Healthy Eating: Strategies for a 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.
|Big picture strategies for
|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
|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.
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!
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
Eating smart: A keystep towards healthy eating
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.
- 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.
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.
- 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”!
- 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.
Healthy eating simplified
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.
- 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.
- 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
Whole Grains for long-lasting, healthy
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.
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:
- Helping you feel fuller
faster and longer,
which can help prevent overeating.
- Keeping blood sugar levels
even, by slowing
digestion and absorption so that glucose (sugar) enters the
bloodstream slowly and steadily.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Visit a local 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.
- 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.
- 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
- An incomplete protein
source is one that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids.
- 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.
- 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, 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
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
Salted or sugary nuts; refried beans.
Dairy products and other sources for
calcium and vitamin D
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
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
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
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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:
- Keep total fat intake to 20-35% of
- Limit saturated fats to less than 10%
of your calories (200 calories for a 2000 calorie diet)
- Limit trans fats to 1% of calories (2
grams per day for a 2000 calorie diet)
- 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
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
- 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.
- 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
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
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.
The following table lists the sodium of
common foods, versus their lower-sodium versions:
Regular vs. Low Sodium
|Bouillon, 1 cube
salted, ¼ cup
|Corn, canned, salted, ½
|Corn, unsalted, fresh
|Tomato juice, 1 cup
|Tomato juice, unsalted
salt, 1 teaspoon
powder, 1 teaspoon
You can see how quickly you could
consume the 2300 mg recommendation – maybe even before dinner! Cooking
with sea salt at home and substitute lower-sodium versions of your
favorite foods to ensure a healthy diet.