Healthy eating is not about following some strict fad diet, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, and keeping yourself in overall good health– all of which can be achieved by making some simple dietary changes that work best for you.
Healthy eating is smart eating. It’s not just what you eat, but how you eat. Your food choices can reduce your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes, as well as defend against depression. Additionally, learning the habits of healthy eating can improve your health by boosting your energy, sharpening your memory and stabilizing your mood.
Here are some tips on how to eat healthier:
1. Make eating healthy work for you.
Think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. One easy way to get started is to simplify what you eat. Usually the less ingredients and less processed a food is, the better it is for you. Another way is make small changes over time like using olive oil instead of butter, or serving a salad with dinner. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices to your diet. Every little step to make your eating better matters.
2. Moderation is key
When you ban certain foods or food groups, it is natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. If you are prone to eating sweet, salty or unhealthy foods, start by reducing portion sizes and not eating them as often. Before long you won’t crave them as much and start to enjoy the healthy foods you’ve replaced them with even more.
Eating smaller portions overall is also key to eating healthy. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entrée, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, use smaller plates, think about serving sizes in realistic terms and start small. Visual cues can help with portion sizes—your serving of meat, fish or chicken (3-4oz) should be the size of a deck of cards. A teaspoon of oil or salad dressing is about the size of your thumb tip and a serving of rice or pasta (1/2 cup) should be half the size of a baseball.
But remember, it is possible to eat too little. If you take in too few calories, your body will think that it is preparing for a long period of starvation, and your metabolism will slow down (meaning you will burn fewer calories throughout the day). Check with a trainer or your doctor to see how about many calories you should be taking in. If you are watching your portions and eating a variety of healthy foods, you won’t need to strictly count calories.
3. HOW you eat matters
Eating a healthy diet is about making good eating a habit. Eating breakfast everyday, and eating small meals throughout the rest of the day is a good way to keep your portions down, and your metabolism (the rate at which you burn calories throughout the day) and energy up. Try to eat 3 meals, and 2-3 snacks every day. Rather than eating a big meal after a long period of time, you’ll eat “mini-meals” every 2-3 hours.
Also, take time to enjoy your meals by eating slowly to enjoy the taste of the food. Eating too fast causes you to eat more than you need since you aren’t giving your brain enough time to register that you are full. Thinking a little more about the food you are putting into your body helps keep you on track and making good choices.
4. Eat more colorful fruits and vegetables
A healthy diet should be based on fruits and vegetables—they are low in calories and loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. Fruits and vegetables should be part of every meal and make a great snack. Aim for a minimum of five portions each day from the two.
The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Dark leafy green vegetables have calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, vitamins A, C, E and K, and they help strengthen the blood and respiratory systems. Naturally sweet vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets. Vegetables can be made unhealthy depending on their preparation, so limit your consumption of fried veggies or salads with high fat dressings
Eating a variety of fruit is also key. Fruit provides fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and the list goes on. Watch out for fruit juices and canned fruit though, as they are high in sugar.
5. Choose healthy carbohydrates and whole grains
Healthy carbs are sometimes known as good carbs and include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables. These carbs are digested slowly, helping you feel full longer and keeping blood sugar and insulin levels stable. Unhealthy carbs (or bad carbs) are foods such as white flour, refined sugar and white rice that have been stripped of all bran, fiber and nutrients. Bad carbs digest quickly and cause spikes in blood sugar levels and energy (followed by drops in both).
You can add more good carbs to your diet by including a variety of whole grains in your diet like whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley. Try to avoid refined grains such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.
Another benefit of the intake of healthy carbs is the increase in your fiber intake. Fiber helps support a healthy diet by helping you stay full and keeps your blood sugar stable. It also helps regulate your digestive system. A healthy diet contains approximately 20-30 grams of fiber a day.
6. Enjoy healthy fats, and watch out for unhealthy fats
Good sources of healthy fat are needed to nourish your brain, heart and cells. They also help keep you full and make food smell and taste great. Monunsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are also known as good fats. Examples of healthy fats are plant oils (like olive, canola, and peanut oils), seeds (like sunflower, pumpkin, and sesame), nuts (unsalted almonds and walnuts), and fish (like salmon and herring).
Some fats to steer clear of are the saturated fats found in most animal products (like red meat and whole dairy products) and trans fats (found in fast food, cookies, snacks, and anything that contains partially hydrogenated oils).
7. Keep protein in balance
Protein is essential for maintaining cells, tissues and organs. A lack of protein in your diet can slow growth, reduce muscle mass, lower immunity, and weaken the heart and respiratory system. Just like fats and carbs though, you can get too much protein. Not only can overeating proteins cause weight gain, it is also taxing on the kidneys. Meat doesn’t have to be the center of the meal, focus your meals around lots of healthy vegetables, some whole grains, and a small serving of lean meat.
Meat is just one method of getting the protein your body needs. Another way to get enough protein is to try different types like beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu and soy products which are all packed with protein and fiber. When you do eat meat, opt for lean proteins (like chicken and fish) and grill, bake, or broil them.
Reduced fat or fat free diary products are also great sources of protein and also contain calcium and vitamin D. Both nutrients are important in building and maintaining strong, healthy bones.
8. Drink more water
Water makes up about 75% of our bodies and helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins. But still, many people don’t get enough and this leads to tiredness, low energy and headaches. Not all liquids count as water either, caffeinated beverages and alcohol actually cause the body to lose water. Keep a water bottle with you all day to encourage you to drink your eight glasses.
Water also helps keep you full. Sometimes when you think you are hungry, you’re actually just thirsty. Try drinking 16oz of water and waiting 10 minutes to see if you are actually hungry.
You can also get water in the foods you eat. Fresh fruits and vegetables contain lots of water and help keep your body functioning properly.
9. Limit your intake of salt, sugar, and refined grains
If you base your diet around fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and good fats, you may find yourself naturally cutting back on foods that can get in the way of your healthy diet. It is okay to enjoy sweets in moderation, but try to cut back on sugar. Sugar causes energy ups and downs and adds to health problems like arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, headaches, and depression. And remember, your body sees refined grains as sugar and treats them the same, so make most of your grains whole.
Salt itself is not bad, but most people consume too much salt in their diets. Try not to get more than 2,300mg of sodium a day. It takes more than not salting your food too. Processed foods like canned soups or frozen meals contain hidden sodium that quickly surpasses the recommended daily allowance.
10. Plan your meals ahead
The best way to have a healthy diet is to prepare your own food and don’t eat out much. Pick a few healthy recipes that you and your family like and build a meal schedule around them. If you have three or four meals planned per week and eat leftovers on the other nights, you will be much farther ahead than if you are eating out or having frozen dinners most nights. Before going to bed, try to write down what you are going to eat in your meals and snacks the next day. The next morning, pack the food you’ll need for the day so you can avoid eating out.