Learning Healthy Eating Guidelines

Healthy eating can help you manage your weight, get the right nutrients, and feel better. It’s also important for lowering your risk of disease and chronic health problems. And it’s easy when you get the hang of it! But where do you start?

Well, a great place to start is with the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans.” This is a report that’s put together by government experts to help people figure out the healthiest ways to eat.

Let’s take a look at what they say.

For starters, the guidelines tell you to…

Eat More of These

Vegetables and fruits have fiber to keep you full and help keep your bowels regular. Plus, they’re packed with the vitamins and minerals you need to keep your bones, muscles, and organs working well.

Try to eat a variety of veggies, especially the really colorful ones. They have more of the vitamins and minerals your body needs to function properly.

When it comes to bread, cereal and other starchy foods, make sure at least half of what you eat is whole grains. Whole grains can help lower your cholesterol and blood sugar, and keep your bowels working regularly.

Choose low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese. Dairy products like these give you protein and calcium for healthy muscles and bones. If you don’t eat dairy foods, you can get calcium from other foods, like soy milk or almond milk, as well as dark, leafy greens.

Speaking of protein… If you eat meat, make chicken, turkey, or eggs your first choice. They are high in protein and low in saturated fat. Add in fish, like salmon or tuna, once or twice a week and lean red meat now and then to balance your diet.

You can also get plenty of protein from non-meat sources, like beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy. Dairy foods are also good sources of protein.

When cooking with fat, choose liquid fats, like olive, canola, or safflower oils. If a fat remains solid at room temperature, it’s probably not a good choice.

If you’re a woman who could become pregnant you need iron and folic acid. Try to get 400 micrograms of folic acid every day. Folic acid is often added to foods like bread and cereal and can be found in in certain foods, like spinach. You can get heme iron from animal sources, like beef, poultry and tuna. Non-heme iron comes from plants, like oatmeal, lentils, and beans. Foods with vitamin C – like oranges – help your body absorb iron.

If you’re age 50 or older, make sure you get enough vitamin B12. You can find this nutrient in fortified foods such as cereals. You can also get B12 in vitamin supplements.

Now that you know what you’re supposed to eat, you need to…

Eat Less of These

First off, most people only need 2,300 milligrams of sodium or salt each day. But, if you are age 51 or older, are African American, or have certain chronic health conditions, you’ll need to keep it under 1,500 milligrams. Be on the look-out for high levels of salt in processed and restaurant foods.

Saturated fats, trans fats, and partially hydrogenated fats have little nutritional value. Avoid solid fats such as butter, margarine, lard, or shortening because they can increase the amount of fat in your blood.

Don’t eat a lot of foods that are made with refined grains, such as white flour, and unhealthy carbohydrates, like sugar. Lots of foods have added sugar and high-fructose corn syrup, which is another kind of sugar. Read food labels and check to see how much sugar is in a product before you buy it.

And, if you drink alcohol – another source of calories – the guidelines say to limit drinking to one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men.

Then, you need to …

Look at Your Total Calories

Keeping the amount of calories you eat every day in check is the best way to avoid gaining weight. The amount of calories you should eat depends on your age and how active you are. Talk with your health care provider, or a dietician to find out the right calorie balance for you.

Track your calories by writing down everything you eat or drink on a notepad or by logging into a computer or smart phone app. You might be surprised at how much – or how little you are eating!

Now, it all sounds like a lot, so remember these…

5 Steps to Healthy Eating

  • Vegetables and fruits have fiber to keep you full and vitamins and nutrients to keep you healthy.

  • Whole grains can help lower your cholesterol and blood sugar.

  • Low-fat dairy products give you protein and calcium for healthy muscles and bones.

  • Avoid foods that are made with white flour and granulated sugar.

  • Work with your health care provider or dietician to find the right calorie balance for you.

Healthy eating gets easier with a little practice. And now you know how!