10 Healthy Eating Tips

A healthy eating plan includes a variety of foods from all of the food groups, including grains, vegetables, meats, beans, fruits and dairy products. No single food can supply all the nutrients needed to maintain good health. Similarly, not all foods in the same group contain the same nutrients. Oranges for instance, do not contain much vitamin A, but cantaloupe is a good source of this vitamin. Choosing foods from all of the food groups each day, as well as a variety of foods within each food group, will help you meet your nutritional requirements. It will also make your diet more interesting.

Tip #1: Know Your Needs

Create a personalized eating plan for your body height, weight, gender, age, and activity level using this Calorie calculator tool.

Tip #2: Eat Regularly

Rather than getting your daily calories from one or two large meals, develop a routine that promotes smaller, more frequent eating throughout your day. Eating light and eating often has a number of benefits. It can help to stabilize blood glucose levels; improve energy, brain function and mood; help control appetite and cravings; decrease the likelihood of overeating; and help to maintain muscle mass.

After understanding your daily calorie needs, strive to eat or drink nutritious calories every three to four hours. Going too long without eating or drinking can leave you feeling light-headed, tired, irritable, impatient, unproductive, frustrated, confused, hungry, achy and nauseous. On the other hand, eating too much at one time can make you feel disengaged, tired, sluggish, unproductive and unmotivated.

Eating strategically, every few hours, can help you feel great throughout the day - and manage your health and weight for life.

Tip #3: Break the Fast

If you have a habit of skipping breakfast, you may want to reconsider - especially if you're trying to control your weight. The fasting that occurs when you skip breakfast can increase your body's insulin response, which increases fat storage and weight gain. After skipping breakfast, you may feel ravenous later and be tempted to reach for a quick fix - such as candy or doughnuts. You're more likely to skip fruits and vegetables the rest of the day, too. Skipping breakfast is associated with decreased physical activity and actually increases your risk of obesity.

Eating a healthy breakfast regularly may improve your health in the following ways:

  1. Reducing hunger. Eating breakfast may reduce your hunger later in the day, which can make it easier to avoid overeating.
  2. Supporting healthy choices. Eating breakfast may get you on track to make healthy choices all day. When you eat breakfast, you tend to eat a healthier overall diet, one that is more nutritious and lower in fat.
  3. Boosting energy. Eating breakfast may give you energy, increasing your physical activity during the day. A healthy breakfast refuels your body and replenishes the glycogen stores that supply your muscles and cells with immediate energy.

Tip #4: Choose Fruits and Veggies First

A diet rich in vegetables and fruits has big benefits. It can lower your blood pressure, decrease your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, and possibly protect against some types of cancers. It can help you avoid a painful intestinal ailment called diverticulitis, and guard against cataracts and macular degeneration - the major causes of vision loss among people over age 65. Plus, it adds variety to your diet and wakes up your palate.

Consider these tips:

  • Eat Locally. Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs) and farmers markets are both great ways to support a local food system.
  • Fill half of your plate with vegetables and fruits. Most people should aim for at least five to nine servings of vegetables and fruits each day! Go for a variety of types and colors of fruits and veggies to give your body the mix of nutrients it needs. Your best bets are dark leafy greens, cooked tomatoes, and anything that's a rich yellow, orange, or red color.
  • Potatoes don't count. Since they are full of rapidly digested starch, potatoes have the same effect on blood sugar as refined grains and sweets. So, they don't count as a vegetable and are found in the "Use Sparingly" tip of the Healthy Eating Pyramid.

Tip #5: Eat Right Sized

Eating appropriate portions of foods from each of the food groups is the foundation for healthy eating. The portions that you choose have a direct correlation to the number of calories you consume for each meal, and to your total caloric intake.

Standard portion sizes are based on several criteria, including how much of a food is typically eaten, nutrient content, convenience and previous history. Use visual aids to assist with portion size determination.

  • Grains. One slice of bread is the standard portion for a grain group choice. Portion sizes for other foods in this group contain approximately the same calories as a slice of bread. For example, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked cereal, such as oatmeal or cream of wheat, is a standard portion. One cup is approximately the size of your fist, and 1/2 cup is equivalent to half of a baseball.
  • Fruits. The serving size for cooked or raw fruits is 1/2 cup. One small apple, orange or pear is the size of a baseball, 1/2 cup of applesauce is equivalent to half a baseball, and 1/4 cup of dried fruit is a small handful.
  • Vegetables. Portion sizes for vegetables are similar to fruits. One-half cup of cooked or chopped raw vegetables is the size of half a baseball. Four lettuce leaves are equivalent to 1 cup of raw, leafy vegetables and 1/2 cup of juice is the amount contained in a small glass.
  • Protein Foods. A standard meat portion is 3 oz., about the size of a deck of cards. Alternative protein choices include 2 tbsp. of peanut butter, approximately the size of a ping pong ball; 1/2 cup of cooked legumes, the size of a baseball; and 1/3 cup of nuts, equivalent to a small handful
  • Milk. One cup of milk is the standard portion size in this group. Serving sizes for other dairy foods are determined based on their equivalent calcium content. Remember that the size of your glass influences your perception of portion size. It's best to use a standard measuring cup to ensure proper portion control.
  • Fats. Oils, shortening, butter, lard and salad dressing are all in the fats group. One teaspoon of fat contains 5 g, a size equivalent to the top joint of your thumb or two stacked nickels.

Tip #6: Rethink Your Drink

What you drink is as important to your health as what you eat. Water is the best choice. Complete your meal with a glass of water, or a cup of tea or coffee.

  • Skip the sugary drinks, which add empty calories, leading to weight gain while raising the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
  • Limit milk and dairy to two servings per day, since high dairy intake can increase the risk of some diseases.
  • Limit juice to a small glass per day, since it is high in sugar.

Tip #7: Enjoy Healthy Carbohydrates

Skip the easily digested, refined carbohydrates from refined grains - white bread, white rice, pasta, etc. - as well as pastries, sugared sodas, and other highly processed foods. These foods can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic disorders.

Instead, fill a quarter of your plate with whole grains, which cause slower, steadier increases in blood sugar that don't overwhelm the body's ability to handle carbohydrates. Whole grains include whole wheat, brown rice, oats and barley, as well as foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta. The less processed the whole grains, the better. Healthy carbohydrates also include vegetables, fruits and beans - since they promote good health by delivering vitamins, minerals, fiber, and a host of important phytonutrients.

Here are some easy ways to add healthy carbohydrates to your diet:

  • Start the day with whole grains. Try a hot cereal, like steel cut oats, or a cold cereal that lists a whole grain first on the ingredient list and is low in sugar.
  • Use whole grain breads for lunch or snacks. Confused about how to find a whole-grain bread? Look for bread that lists as the first ingredient whole wheat, whole rye, or some other whole grain - and even better, one that is made with only whole grains, such as 100 percent whole wheat bread.
  • Bag the potatoes. Instead, try brown rice, bulgur, wheat berries, whole wheat pasta, or another whole grain with your dinner.
  • Choose whole fruit instead of juice. An orange has twice as much fiber and half as much sugar as a 12-ounce glass of orange juice.
  • Bring on the beans. Beans are an excellent source of slowly digested carbohydrates, as well as a great source of protein.

Tip #8: Choose Healthier Fats

It's time to end the low-fat myth. The percentage of calories you consume from fat isn't really linked with disease. What really matters is the type of fat you eat.

"Good" fats - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats - lower disease risk. They improve cholesterol levels when eaten in place of highly processed carbohydrates. "Bad" fats - saturated and, especially, trans fats - increase disease risk.

Foods high in good fats include fatty fish such as salmon, nuts, seeds and avocadoes. The fats in fish are especially helpful, as they can protect the heart from sudden and potentially deadly rhythm problems. Healthy fats can also be found in trans-fat free margarines and olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut and other vegetable oils. Foods high in bad fats include red meat, butter, cheese and ice cream, as well as processed foods made with trans fat from partially hydrogenated oil.

One problem with a generic lower-fat diet is that it prompts most people to stop eating fats that are good for the heart along with those that are bad for it. "Low-fat," "reduced fat," or "fat-free" processed foods aren't necessarily "healthy." When food manufacturers take out fat, they often replace it with carbohydrates from sugar, refined grains, or starch. Our bodies digest these refined carbohydrates and starches very quickly, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to spike and then dip, which can lead to hunger, overeating, and weight gain. Over time, this can raise the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

So, cut back on foods like red meat and butter. Replace them with fish, beans, nuts and healthy oils. And avoid processed foods with simple carbs.

Tip #9: Choose Plant-based Proteins More Often

Pick a healthy source of protein to fill one quarter of your plate. But remember, not all protein is created equal. Healthy sources of protein include fish, chicken, beans, or nuts. Choosing these in place of red meat (beef, pork and lamb) or processed meat (such as bacon, cold cuts, hot dogs) can lower the risk of heart disease, diabetes and colon cancer.

When possible, try replacing animal-based proteins with beans, peas, lentils, or soy foods, which are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are rich in phytochemicals and fiber, and low in calories and saturated fat. Consider adding or substituting legumes in spaghetti sauce, casseroles, chili or rice dishes, or as side dishes at meals.

Need more reasons to eat less meat? Producing a meat-based diet (28% calories from animal products) requires twice as much energy as producing a vegetarian diet. Meat production as widely practiced today also has significant environmental impacts on land use, water use, water pollution, and air emissions.

Tip #10: Eat Less Sodium

Sodium plays an important role in maintaining the body's fluid balance. It is essential for muscles and nerves to function properly. However, many people consume far too much sodium. The recommendation is 1500-2300 mg of sodium daily. Extensive research links high-sodium diets to increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Want to shake the salt habit? Decreasing your sodium intake can be difficult, but here are some helpful ideas:

  • Choose more fresh fruits and vegetables. Fresh is best! Avoid processed and convenience foods, such as cheese, breads, deli meats, spaghetti with sauce, and foods prepared away from home
  • Compare food labels. Sodium content can vary significantly within food categories. For example, a regular slice of frozen cheese pizza can range from 450 mg to 1200 mg, and some brands of breakfast sausage have twice the sodium content of other brands. Choose foods with the lowest sodium values.
  • Use less refrigeration. Convenience foods rely heavily on refrigeration for preservation. Consider a smaller, more efficient refrigerator and buying smaller quantities of fresh produce more frequently.