When you think of healthy eating, the first thing to come to mind should be you. We may see a lot of focus on the new trendy diet plans and what celebrities eat in a day, but healthy eating should be about what you enjoy and what fits best into your lifestyle.
Generally speaking, what it means to eat healthy is to choose fresh foods over processed ones, select nutrient-dense foods, avoid empty calories and eat a varied and balanced diet.
Healthy eating should be a time of experimentation and fun—a chance to test the limits of your tastebuds, expand your knowledge of other cuisines and make long-lasting memories with yourself and your family. Healthy eating is an opportunity to get to know yourself better and others around you too.
The basics of healthy eating consist of these main groups: grains, vegetables, fruits, protein, and dairy. You may be familiar with the traditional food pyramid. These recommended daily intakes are established by the US Department of Agriculture and can now be found on MyPlate.gov. Recommendations can also be adjusted depending on what is advised by your healthcare provider.
In addition to the government's dietary guidelines, your daily intake of each of these basic food groups should be influenced by your lifestyle and activity level as well as your health status and goals.
How Do Processed Foods Affect Our Health?
In general, processed foods are high in sugar and sodium, contain unnecessary fats and are deemed empty calories that do little to support the body’s needs. Too much of specific foods like fats and sugars may also lead to troubling issues down the road. You should notice a difference between how you feel eating processed foods versus healthy foods.
What Our Bodies Need
Foods rich with essential nutrients, minerals and vitamins are what our bodies require daily to perform essential functions, strengthen various areas of the body and give us long lasting energy to get us powered through the day and to sleep at night.
Foods like whole-grain bread and pasta, cereals, oatmeal, popcorn, brown rice and more are just some of the foods we can enjoy from this group. Whole grains are rich in nutrients, especially fiber. Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that the body can’t formally digest, which is why it helps keep hunger in check, supports the body’s use of sugars and regulates our colon. One of the larger groups, it is suggested by the USDA and the American Dietetic Association to consume at least three servings of whole-grain foods daily.
Fruits and Vegetables
Aim to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables are packed with vitamins like A, C and E, as well as important minerals like magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, folic acid and potassium. Low in sodium and cholesterol, fruits and vegetables are great to pair with all meals throughout your day.
Protein plays a vital role in our bodies as essential building blocks that help create and maintain our cells. Getting enough protein helps power our cells, build bones, muscles, cartilage, hair, skin and nails, repair tissue, regulate hormones, aid with digestion and so much more.
Protein can be found in options like lean meats, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products like milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, as well as nuts, seeds, legumes and beans. The recommended (DRI) is 0.36 grams of protein per pound (0.8 grams per kg) of body weight – or roughly 56 grams per average male and 46 grams per average female.
The dairy group is a source of vitamins and minerals, most notably calcium. Calcium is needed to support strong, healthy bones and teeth, blood health, muscle and heart health.
Calcium can be found in many foods and drinks such as dairy products like milk, yogurt, cheese, certain green vegetables and soymilk. It’s recommended to eat or drink two to four servings of dairy products and calcium-rich foods each day.
Other foods to consider getting enough of in our daily diet consist of a healthy range of oils and fats, particularly monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, because they are a source of energy, help absorb fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E and K, insulate our bodies and protect organs. We also need foods that contain essential fatty acids because they support our wellbeing and cannot be produced by our bodies. The DRI for fat in adults is 20% to 35% of total calories from fat. Most fats and oils we can get from food sources like meats, fish, dairy products and nuts. Avocados, coconut oil and other nut-based oils can also be good sources.
Herbs are another great food source to add to your diet because they contain many great properties and benefits for overall wellness. Add a bit of freshness and color with herbs like parsley, rosemary and thyme to your grilled salmon. Or unwind with a cup of peppermint tea before bedtime and see what herbs can do for you.
Where to Find Healthy, Natural Food Options?
One tried and true shopping tip is to stick to the outside edges of the grocery store—that's where you'll find fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and seafood. Avoid the center aisles where you're more likely to find processed foods and options high in sugar and sodium. There are also many online retailers and meal services offering healthy foods shipped straight to your door.
Vitamin and Mineral Supplements
Vitamin and mineral supplements are another way to get many important nutrients for the day, especially if intake can’t be achieved through food alone
As with any new dietary aid, it’s important to consult your healthcare professional before taking a supplement. Healthcare providers will take into account your dietary lifestyle and existing medications to determine what best fits your needs.