 2000-calorie diet is 2½ cups per day.
Fruits are a good source of dietary fiber, potassium, and vitamin C. When you eat fruit it is better to eat the whole fruit or 100% fruit juice without added sugar. Fruit juice has a lesser amount of fiber. Because of processing, fiber tends to break down so eating whole fruit is preferred. For a 2000-calorie diet, you need about 2 cups of fruit. This includes fresh, canned, and dried fruits. If you use canned fruit, it is best to choose low-sugar products. A ½ cup of dried fruits is equivalent to 1 cup of whole fresh fruit. Calculate your daily intake based on your preferences.
Grains contain a lot of vitamins and minerals similar to vegetables. Grain choices should be mainly whole grains, although you will also likely choose some refined grains which are found in cookies, cakes, and snacks. These have little to no nutritional value and can lead to diabetes and obesity. Whole grains are preferred because it includes the whole kernel including endosperm, bran, and germ. Refined grain has removed the bran and germ which is comprised of all the necessary dietary fiber and iron. Also, refined grains will include saturated fats, added sugar, and sodium which has to be limited as much as possible. For a 2000-calorie diet, six ounces of whole grain is recommended. Pregnant women and women who are trying to get pregnant are recommended to eat plenty of whole grain because it contains a high amount of folic acid which helps with neurological maturation of the baby and prevents neural tube defects.
Dairy products with low fat content and soy milk (fortified with calcium, vitamins A and D) are preferred more than whole milk or cheese which contain more than 2% saturated fat and high sodium. Products made from plants like coconut and almond are not considered dairy products because they have no similar nutrients as animal milk. Having 2 cups per day for children and 3 cups for adults is recommended. Dairy products are rich in calcium which is great for preventing osteoporosis in post-menopausal women and during pregnancy.
Foods that contain protein have two major types of iron – haem and non-haem. Haem containing protein foods are mainly animal based products like lean meat, poultry, and eggs. And non-haem based products include legumes and germinating seed which are plant based products. Other than protein, these foods also have many other vitamins and minerals. Protein foods rich in iron are preferred during pregnancy and for women who wish to become pregnant in the near future, because they have more bio availability than low-iron foods. About 5½ ounces of protein rich foods is the recommended amount per day.
Follow these dietary habits
It can be difficult to count calories every time you sit to eat. But if you do, it would be much better for you because you will know what calories you are consuming and what you have remaining for the day. Even without counting calories, there are few steps that can help you stick to your low calorie targets. Consider these:
- Eat in a place where you have control – There are places where you can control what you eat. Those places differ from person to person. In some places, you may loose control. Identify those places and avoid them when possible.
- Make your grocery list – It’s better if you do the grocery shopping by yourself. You can read the labels and plan the foods you need to eat without influence from others.
- Plan your snacks – Snacks have negative health effects. The best thing is to avoid snacks as much as possible. You can substitute snacks with fruits, vegetables, or nuts.
- Avoid sugary drinks as much as possible – Sugary drinks provide a lot of unhealthy calories in a very little period of time. This is good if you are an athlete who needs a lot of energy quickly. But if you are not, these extra calories are deposited as fat in our body.
- Increase your water intake – Research has shown that drinking 500 millilitres of water 30 minutes before each meal can increase weight loss up to 44% within 3 months.
- Eat slowly – Take time when you eat. It gives time for your hormones to start working and improves satiety. The total amount you eat will be less.
Make your plate healthy
You don’t need to make big immediate changes to your plate. It’s troublesome for you and you will have less success in your diet goals. There is a high chance you will become discouraged and give up the process. So, make a few changes to your dinner plate at a time.
- Rainbow plate – This is a concept that simply helps you add various colors of food to your plate. Dark green vegetables, red meat, yellow fruits, etc. will be pleasant to your eyes and more tasty.
- Change high calorie foods into low calorie versions – If you usually eat fattening macaroni and cheese try substituting it with a low-fat version. Try new methods of food preparation such as baking and broiling instead of frying. It will be a fun activity for you and improves your cooking knowledge as well.
- Eat high calorie foods less frequently – If you really enjoy certain foods that have lots of calories you don’t need to completely stop eating those. You do have to eat them less frequently and probably in smaller portions. Maybe once or twice a month you can have your favorite treat as a reward for making healthy choices and sticking with your plan.