In our media-centered society, it can be nearly impossible to keep up with the latest nutrition news and sort out the real advances in nutrition from the fad diets. And with so many of us leading very busy lifestyles, it can be even more difficult to eat healthy on the run. This article will offer some basic tips that will help you develop and maintain a healthy diet and not get caught up in the latest fad diets.
To begin your healthy diet plan make sure you include all of the major food groups: vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat and lean protein, and healthy fats.
Fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals that protect us from diseases and infections including stroke, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Fruits and vegetables also contain fiber to aid our digestive system and help us to feel full longer.
To maximize the vitamins and minerals from produce, try to eat five servings per day and eat a variety of colors throughout your day and week. Some examples of nutrient-rich fruits include dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli, apples, oranges, and bananas. To avoid getting bored with your fruits and vegetables, try as many new ones as possible and eat in season for maximum flavor.
Whole grains: Whole grains are important because they give us energy in the form of carbohydrates. They also contain dietary fiber that can help reduce blood cholesterol levels and the risk of heart disease. The fiber in whole grains also provides sustained energy and helps us to feel fuller longer.
Whole grains also contain B vitamins, folate, iron, magnesium, and selenium that support healthy metabolic, circulatory immune systems. Most adult women need about 6 servings of whole grains per day, although requirements vary with activity level.
Avoid eating refined grains—i.e. foods made with enriched or white flour—as much as possible as refined grains do not supply the fiber and minerals that whole grains do and often contain high amounts of sugar. To eat more whole grains, try whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, bulgur wheat, barley, quinoa, and oatmeal.
Protein: Proteins support healthy bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. Proteins provide our bodies with important vitamins and minerals including B vitamins, vitamin E, zinc, iron, and magnesium; they also support hormone and enzyme production and support the metabolic, immune, and circulatory systems.
Most Americans get their protein from meat and dairy products. If you eat meat and dairy products, be sure to choose low-fat dairy products such as skim milk and lean meats such as chicken and turkey over beef. This reduces saturated fat intake, which lowers bad cholesterol and reduces the risk of heart disease. In addition to meat and dairy, however, fish, nuts, seeds, and legumes such as tofu and beans can serve as excellent sources of protein and are naturally low in cholesterol and saturated fat.
Healthy fats: Fats provide energy and are vital for building and maintaining cell membranes and producing important hormones. They slow down the body’s absorption of nutrients so that we can go longer without feeling hungry. They are also carriers for the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K.
Try to reduce your saturated fat intake and increase your intake of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats by eating less animal fats—butter, cream, and fatty meats—and eating more olive oil, non-hydrogenated (expeller pressed) vegetable oil spreads such as Earth Balance, sesame oil, and natural nut butters. Other healthy fat sources include avocados, almonds, and flaxseeds.
Here are a few more tips to establishing and maintaining a healthy diet.
Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated is important for maintaining energy levels, body function, and a healthy body weight.
Limit your alcohol intake. Most women should drink no more than one alcoholic beverage per day. Although a single glass of red wine provides some cardiovascular and metabolic health benefits, most other alcohols such as beer and liquor are detrimental to our health and contain “empty” calories.
Limit your intake of sugars, particularly refined sugars such as high fructose corn syrup. Sugar is highly caloric and does not contain much nutritional value. It can contribute to tooth decay and high cholesterol and causes a sharp spike in energy levels in contrast to the prolonged energy levels we can obtain by consuming whole grains.
If you are trying to lose weight, don’t starve yourself. When you restrict calories suddenly, your body goes into “starvation” mode and will halt your metabolism, making it very difficult to lose weight. Instead, eat several small meals per day to keep your metabolism functioning at maximum speed.
At each meal, try to include a complex carbohydrate—a fruit, vegetable, or whole grain—and a low-fat protein. This will provide your body with the most energy while consuming calories sensibly.
Eat breakfast. Eating breakfast supports a healthy body weight, sustained energy levels throughout the day, and an active mind.
There are lots of great resources for eating healthfully. Here are a few helpful links: