We all know we should eat a “healthy diet” but it leaves many people wondering to themselves, “What does a healthy diet consist of?” With so much conflicting information and confusion, it’s not easy for someone to decide what they should – or should not eat.
Much of the confusion comes from both media and manufacturers. Watch any news channel or read any health blog and you’ll likely see the latest study that reveals what’s really good for you or bad for you – never mind it conflicts with logic, reason, and history. Manufacturers are a big time culprit of misinforming the public also. Packaging that claims “heart healthy” or “whole grain” may actually have a lot of unhealthy ingredients in it when you take some time to inspect the nutrition label more closely.
Another thing that confuses a lot of people is understanding things such as calories, fat, protein, and carbs. A lot of people think calories are bad if you have too many. Others think you should opt for a low-fat diet. Some believe, such as the Atkins diet supporters, that a high protein low carb diet is the answer.
With all of this misinformation and conflicting information, it’s no wonder that many people do not really know what a healthy diet means. Is there really a right or wrong answer? Is there a source you can actually trust?
The key word to remember is balance. Balanced meals include foods from all of the food groups and are not extreme in any one area. When you remember to include all of the food groups and balance each meal it helps your body get the nutrients it needs. Eating the foods together ensures that your body takes these nutrients and uses them in the most efficient and best possible way.
One of the easy cheats to make sure your diet is balanced is to look at your plate and see what different colors are on it. If you notice that all of the colors are white or brown, there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough vegetables or getting too many starches. The other thing to consider is which of the main food groups do each of the foods come from. If you have all of the food groups or at least 3-4 out of the 5, then there’s a good chance that the meal is going to give you what you need.
The next thing to consider is whole grains. Eating whole grains have shown to be much more healthier, especially for those who have sugar sensitivity. For some making the simple switch from white bread to whole wheat bread can make a small but important difference. Going just to half whole grains and half refined grains can make the transition a little bit easier, since getting used to whole grain pasta or bread can take time for some.
Here is a general guide for what a healthy diet should consist of:
1. Balanced Meals: As mentioned before, each meal and snack should include a variety of the food groups. For example, breakfast should include one protein, one dairy, one whole grain, and one fruit or vegetable. Lunch again should include protein, dairy, whole grains, and vegetables. Dinner would also have all of these food groups. Snacks can pair just one or two food groups, depending on which of the other food groups you’ve already eaten. For example, a banana with peanut butter gives you a fruit and protein. Cheese, crackers, turkey slices, and carrot sticks would also give you a healthy snack.
2. Low Calorie/Low-Fat: Calories by definition are units of energy. Depending on how active of a lifestyle you live, your calorie intake will vary for person to person. Someone who gets a moderate amount of activity, such as exercising 3 times per week can usually eat a diet between 1500-2000 calories. Many foods are loaded with calories but do not even fill you up or satisfy your hunger. Simply switching to things such as low fat cheese or low calorie salad dressing can help reduce the amount of calories you are getting in areas you don’t need them – and let you enjoy more of the healthier foods such as vegetables. You can also often enjoy many low calorie snacks with very little guilt. While I don’t believe in religiously counting calories daily, it is important to take into consideration which foods are better for you from a calorie standpoint than others.
3. Exercise: Exercise is very important for a healthy diet. Exercise can help your metabolism work better, which means you can eat more and it helps you lose weight. Rather than completely starving yourself or avoiding a lot of foods such as nuts or whole grains by exercising you can eat a wider variety and see better results in your health. Our article on exercises to lose weight can help you learn how to exercise the most effectively so you get the most out of your healthy eating habits.
4. Portion Control: There are certain foods such as vegetables that you do not really need to worry about portion so much. If you ate a half pound of spinach a day, it would likely not cause you to gain weight. However, foods such as ice cream on the other hand would probably cause you to gain weight if instead of having the recommended serving size of a half cup you ate an entire pint. Read the labels on foods carefully – many boxes will lead you to believe something is healthy for you or low in fat or calories – only to realize that the portion size is so ridiculously small. (For example: 5 crackers!) Before getting a second helping of something, you may want to wait 5 minutes after you are done eating also – many times we do not realize when we are full.
5. Water: Many of us do not drink enough water throughout the day. Drinking water accomplishes two things: It helps your body stay hydrated and it also helps you avoid “empty calorie” type of drinks such as sodas. Drinking enough water each day can help with a variety of problems from headaches to having more energy. So make sure your healthy diet also includes plenty of water!
Do you have any thoughts on what a healthy diet consists of? Share your comments below.