Q.How can I start eating a healthier diet?
A. A healthy diet includes eating a variety of foods from the basic food groups: protein, such as meat, eggs, and legumes; dairy; fruits and vegetables; grains, such as breads and pasta; and fats and sweets. As simple as this sounds, it’s not always easy to get the nutrition you need. You may eat more of your favorite foods from only one food group, and as a result, avoid others. Or perhaps you opt for convenience over quality when you are hungry.
A healthy diet requires some planning and purpose and an effort to include a variety of foods in your meals. If you look closely at how you eat, you might find you aren't getting enough nutrients because you don't get the recommended number of servings from each food group.
So, not only is it important to pay attention to what you eat but also to what you are missing from your diet. To accomplish this, keep a food diary of everything you eat and drink for 1 week. Pay attention to serving sizes, and check to see if you are eating a variety of foods from each of the food groups. You don't need to meet the minimum number every day, but try to get the recommended intake on average over a week. You might find that making a few small changes will ensure that you're eating a healthy, balanced diet. Or, you may find that you are missing many important nutrients.
Do I have to make dramatic changes in how I eat?
Once you are aware of nutrients that you may be missing in your diet or other ways that your eating is out of balance, you can begin to make a few small changes toward a more healthful diet. For example, simply adding a yogurt as a snack might be enough to meet your milk servings. Adding a sliced banana to your cereal will take care of a fruit serving.
Paying attention to serving sizes is also important. You may not know that a serving size of cereal is only 1 ounce (28 grams), which is 1/2 to 3/4 of a cup for most cereals. That means a typical bowl full of cereal is usually far more than a serving. So instead of a big bowl of cereal and milk for breakfast, have one serving (1 ounce) of cereal, and add a sliced banana and a small glass (1/2 cup) of juice. Use skim or soy milk instead of whole milk to reduce the amount of fat you take in.
If you find that you rarely eat fresh fruits or vegetables, make it a goal to include a serving or two at each meal. Only 1/2 cup of a cooked vegetable or 1 cup of salad greens counts as one serving. Drinking a small can of tomato juice, adding lettuce or bean sprouts to your sandwich, putting tomato sauce on your pasta-these are small ways to boost your vegetable servings. The new dietary guidelines recommend 2 cups of fruit and 2 and 1/2 cups of vegetables per day.
As you make changes, continue with your food diary. Set a weekly goal as you add or change what you are eating. For example, this week make it your goal to order a salad instead of french fries, add vegetables to your pizza, or bring a yogurt to work every day.
Just remember, food is one of life's greatest pleasures. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be a part of a healthy diet. If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, and calories, limit how often you eat them, eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes. Your key to a healthy, balanced diet is moderation. Eat a wide variety of foods, especially those high in nutrients, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, fish, lean meats, and poultry.
Can eating healthier protect me from diseases?
A healthy diet can actually help you lower your risk for disease.
To avoid disease, the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nonfat dairy products. The guidelines also emphasize watching calories to prevent weight gain, limiting alcohol, and cutting back on foods high in salt, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and added sugar. Activity is also an important part of the picture. The guidelines suggest 30 to 90 minutes of activity per day.1
Specifically, a healthy diet may help in the following ways:
- Eating a low-fat diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products can lower your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes. It may also prevent certain types of cancer.
- Limiting saturated fats, which are found in animal products such as fatty meats, cheese, cream, and butter, can reduce your cholesterol levels and lower your risk of heart disease and high blood pressure.
- Replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated fats, such as olive and canola oils, can help you lower "bad" (LDL) cholesterol.
- Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids found in polyunsaturated fats (in foods such as fish, nuts, soybeans, and flaxseeds) may have a protective effect against heart disease.
- Eliminating or reducing trans-fatty acids found in hydrogenated oils (for example, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) may help you lower cholesterol.
- Eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables provides antioxidants (such as beta-carotene and vitamins E and C), which protect the body from damage caused by oxygen free radicals and lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, and high blood pressure.
Should I be eating a low-salt, low-carbohydrate, or low-fat diet?
Everyone can benefit from eating healthy foods, but not everyone has the same nutritional needs. Pregnant women, growing children, and older adults will have different needs for certain nutrients. People who have high blood pressure need to watch how much salt they eat. Those who have high cholesterol may be on a cholesterol-lowering diet that restricts saturated and trans fats and cholesterol. And people who have diabetes will need to spread the carbohydrate that they eat throughout the day.
If you are generally healthy and don't have health issues that require a special diet, it's still wise to watch how much salt, fat, and added sugar you eat in order to prevent diseases such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Limit salt in your diet by eating as many fresh foods as possible. Prepared foods, such as soups, snack foods, and canned foods, are extremely high in salt (sodium). Also watch the amount of fat you eat. Replace saturated and trans fats with monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils. Include healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, walnuts, flaxseed and canola oils, and soybeans.
Low-carbohydrate diets may help some people lose weight initially, but they may not be healthy over a long period of time. Low-carb diets are high in total fat and saturated fat and are low in fiber. They also restrict grains, fruits, and vegetables, which protect against disease and provide important nutrients.
If you're concerned about carbohydrate, choose complex carbohydrate such as that found in whole grains, vegetables, and beans, because these provide a large variety of nutrients and fiber. Simple carbohydrate, such as in sweets and soda, is high in calories and provides few nutrients and no fiber.
Does eating healthier mean I have to go on a diet?
No, eating healthy is not about dieting; it is a way to improve your health. Consistently eating a balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and trans fats and includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and good fats (such as olive oil) will lower your risk for disease.
Being physically active along with eating a healthy diet will improve your health even further. Regular physical activity significantly reduces the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, anxiety, depression, and cancers of the breast, colon, and female reproductive system.Any personal health questions or problems mental or physical. Please consult your physician !
Wishing You Great Health,
Glen Edward Mitchell
Got a question? Ask Glen!