Eating healthy means getting the right balance of nutrients your body needs to function properly every day. Along with getting plenty of exercise, it’s one of the best habits you can have. Sometimes it’s hard to know what and how much to eat. Check out the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Published by the U.S. government in 2005, this booklet can show you how to:
- Make smart choices from every food group
- Find a balance between food and physical activity that’s right for you
- Get the most nutrition out of your calories
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Make Smart Choices From Every Food Group
The best way to give your body the balanced nutrition it needs is by eating a variety of nutrient-packed foods every day. Just be sure to stay within your daily caloric needs.
Mix up your choices within each food group.
- Focus on fruits. Eat a variety of fruits—whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried—rather than fruit juice for most of your fruit choices. Most women need two cups of fruit each day (for example, one small banana, one large orange and 1/4 cup of dried apricots or peaches).
- Vary your veggies. Eat more dark green veggies such as broccoli, kale and other dark leafy greens; orange veggies such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin and winter squash; and beans and peas such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas and lentils.
- Get your calcium-rich foods. Get three cups of low-fat or fat-free milk or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese (1½ ounces of cheese equals one cup of milk) every day. If you either can’t or don’t drink milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.
- Make half your grains whole. Eat at least three ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice or pasta every day. One ounce is equal to about one slice of bread, one cup of breakfast cereal or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats or corn are referred to as “whole” in the list of ingredients.
- Go lean with protein. Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it or grill it. And vary your protein choices with more fish, beans, peas, nuts and seeds.
- Know your fats. Look for food low in saturated and trans fats. Choose healthier fats found in canola and olive oil, nuts, seeds and even avocados!
Find a Balance Between Food and Physical Activity That’s Right for You
If you eat 100 more food calories a day than you burn, you’ll gain about one pound in a month. That’s about 10 pounds in a year. The bottom line is that to lose weight, it’s important to reduce calories and increase physical activity.
Being healthier isn’t just about eating healthier. Regular physical activity is also important for your overall health and fitness. It helps you control your body weight by balancing the calories you take in as food with the calories you burn each day.
- Be physically active for at least 30 minutes as many days as possible.
- Increasing the intensity or length of time that you are physically active can have even greater health benefits and may be needed to control body weight. About 60 minutes a day may be needed to prevent weight gain.
Get the Most Nutrition Out of Your Calories: Right-Size Your Portions
Choose the most nutritionally rich foods you can from each food group each day; they should be packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients but lower in calories. Pick foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products more often.
The biggest nutrition problem in America is not WHAT we eat, but HOW MUCH we eat. The key to a healthy diet is to downsize your portions at breakfast, lunch, dinner and especially snack time. Be mindful when eating. Here are some quick and easy ways to enjoy more taste and nutrition while eating less.
- Listen to your body’s cues. Your internal signals of hunger and satisfaction can help you eat right if you listen to them.
- Prepare less food per meal. Large quantities of food make people eat more. If you want leftovers, put them out of sight and out of mind.
- Start with a small serving. Small servings may be exactly what you want and you can always have more if you are still hungry.
- Use small dishes and glasses. It really works. Smaller plates and taller, thinner glasses make you think that you are getting more with less.
- Slow down the pace of eating. Eating slowly enhances enjoyment of food and beverages and gives your brain time to register fullness.
- Eat half, and then wait 20 minutes. When you wait (and listen to internal cues), you can be satisfied with smaller-than-usual portions.
- Never eat out of the bag. When you eat out of bags, boxes or cartons, you usually eat more. Take a small portion and then put the bag away.
- Eat regular meals and snacks. When you plan regular meals and snacks, it’s easier to be satisfied with smaller portions each time. Skipping meals may lead you to eat more high-calorie, high-fat foods at your next meal or snack. Eat breakfast every day.
- Avoid eating in front of the TV or while you are busy with other activities. It is easy to lose track of how much you are eating if you eat while doing other things.
Take a Multivitamin
These are great tips to get you started eating healthy for life. But let’s face it; our busy lives sometimes get in the way of our best intentions. Fill in those nutrition gaps with a multivitamin and take it every day. Be sure to check the label to make sure your multivitamin has 100% DV folic acid.
Still taking those children’s chewable vitamins? That may be OK for now, but if you have begun menstruation you may want to start taking adult vitamins. They can take some getting used to, but they are worth the extra effort. If you want to continue taking chewables, you should switch to adult chewables to get all the nutrients you need. Talk to your health care provider about what kind of multivitamin supplement you should take. For tips on choosing and taking multivitamins, visit the multivitamin section of this web site.
Some content courtesy of the Weight-control Information Network (WIN). A complete copy of this information can be found at http://win.niddk.nih.gov/publications/take_charge.htm. Additional content is courtesy of the Eat Smart, Move More Campaign from the N.C. Dept. of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Division of Public Health. The original content and additional information can be found at http://www.myeatsmartmovemore.com/.