Great healthy eating has very little to do with following a strict diet, starving yourself, or no longer eating your favorite foods. It’s about having more energy, feeling great, and keeping your mood stable. You wouldn’t be the first person to find yourself overwhelmed by all the – often conflicting – information on nutrition and diets around. Just about every expert who tells you that something is good for you will be countered by another saying that it’s bad. Even though it can get a little confusing at times, you’ll be able to get rid of the confusion and put together your own varied, healthy, and tasty diet with this guide.
Help yourself and get set up for success
Setting yourself up for success means to start out believing that you can succeed. Plan your healthy diet with small and manageable steps rather than trying to make a drastic change to your diet that you’ll never be able to stick with. Taking this kind of gradual approach, and being committed about it, gives you that healthy diet you’ve always dreamed of having in no time at all.
Start out Simple
Rather than concern yourself too much about counting calories and measuring portion sizes, think about the diet in terms of the variety, color, and freshness of the food. This makes it easier for you to make the right healthy choice. Find foods that you enjoy eating and recipes that are easy to make while still using some healthy and fresh ingredients. Your diet will gradually become more delicious and healthy.
Begin with slow and small changes to create healthier eating habits over time. It’s not realistic to try and change your entire diet overnight. It’s also not very smart to do. People who adopt a crash diet without making small changes are more likely to cheat on their diet or give up on it quickly. So make the small steps you can, such as eating a varied salad once a day, or cooking with olive oil over butter. As the small changes start to become habit, you can introduce even more healthy choices and continue developing your healthy diet
Each change to your diet matters, no matter how large or small it is. There’s no need to completely cut out all your favorite foods or be perfect to get that healthy diet you want. Remember that eating healthy is a long-term thing. You want to make yourself happier, have more energy, and increase your health in the long run. You are going to make mis-steps. It’s just a fact of life. Don’t let them undo all the good that you’ve done with your choice choices.
You should also consider water and exercise to be “food groups” of your diet.
Water is great because it removes waste and toxins from the body. Even so, many people are going through life dehydrated. Not getting enough water leaves you tired, lacking energy, and gives you headaches. Some people also mistake their thirst for hunger. Staying hydrated enables you to be healthy with your food choices.
You should find an activity or exercise that you enjoy doing and make it part of your day. It’s similar to adding healthy green vegetables to your diet, or other healthy foods like salmon and blueberries. Exercise has an abundance of benefits. Exercising regularly will also motivate you to stay healthy in your diet. You wouldn’t want to undo all of your good work after all.
Everything in Moderation
People feel they have to take an “all or nothing” approach to eating healthy. The reality is that moderation is the key to a healthy diet. This does leave us questioning just what counts as moderation. Moderation is essentially eating only as much food as the body needs. Eating a moderate meal should leave you satisfied, rather than stuffed. Balance is another part of moderation. Despite what you have been told by some fad diets, everyone needs the right balance of protein, carbs, fiber, fat, vitamins, and minerals to be healthy.
Healthy eating should be about creating a diet that you can follow for life, rather than just something you stick to for a few weeks or months; or however long it takes to reach your goal weight. This would mean eating less than usual for a lot of people. What it means specifically is eating less of the unhealthy things – such as sugar and saturated fat – and replacing it with healthy foods such – such as fresh fruit and vegetables. There’s no need to eliminate the foods that you love the most though. An example of moderation would be to eat bacon once a week for breakfast. Just ensure that your lunch and dinner are a little healthier. Eating bacon for breakfast would be bad if you had donuts and pizza throughout the rest of the day. Balance 100 calories of chocolate by cutting your evening meal by 100 calories. Top it up with some fruits or vegetables if you still feel hungry.
Avoid Thinking that a Certain Food is Off-Limits
Banning certain foods from your diet just makes you want to eat it even more, which is going to make you feel like you have failed when you inevitably give into temptation. If you find it hard to resist the allure of sweet and unhealthy foods, then you can begin by cutting portion sizes and eating them less often. If you have a generally healthy diet, then you shouldn’t impact your health too much by having a burger or some fries once a week. Eating junk food just once a month creates an even smaller impact. Reducing how much unhealthy food you eat can even lead to you thinking about them less and craving them less. It makes you consider them to be the indulgence that they are.
Think About Eating Smaller Portions
Serving sizes are getting bigger, especially in restaurants. When you dine out you should consider choosing starters over entrees. You can also split your dish with a friend and avoid supersizing your food. Use smaller plates at home and be realistic about serving sizes. Once again; you want to make small changes. If you don’t feel satisfied when you finish your meal, then include extra leafy green vegetables or have some fresh fruit. There are some visual cues you can use to help. For example, the portion size of your meat, chicken, or fish should be roughly the size of a pack of playing cards, while half a cup of mashed potatoes, pasta, or rice is about the size of a lightbulb.
How You Eat is as Important as What You Eat
There’s more to eating healthy than what you put on your plate. How you think about food is also important. It’s possible to learn healthy eating habits, and one such habit is to take eating slowly. Keep in mind that food is nourishment; it’s not something that is there to just be eaten between jobs or when getting the kids.
Eat with other people as much as you can. There are social and emotional benefits to communal eating – especially with children – and it gives you the chance to show your healthy eating habits to others. Eating while watching TV or sitting at the computer causes mindless overeating. You need to be conscious of your food and how much you eat.
Take your time with your food; chew it thoroughly and enjoy your meals. Savor each and every bite. People typically rush right through their meals. They can forget to really taste their food and feel the texture of it. It’s time that you embraced the joy of eating once more.
Learn to Listen to your Body.
Are you actually hungry? Maybe you should have some water and see if you were actually thirsty rather than hungry. Stop eating during meals before feeling full. It can take a few minutes for the brain to spread the message to the body that you have eaten enough. That’s why you should eat slowly.
Eat your breakfast, and then eat small meals through the day. Healthy breakfasts are able to give your metabolism a boost, while eating small but healthy meals across the whole day – rather than eating three square meals – ensures you keep your metabolism and energy levels up.
Don’t eat at night if you can help it. Dinner should be eaten early in the day, followed by 14-16 hours of fasting before breakfast. That’s why they call it “breakfast” after all. Studies have suggested that doing just this one little thing – eating during your active hours and letting your digestive system have a long break – can help you to regulate weight. It’s always best to avoid eating high-fat and high-calorie snacks after dinner anyway.
Stock up on A Colorful Range of Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables form the foundation of every healthy diet. They are rich in nutrients and low in calories, meaning you get plenty of vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. You should aim to eat a practical rainbow of fruit and vegetables with your meals every day. The brighter your fruits and vegetable selection the better. The deeper the color of a fruit or vegetable, the richer the vitamin, mineral, and antioxidant levels. Eating a range of colors means getting a range of benefits too. Make sure that you eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, and aim to eat at least five servings.
Great options include:
Go above and beyond the norm when it comes to green vegetables. Get some dark green lettuce, kale, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, and mustard greens. These are all rich in calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and vitamins A,C,E, and K.
- Sweet Vegetables
There are naturally sweet vegetables like beets, corn, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, squash, and yams. These options give your meals some extra sweetness and can reduce your cravings for sweet treats.
Fruits provide you with the tastiest and most satisfying way to get plenty of fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries help fight cancer, apples are rich in fiber, oranges and mangoes are rich in vitamin C…and so on.
Get Vitamins From Food Rather than Pills
Fruits and vegetables are rich in nutrients and antioxidants that protect your body from diseases such as cancer. While you are inundated with adverts about pills and powders that promise to deliver these benefits, research has suggested that the real thing is the better choice.
You won’t get the same impact from taking nutritional supplements that you would from eating properly. This is because fruits and vegetables have benefits that are not restricted to just one vitamin or antioxidant.
What makes fruits and vegetables so great is that their health benefits are the result of synergy from plenty of minerals, vitamins, and phytochemicals. It’s impossible to break them down into the sum of their parts or replicate their benefits in a pill.
Eat Healthy Carbs and Whole Grains
You should eat more fiber and healthy carbohydrates; in particular whole grains. They are a great source of energy. As well as being satisfying and delicious, whole grains contain plenty of antioxidants and phytochemicals to keep our heart healthy, protect against cancer, and prevent diabetes. Studies show that those who get plenty of whole grains have healthy hearts.
The Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Carbs
Healthy carbs – known as good carbs – are beans, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. The body digests these healthy carbs slowly, keeping you full for longer stabilising blood sugar and insulin levels.
Unhealthy carbs – known as bad carbs – are refined sugars, white flour, and white rice. These carbs have had all their fiber, bran, and nutrients stripped away. The body digests these carbs quickly, causing spikes in insulin levels, blood sugar levels, and energy. Avoid eating refined foods like pasta, bread, and breakfast cereals that aren’t whole grain.
Avoid Unhealthy Fats but Enjoy Healthy Fats
You need some healthy fat to keep your brain, heart, and cells nourished. Fat also provides for your hair, skin, and nails. Foods containing a lot of the special omega-3 fats DHA and EPA are needed to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, boost your mood, and protect against dementia.
What to Add to Your Healthy Diet
- Monounsaturated Fats
This includes plant oils such as peanut oil, canola oil, and olive along. Also on this list are nuts – such as hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans – along with avocados and seeds such as sesame and pumpkin.
- Polyunsaturated Fats
This includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, such as the fatty acids found in salmon, herring, anchovies, mackerel, sardines, and cold water fish supplements. Unheated sunflower, soybean, corn, flaxseed oil, and walnuts are other great sources of polyunsaturated fats.
What to Reduce or Take Out of Your Diet
- Saturated Fats
Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products like red meat and dairy products.
- Trans Fats
These are found in margarine, vegetable shortenings, candy, crackers, cookies, fried foods, snack foods, baked goods, and other process foods containing hydrogenated vegetable oils.
You don’t need to completely eliminate saturated and trans fats if you would have trouble. Experts recommend getting less than 7% of your total daily calories from saturated fats. If your diet called on you to eat 2,000 calories a day, then you should eat no more than 140 calories of saturated fat; which works out at around 16 grams of saturated fat.
In this example, trans fats should be limited to 20 calories. This is less than 2 grams of trans fat. Given how much trans fat you might be eating without realising it, you basically have no extra room in your diet for manufactured trans fat.
Understand Protein Properly
Protein is a great source of energy. It gets us up in the morning and keeps us moving through the day. The protein from your food is broken down into the 20 amino acids that form the building blocks for every cell. They are needed for growth and energy, and are absolutely essential to maintaining cells, tissues, and organs. It is true that too much protein can do damage to those with kidney disease, research suggests that most people need to get more high-quality protein than is currently recommended. It’s also been suggested that we should continue to eat more protein as we age to continue to support physical function.
How Much Protein is Needed?
The amount of protein you need is based on your weight. Adults need to eat around 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (2.2lbs) per day. Eating more protein can help reduce the risk of osteoporosis, obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes
Older adults should try to get between 1 and 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of weight each day. This is between 68 and 102g of protein each day for a 150lb person. Divide this protein intake across your meals, aiming to get between 25 and 40 grams of high-quality protein with each meal. Eating 15 grams of protein or less won’t provide much benefit for your muscles or bones.
Getting lots of protein involves getting protein from different sources. Don’t rely too much on whole milk and red meat as they have high amounts of saturated fat. Eat a range of protein sources such as beans, fish, nuts, peas, seeds, tofu, chicken and soy products. This gives you plenty of choice during meal times as well, making it easier to stick to a healthy diet.
|Good Sources of Protein *|
|The following is a sampling of high-protein foods—some may not be healthy to eat in anything but moderation. Most red meat is very high in fat, as are whole-milk cheeses and the skin on chicken or turkey. In the U.S., non-organic meat and poultry may also contain antibiotics and hormones. Aim for sufficient protein intake at each meal—including breakfast—in the leanest and healthiest form.|
|Food||Serving size||Protein grams||Sat. fat (g)||Calories|
|Canned tuna||3.5 oz (100g)||19||0.2||86|
|Salmon||3.5 oz (100g)||21||0.8||130|
|Halibut||3.5 oz (100g)||23||0.4||111|
|Fresh tuna||3.5 oz (100g)||30||1.6||184|
|Turkey breast||3.5 oz (100g)||31||0.6||147|
|Chicken breast||3.5 oz (100g)||31||1||165|
|Chicken thigh||3.5 oz (100g)||25||2.3||179|
|Chicken leg||3.5 oz (100g)||24||2.1||174|
|Pork chops||1 chop (145g)||39||5||286|
|Skirt steak||3.5 oz (100g)||27||4||205|
|Ground beef (70% lean)||3.5 oz (100g)||14||11||332|
|Leg of lamb||3.5 oz (100g)||26||6.9||258|
|Cured ham||3.5 oz (100g)||23||9||178|
|Soy beans||1/3 cup (100g)||17||1.3||173|
|Kidney beans||1/3 cup (100g)||10||0||123|
|Black beans||1/3 cup (100g)||9||0.1||132|
|Baked beans (canned)||1/3 cup (100g)||5||0||94|
|Peas||1/3 cup (100g)||8||0||118|
|MILK & EGGS|
|Skim milk||1/2 cup (100g)||3.4||0||34|
|Soy milk||1/2 cup (100g)||3.3||0.2||54|
|Eggs||2 boiled (100g)||13||3.3||155|
|Egg white||3 eggs (100g)||11||0||52|
|Non-fat mozzarella||3.5 oz (100g)||32||0||141|
|Non-fat cottage cheese||3.5 oz (100g)||10||0||72|
|Low-fat cheddar||3.5 oz (100g)||24||4.3||173|
|Low-fat Swiss cheese||3.5 oz (100g)||28||3.3||179|
|NUTS & SEEDS|
|Peanuts||1/4 cup (28g)||7||2||164|
|Almonds||1/4 cup (28g)||6||1||167|
|Pistachios||1/4 cup (28g)||6||1||159|
|Sunflower seeds||1/4 cup (28g)||6||2||166|
|Flaxseed||1/4 cup (28g)||5||1||150|
|OTHER PROTEIN OPTIONS|
|Veggie burger||1 patty (100g)||23||2||219|
|Tofu||3.5 oz (100g)||7||0.3||55|
|High-protein cereal||1 cup (50g)||13||1||160|
|Greek yogurt (non-fat)||1/2 cup (100g)||10||0||59|
|Whey protein powder||1/3 cup (32g)||19||0.2||120|
|* Nutrition values are approximate only; significant variations occur according to brand, cut of meat, cooking method, etc.|
Add Calcium for Stronger Bones
Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for keeping yourself fit and healthy. Calcium is needed to grow bones and maintain their health, and it serves other important functions.
There are lots of benefits to eating calcium-rich foods, eating less foods that burn through calcium, and getting enough magnesium and vitamins D and K; other nutrients that boost the effectiveness of calcium.
The recommended amount of calcium is 1000mg per day, or 1200mg for those over 50. As much as calcium as possible should come from your diet, with low-dose calcium supplements used to just make up for the difference.
Good Sources of Calcium
Dairy products are packed with easily-digested calcium. This includes milk, cheese, and yogurt.
Plenty of vegetables – especially leafy green vegetables – are rich in calcium. Eat more mustard greens, turnip greens, collard greens, romaine lettuce, kale, broccoli, celery, cabbage, fennel, green beans, summer squash, Brussel sprouts, crimini mushrooms, and asparagus.
To add more calcium to your diet try eating more pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, white beans, baked beans, or black-eyed peas.
Limit Salt and Sugar Intake
If you are able to plan your diet around getting more fiber-rich fruits, vegetables, lean protein, whole grain, and good fats, then you might naturally reduce the foods that stop healthy diets in their tracks; sugar and salt.
Sugar causes energy levels to spike and crash. It also contributes to problems with your health and weight. Unfortunately you can only do so much by cutting down on desserts, candy and cakes. You might not even realise how much sugar you eat each day through your regular diet. Foods like bread, canned vegetables and soup, margarine, pasta sauce, frozen dinners, instant mashed potatoes, soy sauce, fast food, and ketchup are surprisingly rich in added sugar. Here are some tips for cutting back on sugar:
- Avoid Sugary Drinks
A 12-ounce soda has around 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is higher than the recommended daily intake. Try having sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice or lemon instead.
- Sweeten Your Own Foods
Buy some plain yogurt, unsweetened ice tea, or unflavored oatmeal. Then add your own sweeteners or fruits. You’ll most likely add a lot less than would be added by the manufacturer.
- Eat Naturally Sweet Foods
Get plenty of fruit, peppers, and natural peanut butter to satisfy that sweet tooth without doing any damage. Stock up on these rather than on cookies and candy.
It’s important to carefully check your food labels. There are lots of ways that sugar is hidden on food labels with terms such as:
- Corn sweetener/corn syrup
- Maple syrup/cane sugar
- Brown rice syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- Crystalized or evaporated cane juice
Most people have too much salt in their diet. High salt levels causes high blood pressure and other health problems. Limit your sodium intake to between 1,500 and 2,300 mg each day, which is around one teaspoon of salt.
- Avoid Pre-Packaged and Processed Foods; Processed foods such as canned soup and frozen dinners have a lot of hidden sodium that quickly pushes you beyond the recommended limit.
- Exercise Caution When Eating Out; Many fast food meals and even restaurant meals are rich in sodium. There are some lower-sodium choices out there, or you could ask for your meal to be made without salt. Salt is also found in gravy and sauces, so ask to have these served on the side.
- Eat fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables over canned ones.
- Cut down on salty snacks like nuts, pretzels, and potato chips.
- Check food labels and choose low/reduced-salt products, including breakfast cereals.
- Gradually reduce salt levels to give your body and taste buds time to adjust.
You Need To Eat More Fiber
Getting plenty of dietary fiber keeps you regular, reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and helps you control your weight. How much fiber you need depends on your age and gender; with experts recommending between 21 and 38 grams of fiber to stay healthy. Most people don’t eat even half this.
A good rule of thumb is that the more natural and unprocessed the food is, the more fiber it contains. Good dietary sources of fiber include wheat cereals, whole grains, barley, beans, oatmeal, nuts, vegetables like carrots, tomatoes and celery, and fruits like berries, apples, pears, and citrus fruits. This is just one more reason to get more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
Meat, dairy, and sugar have almost no fiber in them at all. Refined foods and “white” foods like white bread, white rice and pastries have had their fiber removed.
One of the easiest ways to get more fiber is to start the day with whole grain cereal such as All-Bran or by adding some unprocessed wheat bran to the cereal you normally eat.
How Fiber Helps With Weight Loss
Fiber stays in the stomach much longer than other foods, meaning that it leaves you feeling full for longer and reduces your appetite. Getting plenty of fiber shifts fat through the digestive system faster as well, meaning that the body absorbs less of it. Filling up on high fiber foods also gives you more energy to exercise and boost weight loss.
I hope this guide helps you get on track to eating healthy and living a long sustainable life. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments box below.