The fact is that most Americans are not consuming a healthy diet. The problem isn’t as simple as eating too many calories (though this is a related problem); the typical American consumes too much saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium. This fact is largely to blame for the 78 million U.S. adults and 12.5 million teens/children who are obese.
One key to solving this problem is healthy eating. However, with a countless barrage of fad diets and contradictory dietary advice, it can be difficult to understand what, exactly, “healthy eating” truly means.
What is healthy eating? If you want to cut to the heart of the matter and learn how to start eating healthy, you’ve come to the right place. This guide will give you the information you need to find a diet that will, over time, help you lead a healthy and happy life.
What Is Healthy Eating?
Broadly speaking, healthy eating means consuming a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods that give you all the vitamins, minerals, and energy you need to maintain your overall well-being. A healthy diet consists of a reasonable ratio of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats, as well as a sufficient amount of water to stay hydrated. A healthy diet should help you achieve an optimal physical and mental state.
While these guidelines hold true for every individual, a “healthy diet” will look different from person to person. This is because we all have different dietary needs. Some individuals have dietary restrictions — whether due to health, medical, ethical, or religious reasons — that can make their ideal diet look drastically different than what you might be accustomed to. For instance, if you have a medical condition like GERD, you might avoid foods like maize or citrus fruits, which are perfectly fine foods for other diets, but may cause acid reflux in individuals with GERD.
Regardless of your needs, however, the practices and advice in this guide are the essential building blocks of a healthy diet.
Cook Your Own Food
There’s no better way to know precisely what you’re putting into your body than to cook it yourself. When you control what you put into your meals, you can avoid harmful ingredients, added sugars or salt, and any foods that may exacerbate health conditions. Indeed, when it comes to the latter, eliminating triggering foods by cooking your own meals is a key lifestyle modification to avoiding any unwanted symptoms due to dietary restrictions.
Instead, you can focus on clean eating by adding nutritious fruits and veggies, lean meat, and flavor-packed herbs and spices. Making this switch will give you sustained energy, a healthy body, and (very importantly) excellent tasting food.
Avoid Processed Foods
In line with the advice discussed above, you’ll want to avoid processed foods. Processed food is defined as food that has been mechanically or chemically manipulated to change its flavor or preserve it. This is often done at the consumer’s expense, as processed foods are manufactured to be addictive, and the preservatives used may have harmful impacts on the human body. Examples of processed foods include:
- Frozen dinners;
- Cookies and crackers;
- Candy and snack cakes;
- Potato chips;
- Granola bars;
- Instant ramen;
- Any fast food.
This is only a short list of a few of the many processed items on store shelves. Such items have proven negative health effects and are known to cause negative effects like acid reflux. While these items are staples of the American diet, it’s time to take it out of yours if you want to begin taking your diet seriously.
Read the Nutrition Labels
One healthy eating habit you shouldn’t neglect occurs way before you sit down at the dinner table. Take your time when grocery shopping and carefully read the nutrition labels on each item you buy; preservatives and added sugars can lie in the most innocuous items. When looking at nutrition labels, keep the following tips in mind:
- Pay attention to the serving size information — failing to recognize how many servings you’re eating can lead to much higher caloric, sugar, or sodium intake than you’d like. Further, note that the serving size is not a recommendation of how much you should eat; it just reflects how much the average consumer will eat.
- When reviewing the nutritional content, keep an eye out on the daily value provided for each component. However, remember that this percentage is based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your specific needs may vary.
- The three most important nutrients to keep an eye out for are saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars. As noted above, these are detrimental to your health when consumed in excess.
- Read the ingredient list for any undesirable inclusions. This is vital for individuals with dietary restrictions.
Eat Whole Foods
Contrary to the anti-carb craze sweeping the dieting world, carbs are an important part of your diet, and provide energy to your body. Nonetheless, it is important to distinguish between good carbs and bad carbs. The key to clean eating is finding the good while avoiding the bad, and that means focusing on consuming whole foods.
Healthy Carbs to Eat
Whole foods, as opposed to refined foods, are unprocessed. They provide all the fiber and nutrients naturally found in the food. Examples include veggies, whole fruits, whole grains, and beans. Unlike refined carbs, these items do not cause large spikes in blood levels, so they won’t leave you with ups and downs in your energy. This is key for people with chronic health conditions like diabetes.
Eat Well-Balanced Meals
If you’re just beginning to learn healthy eating habits, it can be easy to go overboard on one or two healthy favorites — but balanced meals are required to meet all of your dietary needs. A balanced diet consists of foods that are high in micronutrients and low in fats and sugars. A balanced diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
Neglecting any of these can result in deficiencies in essential nutrients, leading to the development of chronic health conditions like heart disease and cancer down the road.
Limit Added Fat, Salt, and Sugars
It’s difficult to overstate how important it is to limit added fat, salt, and sugars to your diet. These are often used in processed foods. When eaten in excess, they can harm your health. Be on the lookout for items with these additions, as they can sabotage an otherwise healthy diet.
Healthy Fats to Eat
Similar to how carbohydrates have been demonized, so have fats. But there are plenty of items loaded with healthy fats that can be a great addition to any balanced diet. These include avocados, whole eggs, and certain nuts, among others.
Healthy Snacks to Eat
Many processed foods are cheap and easily accessible, but these conveniences can come at the cost of your health. When it comes to snacking, however, our need for a quick fix often outweighs the more rational parts of our minds. It’s essential to be conscientious when it comes to snacking. Here are some healthy alternatives to common unhealthy foods:
|Unhealthy Options||Healthy Alternatives|
|Cookies & snack cakes||Whole grain bread with jam|
|Granola bar||Homemade granola|
|Gummy fruit snacks||Fresh fruit|
|Sweetened cereals||Whole grain cereals|
These are a few straightforward substitutions you can make to develop healthy eating habits for when you need a quick bite.