A healthy diet is key to living a healthy life and can help prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. But because everyone has distinct health needs, you should have a conversation with a doctor about what type of diet is best for you.
Eating a diet mostly consisting of plants, with lots of fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains and protein sources, is good for most people. We’ve provided some tips on healthy eating to help you get started.
1. Know What a Healthy Diet Looks Like
“A healthy diet is an eating pattern that provides nourishment, balance, satisfaction and can be consistently followed long-term,” according to Emma Willingham, clinical dietitian at Houston Methodist.
Rather than use the term diet which brings to mind limited food choices and negative connotations. If we replace diet with the term eating pattern, that feels positive and emphasizes the need for consistency to reap health benefits.
The best approach to healthy eating is to eat regularly through out the day and eat something from every food group.
Healthy eating emphasizes:
- Non-starchy vegetables, such as dark leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, onions, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, cucumbers, fresh herbs, carrots
- Whole fruit, fresh or frozen, as well as canned fruit packed in water or its own juice
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat bread and pasta, whole oats, brown rice and quinoa
- Lean proteins, including poultry, seafood and lean cuts of meat (tenderloin, round, chuck and sirloin)
- Calcium-rich foods, such as low-fat milk products
- Unsaturated fats, like avocados, nuts, seeds, oily fish, and olive or canola oil
Whole foods are healthier than processed, packaged foods.
The saturated fat, added sugar, and salt found in processed foods may make the food taste better and last longer, but these elements do not offer any additional health benefits in terms of vitamins or minerals. Processed foods add calories without any nutritional benefits.
Consuming high levels of salt, sugar, and saturated fat can lead to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
2. Remove Blockers to Healthy Eating
There are some obstacles to eating healthy. It is important to remove the things that are stopping us from improving our eating habits.
Old habits. Poor eating habits are hard to break it is what we are used to. If you eat a Pop Tart as your breakfast this is not the healthiest way to start your day. But it is your habit and that will make it tough to choose something wiser. It takes 21 days to make a new habit feel like normal.
Restrictive diets. Restrictive diets where you are eliminating whole food groups is hard to maintain. If you take away all sweets you may not be able to stick to your new healthy eating plan. But if you replace sweets with indulgent berries and other sweet fruits you will not feel deprived and it will be easier to stick to your new way of eating. Limiting less healthy choices is easier to maintain than forbidding certain foods.
Stop weighing. If you are only using the scale and weighing yourself frequently it is easy to get discouraged. Do not use the scale as the only measure of your success. The scale numbers are helpful but also take into consideration how you feel and how your clothes are fitting.
Be consistent. Consistency is hard to achieve in our hectic everyday life. But once you can persevere past 21 days you will find your new way of easier to be consistent. Consistency can also relieve pressure from grocery shopping.
3. Set Realistic Goals if You’re Trying to Lose Weight
People often start thinking about eating healthy when they want to improve their overall health. Maintaining a healthy weight is often a good indicator of general wellbeing.
Rather than just focus on the number on the scale you can also be encouraged by fat loss. Changing fat into muscle will improve how you look and increase your stamina. Muscle weighs more than fat, so in this instance the mirror is a more accurate indicator than a weight scale.
You should try to maintain your muscle mass, even though it will result in slower weight loss.
In order to successfully lose weight, you need to set a realistic goal, and tracking your progress with a scale is not enough to measure your success.
In addition, it is not useful to look at only one measurement of weight. We want to be able to see how you are progressing towards your goal over a period of time, ideally seeing weekly or monthly trends.
It’s important to focus on a wellness goal that is more relevant than simply identifying a target weight. This could be becoming more mobile, going down a clothing size, or even feeling healthier.
Health is a much more nuanced topic than what the scale can tell you. Health is a much more complicated topic than what the scale can show you. There are many benefits to weight loss that cannot be seen on a scale. Losing weight lowers your risks for many health conditions like diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
4. Get Help in Creating a Healthy Eating Plan That’s Right For You
There are a lot of diets that are trendy right now, such as Keto, Whole30, and intermittent fasting.
Do diet programs promote healthy eating?
Some do and others don’t!
Restrictive diets may help you achieve short-term weight loss, but they’re usually not helpful in creating long-term lifestyle behaviors that improve your overall health. If you are eliminating entire food groups you will most likely be compromising your nutrition.
Popular diets are not the answer to starting simple and eating healthy. Emphasize healthy foods by reducing the not-so-healthy alternatives you might be used to choosing. Every good food choice decision propels you forward to a healthier you!
If you are having difficulty eating healthy, get help from a dietitian. This person can offer you the personalized help you need to develop long-term habits.
A dietitian can also advise you on how to eat fewer calories per day to meet your weight loss or weight maintenance goals.
The amount of calories you consume each day is based on your height, weight, sex, age, and activity level. This makes it complicated to determine how many calories you should be eating at home without help.
5. Know How to Eat Healthy When Dining Out or Ordering In
There’s a big difference between eating healthy at home and eating healthy when you’re not at home. Eating healthy when you’re not at home is much harder.
Reading the menu before you leave home can help you figure out what the healthy choices are that are offered. If possible swap higher calorie choices for steamed veggies. French fries unfortunately, do contain more calories than steamed broccoli. Planning ahead can help you not succumb to poor choices. Be strategic.
Nothing is off limits just make healthy choices.
Restaurants will often let you swap out protein or put salad dressings on the side. You can always ask to be accommodated.
It’s a good idea to eat your vegetables before eating the rest of your meal. This can help you feel full and can aid digestion.
6. Snack Smart to Stay Full Between Meals
You’re more likely to make unhealthy choices when you’re hungry and looking for something to eat. Something convenient and quick is what I look for when I am starving.
Preparing healthy snacks before needed and keeping only healthy snacks in the house can help you avoid poor choices. Do not forget fresh fruit is convenient and ready to eat. You may only need to wash or peel.
She also recommends packing snacks for work or if you know you’ll be away from the house for a sustained period of time.
Healthy snack recommendations:
- Low-fat Greek yogurt with fruit
- Protein Shake – protein helps us feel full longer
- A handful of nuts
- Low-fat string cheese with a cup of grapes
- Raw vegetables with hummus
- Hard-boiled eggs
Fruits and vegetables contain many vitamins and minerals your body needs, like:
- Fiber, which eases constipation and aids in digestion.
- Magnesium, which supports bone health.
- Potassium, which helps maintain healthy blood pressure.
- Vitamin A, which protects against infection and keeps skin and eyes healthy.
- Vitamin C, which aids in iron absorption and keeps your skin and gums healthy.
Eating fruits and vegetables has been linked with a reduction in the risk of developing a number of chronic diseases, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. A 2018 review found that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help reduce markers of inflammation, which is associated with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
The amount of fruits and vegetables you need each day varies based on age, sex, and physical activity.
According to Amanda Miller, a registered dietitian from Chicago who specializes in weight loss and medical nutrition therapy a serving size is:
- One peach is considered 1 fruit serving.
- A medium banana is usually considered to be two fruit servings.
- A serving of vegetables is usually about half a cup to one cup.
8. Choose Whole Grains
Whole grains include the entire kernel of wheat. Each part of the grain contains important nutrients like:
- Bran, the outer layer which contains fiber and B vitamins
- Endosperm, the inner layer which contains carbohydrates and protein
- Germ, the core which contains B vitamins, healthy fats, and vitamin E
White or refined grains go through a process that takes out the bran and germ, which gives it a smoother texture and makes it last longer, but fiber and B vitamins are also lost in this process.
Whole grains contain more fiber and micronutrients than refined grains, and offer more health benefits.
A 2020 analysis of randomized controlled trials concluded that consuming whole grains rather than refined grains can reduce total cholesterol and the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease.
- 1/2 of all grains consumed should be whole grains.
- You should drink 1/2 your body weight in water.
Whole grains can be found in: whole grain bread, whole grain pasta, brown rick, quinoa and oats.
9. Limit Processed Foods
Processed foods have been changed from their original form and are cooked, packaged, canned, or frozen. The process of fortifying and preserving foods can change their nutritional composition, typically making them high in calories and low in nutrients.
Examples of heavily processed foods include:
- Cured meats, like deli meat
- Hot dogs
- Frozen meals made with refined grains and sodium or sugar-rich sauces
Processed foods that have salt, sugar, and preservatives added to them can be bad for your health, according to Alana Kessler, a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant based in New York City. Eating these kinds of foods can increase your risk of heart disease.
Two large 2019 studies found that ultra-processed foods, such as cereals and baked goods, can lead to cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organization also classifies processed meats as a carcinogen, which is a substance that can cause cancer. Research also suggests that there is a connection between processed meats and both diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
Swapping out processed foods for healthier alternatives, like:
- Choose water or tea instead of soda
- Choose oatmeal or yogurt instead of sugary cereal
- Choose plain popcorn instead of chips
Choose fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables over packaged foods whenever possible. This will improve your nutrition and help you maintain a healthy weight.
10. Practice Portion Control
If you overeat even if you are eating healthy you will struggle with weight and other health issues. Consuming the wrong amounts of food can also affect metabolism, hormones and energy.
To practice portion control, you have to be mindful of what you’re eating and how much of it you’re eating. You can make a healthy plate by understanding serving sizes and filling it with half fruit and vegetables, a quarter protein-rich food, and a quarter whole grains.
Tips for understanding serving sizes and practicing portion control:
- Read food labels to know how much one serving is. Remember some foods like pasta and rice puff up when they’re cooked. The label will tell you if the serving size is for cooked or uncooked portions.
- Pre-portioning your food into a small bowl or plate to keep yourself from overeating right out of the bag or tub. Never eat ice cream from the carton or chips from the bag. Put your food in a bowl and limit yourself to the bowl. Otherwise you will eat way more than is healthy.
- Pay attention to high-calorie foods. Nuts for example are very nutritious and have healthy fat, but they are also high in calories. Most nut labels will suggest about a one to two-ounce serving — which is about 30 almonds.
- Be careful with beverages, specifically loaded coffee and teas. Coffee houses make delicious concoctions but there is no way to determine how many calories all those added flavors and foams contain. Choose water, zero calories whenever possible and make your drinks at home so you have some idea of what you have consumed.