Following a healthy diet isn’t always easy. Work, family, and personal obligations can make eating well fall low on your list of priorities. However, incorporating easy nutritional fixes into your day isn’t as difficult as you might think and the benefits are significant.
Many diseases can be prevented or managed with the right diet. In fact, healthy eating may increase your life expectancy. Our K Health nutrition guide is designed to help you stay healthy and make smarter eating choices, without having to drastically change your lifestyle.
Of course, nutrition is just one piece of the wellness puzzle. A healthy diet combined with exercise is a very effective way to feel your best.
Healthy Eating Guidelines
What To Eat
Here are a few guidelines of which foods you should actually include in your diet:
- Healthy proteins, such as fish, lean meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, and beans
- Plenty of vegetables and fruits
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat milk/milk products
One example of a diet that incorporates the above guidelines well is the Mediterranean diet. It is based on traditional foods from the Mediterranean region. While there aren’t strict rules on what the diet consists of, it usually includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, and nuts. There is a moderate intake of dairy foods, and a low consumption of red meat.
Try to avoid:
- Foods that are fried or heavily processed
- White bread, which can raise your blood sugar
- Foods with a lot of added sugar. This includes items such as candy and pastries, and even some foods you wouldn’t expect, like some types of yogurt and granola bars.
- Foods with an excess of trans fats (a type of unsaturated fat that can elevate your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and reduce your good (HDL) cholesterol levels), saturated fats, and salt.
Want to know what the perfect plate of food looks like? If you want a visual of what to aim for, the Healthy Eating Plate is an excellent resource. This model, created by the Harvard School of Public Health, can be used as a framework for creating nutritious, balanced meals. The Healthy Eating Plate recommends that:
- ½ of your plate should consist of fruits and vegetables
- ¼ of your plate should be whole grains
- ¼ of your plate should be healthy proteins
Even if you follow these guidelines, it is also important to understand portion sizes so you can avoid eating too much:
- 1 serving size of chicken, beef, fish, or pork = 3 oz, or the size of a deck of playing cards
- 1 serving of cereal = 1 cup, or the size of your fist
- 1 serving of salad = 1-2 cups, or up to the size of two fists
How Often Should You Eat?
Limited research from Harvard Medical School says that eating three meals per day, as compared with eating fewer than three meals a day, can help you feel full and suppress your appetite. While there aren’t strict recommendations about when and exactly how often you should eat, there are a few guidelines to ensure that you stay full for longer and don’t resort to unhealthy habits:
- Eat filling foods: Foods that are high in proteins, fiber, and whole grains can help you feel satiated for longer.
- Plan ahead: Set yourself up for success. Don’t skip meals. If you know you’re going to be traveling, pack healthy snacks so you don’t end up overeating later.
- Skip the soda: Sodas, juices, and energy drinks that are high in sugar and calories are devoid of nutrients and won’t help you feel full.
Drinking Water and Staying Hydrated
Hydration is crucial for living a healthy lifestyle. Water makes up approximately 60% of your body weight. The health benefits of drinking water are numerous and include joint lubrication, body temperature regulation, and waste removal. So how much do you need to drink? The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s recommended water intake is:
- ~15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids for men
- ~11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women
Sound like a lot? It may initially seem daunting to drink so much water throughout the day, especially if you currently consume far less than the recommended amount. Start small; try adding an extra daily cup of water every week. Keep a liter-sized water bottle at your desk and try to drink three of them per day.
Remember: Don’t forget to drink water if you feel hungry. Being thirsty is sometimes confused with being hungry.
Lifelong Habits vs. Diets
You want to consume foods for a healthy life, not a short term fix. Going on a diet to lose weight and feel better is not the be all end all solution that some magazines and commercials might lead you to believe. Fad diets can be characterized by:
- Making claims based off of testimonials or a single study
- Having rigid rules that restrict some nutrients and food groups
- Promoting quick weight loss
Instead of trying to adhere to an impossible set of rules that will only make you feel bad about yourself, it’s far better to focus on making healthy habits that you can follow for a lifetime. Following a healthy balanced diet, limiting your alcohol consumption, and limiting your saturated fats and sugars, combined with a workout plan, is a much more realistic way to stay healthy, lose weight, and feel good about yourself.
How Eating Healthy Can Help You
Eating healthy can help you by both preventing and/or alleviating the symptoms of some conditions. Healthy eating has been shown to reduce the risk of developing obesity, hypertension, osteoporosis, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes. Eating healthy can also help alleviate the symptoms of chronic conditions like multiple sclerosis and sleep apnea.
Healthy eating can have an important impact on your longevity. In one study, individuals who maintained the following five healthy lifestyle factors lived more than a decade longer than those who didn’t follow any of the five:
- Maintaining a healthy eating pattern (getting daily recommended amounts of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, omega-3 fatty acids, and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Also limiting red/processed meats, sodium, trans fat, and drinks with added sugars.)
- Not smoking
- Fitting in at least 3.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week
- Drinking no more than moderate amounts of alcohol (One drink or less per day for women and two drinks or less per day for men.)
- Maintaining a normal weight (as defined by a body mass index between 18.5 and 24.9)
Start Eating Healthier Today
Take small steps to start eating healthier today. Try swapping your afternoon soda for seltzer. Order a side salad with your lunch instead of fries, or add some protein to your pasta so you will feel fuller for longer. You’ll be surprised at how quickly little changes can add up to big results.
If you’re eating out, here are a few tips for eating healthy, by meal:
Breakfast: For breakfast, try following these healthy meal guidelines:
- Add protein, like lean meats or eggs, to keep you fuller throughout the day
- Eat whole grains, such as whole-grain waffles or whole-grain cereals
- Consume plenty of fruits and vegetables
Lunch: Try packing your own lunch for work or when you’re out, rather than relying on fast food or take-out. These easy lunch suggestions will make packing a breeze:
- Meal prep on Sundays (or whenever you’re free). Cook a big batch of food, i.e. grilled chicken and steamed veggies, that can last you for the week
- Find a lunch bag that will help keep your food fresh
- Always keep a few staples on hand, like lean turkey meat and whole-grain bread, that can easily be made into a lunch if you’re short on time
- Keep healthy snacks nearby so you’re not tempted to binge
Dinner: If you’re out at a restaurant for dinner, try to remember these easy fixes:
- If you’re eating a salad, request the dressing on the side
- Choose vinaigrettes over creams
- Speak up: if you aren’t sure how a dish is prepared, ask
- Steamed and grilled are better than crispy or sautéed
- Check the restaurant’s menu beforehand to make sure you’ll have some nutritious options
If you’re traveling, try to:
- Bring a water bottle with you everywhere you go so you can stay hydrated
- Plan your meals ahead of time, so you’re not constantly scrambling to find something to eat when you’re already hungry
- Not beat yourself up if your eating isn’t as healthy as you like. Healthy eating is a way of life, and some days might be healthier than others, which is completely normal.
Nutrition Do’s and Don’ts
Here are a few final do’s and don’ts to keep in mind for eating healthy:
- Check portion sizes: Restaurants are especially guilty for serving portion sizes that are larger than what’s recommended. Always check portion size labels in the grocery store, and try eyeballing portion sizes at restaurants.
- Drink plenty of water: Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate! As mentioned above, water helps your body run optimally. Drink throughout the day to feel your best.
- Experiment: Try different techniques to see what works for you. Remember that your goal is to develop lifelong nutritional habits that you can stick to for the long haul. What works for one person may not work at all for someone else.
- Mindlessly snack: Snacking can lead to increased caloric intake. Instead of eating in front of the TV, where you don’t really notice how much you’re consuming, eat at a dining table where you can mindfully enjoy your food.
- Skip meals: Try to stay consistent with your meals. Skipping a meal will only make you feel hungrier later on.
- Eat excessive sugar: Sugar has been shown to contribute to disease and raise LDL cholesterol levels. It should only be enjoyed in moderation.
Making your health a priority is crucial for ensuring that you feel and stay healthy for years to come. Healthy eating decreases your risk of developing and having to manage the symptoms of a number of chronic conditions. Small nutrition changes can add up to big results. Start slowly and be easy on yourself. Healthy habits might take a little time to form, but you’ll be so glad that you started today.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.