Updated: Aug 7, 2019
Everyone seems to be on this “healthy eating” kick, but what exactly does it mean? I can certainly tell you that healthy eating is NOT the same for everyone and should be individualized. There isn’t a specific eating plan that we all have to attain to be considered “healthy.” In general terms, healthy eating means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients you need to maintain good health and free of disease, feel good, and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals. Nutrition is important for everyone, but you get to choose what “healthy” means for YOU. With the guidance of a registered dietitian, you can be quite successful in creating an eating plan that gives you what you need to maintain your health and feel good, but it will be something that works for you. Doesn’t that sound…empowering?
The United States Department of Agriculture uses an illustration called MyPlate, to promote the idea of a healthy diet2
. It is a good start and sets the foundation for creating a nutrient dense meal plan. The five food groups of MyPlate include fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy.
Making half your plate fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, sodium, and calories. They contain many essential nutrients that most people don’t get enough of, including potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin A, and vitamin C.
Fruits and vegetables come in different ways. You don’t always have to buy fresh produce, so if you are more inclined to buy canned of frozen fruits and vegetables, just try to avoid excess salt, sugar, and fat. For example, choosing canned fruit in water rather than in heavy syrup or buying “no salt added” canned vegetables.
Choose 100% whole grain foods
Grains are a good source of iron, magnesium, selenium, and several B vitamins, which play a key role in metabolism by helping the body release energy from protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Choosing whole grain foods ensures we are meeting our daily intake of fiber and keeps us fuller for a longer compared to refined grains.
Eat a variety of lean protein
Proteins play a role in developing bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. They are one of three nutrients that give us calories (the others are fat and carbohydrates). Proteins are a good source of essential amino acids that our bodies cannot make. For this reason, it is important to eat a variety like meat, poultry, fish, dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Some food choices in the protein group can be high in saturated fat and salt increasing our risk for heart disease and some cancers. Fatty cuts of beef, pork, and lamb; regular (75% to 85% lean) ground beef; regular sausages, hot dogs, bacon, some luncheon meats such as regular bologna and salami should be limited. Pull the skin off of chicken, limit deep fried foods and processed meats, even turkey bacon or sausage because the salt content can still be quite high.
Choose low fat dairy
Dairy products are the primary source of calcium and Vitamin D in American diets. Diets that provide 3 cups or the equivalent of dairy products per day can improve bone mass. Choosing low fat or fat free dairy products help with limiting saturated fats. When eaten in excess, saturated fat can clog our arteries leading to heart attack or stroke.
Where do I begin?
When making lifestyle changes, a good place to start is by making a list of foods that you typically eat on a regular basis. It helps to organize this by each food group. From there, make small changes, one group at a time, to choose the types of foods that are recommended for each food group. The foods that do not fit into any of the five food groups (chips, candy, cakes, pies, etc) are the types of foods to eat on occasion, mostly because they provide a lot of calories without the nutrients. Again, you decide when and how often that occasion will occur based on what you set for your health goals.
See the example below.
Orange Juice 100% fruit juice
Canned fruit in heavy syrup Canned fruit in water
Canned green beans “No salt added” canned green beans
Frozen corn w/ butter sauce Frozen corn
Chicken leg Chicken breast
Round roast Tenderloin
Salted Unsalted almonds
Canned beans “No salt added” canned beans
Whole wheat Pasta
Honey wheat bread 100% Whole wheat bread
2% milk 1% milk
Yoplait strawberry yogurt Low fat yogurt (watch added sugar)
Cheese (low fat)
The MyPlate method of eating is where I always start when counseling clients. You won’t know what you have to change if you don’t know what you are currently doing. The journey towards the idea of healthy eating is whatever you decide that to be, but it should not come in the form of drastic measures. Rather, think about making lifestyle changes that will stick in the long run. Try not to adopt temporary methods of eating. This can potentially cause more stress not only with the body in terms of weight cycling, but emotional and psychological stress as well. Let’s use food not only to nourish the body, but the mind and soul too!