Eating Healthy Plan
With all the interest in health and fitness in recent years, you would think everyone would know what it means to have a healthy eating plan. Unfortunately, there are still many who don’t know even the basics about how to choose foods that will keep them feeling well.
You will be happy to know that pursuing a healthy diet isn’t that complicated. Once you learn a few important details about nutrition and the food supply, you will find it easier to reach your goal to eat healthier.
An eating healthy plan starts with the nutrients
Most nutritionists agree that there are 6 nutrient groups that form part of a healthy diet. Calories are provided by the first three nutrients, Carbohydrates, Fats and Protein. These three also supply the building materials for the tissues and other substance that your body needs to function well.
The other nutrient groups that do not supply calories, but are essential to life are Vitamins, Minerals and Water. These are essential to the processes that are going on inside you every moment of every day.
It’s part of the carb group, but it could be a nutrient in its own right.
One more category that you could add to your nutrient list is fiber. Your body needs both soluble and insoluble fiber in order to function properly and keep you healthy. If you eat a balanced diet of mostly whole foods, getting the 35-40 grams of fiber you need each day should not be a problem. However, if consume a lot on fast food and packaged, processed foods, you may find it more difficult to get enough of this important carbohydrate.
Another way to look at nutrients in an eating healthy plan
If you don’t like the scientific approach, another way to evaluate the foods you eat, is to consider food groups. Depending on who you talk to, foods can be divided up differently. For our purpose in determining a healthy eating plan, let’s put foods into five categories- Fruits and Vegetables, Grains, Protein Foods, Dairy and Fats.
Some health experts include a category for sugary foods, but since these foods add very little, if anything to your healthy eating profile, let’s keep those outside of our healthy eating plan. This is not to say you will never eat sugary foods, but you should keep them to a minimum and they should not replace the healthy foods in your diet.
Here is a sample of each of these food groups to help you start to evaluate which groups may be over or under represented in your diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
This group is pretty self-explanatory as it includes all the fruits and vegetables you eat. Keep in mind that we are talking about real food here. Cherry licorice and pineapple sherbets don’t count as fruits and French fries are only marginally considered a vegetable. As often as possible choose fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables with no added sugar or sauces to subvert their natural goodness.
This group includes the grains themselves, including rice, quinoa, bulgur, oatmeal, barley, etc. and all of the things made from grains, such as cereals, breads, crackers, bagels, etc. Whenever possible choose whole grain versions of these foods, so that you get the full benefit of all the nutrients and fiber, without the chemicals used to process grains. White flour should particularly be limited or avoided.
Most people think of meat, fish and poultry when they think of protein foods, because these are probably the main sources of protein in most people’s diet. However, there are other very good sources of protein that fit into this group, including legumes (beans, peas and lentils), eggs, nuts, and seeds.
Dairy products are also a good source of protein, but they are part of the dairy group, since they supply a unique set of nutrients in addition to the protein they provide.
Most health experts recommend that you consume lean meats in moderation and include some meatless meals in your weekly healthy eating plan. Fish is a great source of protein and Omega fats, but be aware of the source of the fish and stick to smaller, less contaminated versions when possible.
This group includes, milk and all of the products made from milk, such as yogurt and cheese. You may want to choose low-fat or fat-free versions of some dairy products to lower the saturated fat and calories in your diet. Also, keep in mind that for a product such as yogurt can become a dessert rather than a healthy addition to your diet if it is loaded with sugar and other ingredients that detract from its health benefits.
I have purposely avoided including ice cream in this list, because most ice creams are high in sugar and saturated fats, as well as a laundry list of chemicals to get the desired flavor and shelf life. If you make your own ice cream or read labels carefully to choose high quality products with a minimum of additives, an occasional serving of ice cream can be part of a healthy lifestyle.
The fat group includes butter, oils, cream cheese, lard, etc. and is the group from which we should choose our foods most sparingly. Whenever possible, select monounsaturated fats such as olive oil and canola oil and less butter, cream cheese and lard, which are saturated fats.
There are some foods such as certain fatty meats and oily fish, avocados, nuts and seeds, which could also be included in this category due to their high fat content, but they also provide significant amounts of other nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and protein.
It is important to keep in mind that these foods should also be eaten sparingly, since a little goes a long way both in terms of calories and nutrition.
A note about servings
Take a little time to learn what a serving is for each of the food groups, so that you can include the appropriate amounts in your eating healthy plan. This is particularly important if you are trying to lose weight, or have difficulty maintaining a healthy weight.