Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your outlook, and stabilizing your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create a tasty, varied, and healthy diet
Healthy eating tip 1: Set yourself up for success
- Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food.
- Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled fish) will make a positive difference to your health. Switching animal fats for refined carbohydrates, though (such as switching your breakfast bacon for a donut), won’t lower your risk for heart disease or improve your mood.
- Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients.
- Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food as manufacturers often hide large amounts of sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
- Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The more healthy food you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
- Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
Healthy eating tip 2: Moderation is key
- Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” 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. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
- Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes–your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy green vegetables or round off the meal with fruit.
- Take your time. 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.
- Eat with others whenever possible. As well as the emotional benefits, this allows you to model healthy eating habits for your kids. Eating in front of the TV or computer often leads to mindless overeating.
Healthy eating tip 3: Reduce sugar
- Slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust and wean yourself off the craving.
- Avoid sugary drinks. Try drinking sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice instead.
- Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar. Many of us make the mistake of replacing healthy sources of saturated fat, such as whole milk dairy, with refined carbs or sugary foods, thinking we’re making a healthier choice. Low-fat doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, especially when the fat has been replaced by added sugar to make up for loss of taste.
- Avoid processed or packaged foods like canned soups, frozen dinners, or low-fat meals that often contain hidden sugar that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.
- Be careful when eating out. Most gravy, dressings and sauces are also packed with salt and sugar, so ask for it to be served on the side.
- Eat healthier snacks. Cut down on sweet snacks such as candy, chocolate, and cakes. Instead, eat naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter to satisfy your sweet tooth.
- Check labels and choose low-sugar products.
Healthy eating tip 4: Eat plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables
- Greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
- Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, and squash—add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugars.
- Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
Healthy eating tip 5: Bulk up on fiber
- In general, the more natural and unprocessed the food, the higher it is in fiber.
- Good sources of fiber include whole grains, wheat cereals, barley, oatmeal, beans, nuts, vegetables such as carrots, celery, and tomatoes, and fruits such as apples, berries, citrus fruits, and pears.
- There is no fiber in meat, dairy, or sugar. Refined or “white” foods, such as white bread, white rice, and pastries, have had all or most of their fiber removed.
- An easy way to add more fiber to your diet is to start your day with a whole grain cereal or add unprocessed wheat bran to your favorite cereal.
Healthy eating tip 6: Eat healthy carbs and whole grains
- Include a variety of whole grains in your healthy diet, including whole wheat, brown rice, millet, quinoa, and barley.
- Make sure you’re really getting whole grains. Check for the Whole Grain Stamps that distinguish between partial whole grain and 100% whole grain.
- Try mixing grains as a first step to switching to whole grains. If whole grains like brown rice and whole wheat pasta don’t sound good at first, start by mixing what you normally use with the whole grains. You can gradually increase the whole grain to 100%.
Healthy eating tip 7: Add calcium for bone health
- Dairy: Dairy products are rich in calcium in a form that is easily digested and absorbed by the body. Sources include milk, unsweetened yogurt, and cheese.
- Vegetables and greens: Many vegetables, especially leafy green ones, are rich sources of calcium. Try collard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, celery, broccoli, fennel, cabbage, summer squash, green beans, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, and crimini mushrooms.
- Beans: such as black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans, white beans, black-eyed peas, or baked beans.
Healthy eating tip 8: Put protein in perspective
- Eat plenty of fish, chicken, or plant-based protein such as beans, nuts, and soy.
- Replace processed carbohydrates from pastries, cakes, pizza, cookies and chips with fish, beans, nuts, seeds, peas, tofu, chicken, dairy, and soy products.
- Snack on nuts and seeds instead of chips, replace baked dessert with Greek yogurt, or swap out slices of pizza for a grilled chicken breast and a side of beans.
Healthy eating tip 9: Enjoy healthy fats
- Monounsaturated fats from avocados, nuts (like almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans), and seeds (such as pumpkin and sesame).
- Polyunsaturated fats, including Omega-3s, found in fatty fish such as salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, and some cold water fish oil supplements. Good vegetarian sources of polyunsaturated fats include flaxseed and walnuts.
Healthy eating tip 10: Watch your salt intake
- Use herbs and spices such as garlic, curry powder, cayenne or black pepper to improve the flavor of meals instead of salt.
- Be careful when eating out. Most restaurant and fast food meals are loaded with sodium. Some offer lower-sodium choices or you can ask for your meal to be made without salt.
- Buy unsalted nuts and add a little of your own salt until your taste buds are accustomed to eating them salt-free.