Eating a healthy diet is easy, as long as you know what eating healthy means. It isn’t just about what you eat but also about how you eat, when you eat, where you eat, and why you eat. Each of these facets is significant to your diet and will affect your overall health. Let’s cover the basics before we tackle the rest though, because inevitably what you eat does have the most influence on your health.
What Should I Eat To Be Healthy?
When you were younger you probably learned about the food pyramid but like many of the things you were once taught, if you haven’t used this information in your adult life it’s likely that you’ve forgotten. That’s okay though, because the food pyramid was flawed. It didn’t distinguish between whole grains and processed grains, it encouraged the consumption of junk foods as “fats” and it was unhelpful when loading up your meal plate. All of these problems have been solved with the creation of the Healthy Eating Plate diagram.
The majority of your plate must be filled with a variety of vegetables. Be sure to include an array of colors. These could include leafy greens, peas, corn, carrots, peppers, or beets. As long as there’s a variety of vegetables on your plate then you’re well on your way to a healthy start.
Whole grains should fill almost as much of your plate as your vegetables. These are different than refined grains, and should not be confused with them. Since refined grains remove the bran and germ of the grain kernel, leaving only the endosperm the dietary fiber, iron, and B vitamins are eliminated from the grain. Some refined grains are referred to as ‘enriched’ because they’ve had B vitamins and iron added back into their composition after the refinement but this does not make them equal to whole grains. Your body needs the dietary fiber found in whole grains to lower blood cholesterol and glucose levels. Fiber also reduces the likelihood of developing gallstones, kidney stones, hemorrhoids, and diverticulitis.
Next comes healthy proteins to take up precious plate real estate. Not all proteins are created equal; some are certainly more healthy than others. Experts suggest getting the majority of your protein from fish, beans and nuts to cut down on the amount of animal fat you’re ingesting. Consuming greater amounts of fish based protein will also naturally raise your omega-3 fatty acid intake which results in lower triglyceride (blood fat) levels, lower levels of depression, and less inflammation of muscles and joints.
Fruits will take up about the same amount of space on your plate as healthy proteins and will end up filling the rest of your plate. Much like your vegetable choices you’ll want to make sure to include a wide variety of fruits to your diet. Most fruits have a natural sugars that can help you to think of them as your dietary desserts. While this doesn’t mean that since you’re skipping out of the high calorie desserts you can go crazy on the fruit consumption it does mean that your taste buds will have a sweet reward to look forward to.
While it is true that you need dairy in your life, it does not need to be as present in your diet as you might think. The truth is you only need about one to two servings of dairy products per day. Remember that one 8 oz. glass of milk, 2 oz. of cheese, or 8 oz. of yogurt is equivalent to one dairy serving.
When we talk about healthy oils we’re talking about plant based oils such as: olive, canola, soy, sunflower, peanut, and corn. These oils should be used in the cooking process and over dinner salads as a dressing, they can also be substituted as a dipping option for your whole grain bread at the table. They should be used sparingly no matter which avenue you choose take, to incorporate them.
One of the most important parts of your diet is hydration. Always make sure you’re consuming enough water. The average person should aim to drink about eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day (that’s about half of a gallon), although this number is relative and not an exact science. Most people drink far less than this, and while you can overdo it on the hydration front it is very unlikely, so aim to drink about 64 ounces of water per day by quenching your thirst as needed.
How Should I Eat To Be Healthy?
Now that you know what you should be eating it’s time to learn about how you should be eating. Even if you eat all of the foods that you’re ‘supposed’ to you can still be unhealthy if you don’t eat them in the correct manner. So here are ten tips for eating healthy the right way.
Don’t Skip Meals
If you think that cutting a meal out of your day is a quick and easy way to cut calories out of your diet you would be wrong. When you skip a meal you’re robbing your body of the nutrients that it needs to function. This means that you are more likely to overeat, in an attempt to compensate for the missing nutrients, the next time you eat. Avoid missing or skipping meals by eating in evenly spaced intervals.
While you don’t need to eat from every food group during every meal, you will want to add at least a little variety to each mealtime. This may mean that for breakfast you have dairy, fruits, proteins, and grain; but switch it up for lunch and include fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins; while dinner may only consist of grains, proteins, and vegetables. After all as William Cowper once stated, ‘variety is the very spice of life’.
Avoid Trans Fats
Though oils can be a good source of fat consumption in your diet eating trans fats is highly advised against. Trans fats are artificially created in an industrial procedure that adds hydrogen to liquid oils to create a more solid substance. Of course, now that we know that we want to eat whole foods that have been minimally processed it is clear that we should avoid these trans fats at all costs.
Pay Attention To Portions
The importance of portion control cannot be overstated. This is one of the most crucial aspects of eating healthily. Any food eaten in excess is not good for your nutritional intake or your waistline (yes, that includes fruits and veggies). Our perception of portions are heavily skewed because of our tendency to eat out, where restaurants serve excessively large portions to justify their prices. Remember that your portion size should directly correlate with a serving size.
Do Not Use Supplements As Substitutes
Supplements are just that, a supplement for the vitamins and minerals your body needs that it’s not getting from your diet. They should in no way, ever be taken as a substitute for food though. The most effective and efficient way to get your daily dose of vitamins and minerals is through your dietary intake.
Increase Potassium and Decrease Sodium
These two are linked together because they both effect your blood sugar. While an overabundance of sodium works to increase your blood pressure, potassium-rich foods work to lower blood pressure. By decreasing your sodium intake to about one teaspoon per day (or less) and increasing the amount of potassium you ingest you can effectively maintain a healthy blood pressure.
Notice Your Calcium & Vitamin D Intake
Take notice of the amount of both calcium and vitamin D you’re getting, as these two vitamins work very closely together. While getting enough calcium is as easy as making sure you eat/drink your two servings of dairy per day, making sure you have enough vitamin D in your system can be significantly more difficult. Consuming enough vitamin D through your food is unlikely and getting it from sunlight can be dangerous, so in many cases a supplement will be needed to help fortify your body.
Avoid Liquid Calories
If you’re drinking anything other than water, chances are you’re taking in liquid calories. While you don’t have to avoid them all together, do remember that they are empty calories, meaning that after having consumed them you will still be hungry. While tea (herbal/black) and coffee (black) will have minimal calories other options, such as soda and juice are loaded with sugars, calories, and sodium. So be careful which beverages you choose to consume.
When Should I Eat To Be Healthy
We covered this a bit in the last section but it’s an important enough topic to warrant it’s own complete section. Knowing when to eat is easy. People think it’s hard because they think they should be on a schedule (and although that does make it easier) it is easy enough as it is. If you are hungry, eat! This is not to say that you should be snacking on chips and cheese every time you feel a little pang in your stomach. In fact, before you begin eating at all try drinking a glass of water to make sure that you’re not confusing thirst with hunger. As humans we have been programs to read our bodies cues for nourishment but because we don’t often ‘go hungry’ we frequently confuse other cues (such as boredom, thirst and stress) as hunger cues.
Studies have proven that as a general rule, eating smaller meals more often has absolutely no more beneficial qualities than eating larger meals less frequently. It is all based on the individual eating. Since many people don’t know when they are truly hungry adapting either of these models can be helpful to avoid overeating. (Remember: If you eat more often make the meals smaller, and if you want larger meals then have fewer.)
It is recommended by nutritionists to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. This is due to the fact that the longer you wait to put food into your system the hungrier you will become and the more likely you are to make poor dietary choices.
Most doctors will tell you that you should eat dinner no later than 3 hours before you go to bed, so that your body has a chance to digest the food, before you fall asleep. Going to sleep with undigested food in your stomach causes food to digest slower and less effectively than if you were awake during the digestion process. Since digestion time varies depending on the individual the recommended time to wait between meal and bed is roughly 3 hours.
Around A Workout
When you think about when you should eat in reference to your workout, it’s not about whether you should eat before or after it but rather what you should eat both before and after it. Before your workout you’ll want to eat quality carbohydrates, and lean proteins to be sure that you have enough available energy during your workout. After your workout you should also eat protein to keep energy levels up while helping to repair muscles. In addition, you should eat bananas or drink orange juice to replenish potassium that helps restore your body’s fluid levels.
Where Should I Eat To Be Healthy
Where you eat could refer to a few different things including: at home vs. in a restaurant, at the table vs. in front of the television, at your desk vs. in a cafeteria, etc. We’ll cover them all and more, and we’ll explain why where you eat is just as important as what, how, and when you eat.
Home vs Restaurant
Home wins. Everytime. When you eat at home you have control over every aspect of eating. You control how the food is made, you control the portion on your plate, and you control your distractions. In a restaurant rarely are all of the ingredients made public, let alone the process in which it’s made, the portions are always more than a single serving size and the distractions are abundant. Since you won’t be focused on your meal you’re likely to eat more before you realize that you’re full. More food at a lower quality is bad for your diet.
Table vs Television
Always opt for eating at the table. Even if you’re home alone. Eating in front of the television is recipe for disaster as it encourages mindless eating. remember tip #10 from above, always be mindful of what you’re eating. When you are distracted by the television your mind is paying more attention to what you’re watching and less attention to what you’re eating. This will most often cause you to eat more because you are ignoring your body when it tries to tell you that you are full. The more food you eat, the more calories your body consumes; and more calories consumed often equals more fat accumulated.
Desk vs Cafeteria
Cafeteria. Always. The reasoning behind this is similar to that of the table vs television debate. Mostly you want to make sure that you are being mindful of what you are eating so that you do not overfeed yourself. There is another aspect to this one though, you should also be getting up and moving throughout your day. When you spend the entire day at your desk you are avoiding physical activity and putting yourself at danger for heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. So get up and move. Socialization is a huge part of lunch in the office too. People who take a break from their work to socialize during meal times are more likely to come back refreshed and with better concentration, than those that seldom leave their work area.
Why Should I Eat To Be Healthy
This section isn’t to explain to you why you need to eat healthily in order to lead a healthy life. It is about recognizing, understanding, and controlling the reasons behind your eating. For instance, being bored is not a good reason to eat. Other bad reasons to eat include (but are not limited to):
- Feeling Sadness
- Being Stressed
- It’s Convenient
- It Smells Good
- It’s Free
- The Movie’s On
- It’ll Fit On The Plate (In The Bowl)
- It’s A Party
- It Looks Good
- Need Comfort
These are examples of mindless eating. If you’re not hungry, you shouldn’t be eating, even if the food is free and looks or smells delicious and you’re feeling sad and stressed and you just need some comfort. Caving to these societal cues is how America has become one of the most obese nations in the world. When you’re feeling these pressures it’s best to take yourself out of the situation. Going for a quick walk around the block can distract your mind long enough to forget about the food and focus your attention to a healthier solution.
The only real reason you should be eating is to nourish your body when it’s hungry. Since you can’t nourish with junk foods and fast foods, you should avoid these and opt for more nutritional choices instead. Making sure that you have these foods prepared and packed with you at all times is one of the easiest ways to stay on track with eating healthy and avoiding the temptations of junk. Meal prep quickly eliminates the convenience argument for fast food since it’s as close as your lunch bag all day long.
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