Nutrition: How to Make Healthier Food Choices
Having a healthy diet has a lot of benefits. It can help you lose weight or maintain your desired weight. It also can lower your cholesterol and prevent certain health conditions. In general, a healthy diet keeps your body running on a daily basis. Learn how to make healthier food choices.
Path to improved health
The choices you make about what you eat and drink matter. They should add up to a balanced, nutritious diet. We all have different calorie needs based on our gender, age, and activity level. Health conditions can play a role too, including if you need to lose weight.
Choose food from all five groups and follow the tips below.
Choose products that list whole grains as the first ingredient. For example, whole grain breads or whole-wheat flour. Whole grains are low in fat and high in fiber. They also contain complex carbohydrates (carbs), which help you feel full longer and prevent overeating. Avoid products that say “enriched” or contained with other types of grains or flours. They do not have the same nutrients.
Hot and cold cereals usually are low in fat. However, instant cereals with cream may contain high-fat oils or butterfat. Granola cereals also may have high-fat oils and extra sugars. Look for low-sugar options instead.
Try not to eat rich sweets, such as doughnuts, rolls, and muffins. These foods often contain calories made up of more than 50% fat. Lighter options, such as angel food cake, can satisfy your sweet tooth without adding fat to your diet.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables naturally are low in fat. They provide flavor and variety to your diet. They also contain necessary fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Try not to add unneeded fats to vegetables and fruits. This means avoiding margarine, butter, mayonnaise, and sour cream. You can use yogurt, healthy oils, or herbs to season instead.
Beef, pork, veal, and lamb
Select low-fat, lean cuts of meat. Lean beef and veal cuts have the words “loin” or “round” in their names. Lean pork cuts have the words “loin” or “leg” in their names. Trim off the outside fat before cooking it. Trim any inside, separable fat before eating it. Use herbs, spices, and low-sodium marinades to season meat.
Baking, broiling, grilling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare these meats. Lean cuts can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use either a nonstick pan or cooking spray instead of butter or margarine. Avoid serving your protein with high-fat sauces and gravies.
Chicken breasts are a good choice because they are low fat and high in protein. Only eat duck and goose once in a while, because they are high in fat. Remove skin and visible fat before cooking. Baking, broiling, grilling, and roasting are the healthiest ways to prepare poultry. Skinless poultry can be pan-broiled or stir-fried. Use a nonstick pan or cooking spray instead of butter or margarine.
Most seafood is high in healthy polyunsaturated fat. Omega-3 fatty acids also are found in some fish, such as salmon and cold-water trout. Try to eat seafood twice a week. Fresh fish should have a clear color, a clean smell, and firm, springy flesh. If good-quality fresh fish isn’t available, buy frozen fish. To prepare fish, you should poach, steam, bake, broil, or grill it.
Non-meat options include dry beans, peas, and lentils. They offer protein and fiber without the cholesterol and fat of meats. These are staple foods for people who are vegetarian or vegan. You can swap beans for meat in recipes, like lasagna or chili.
Fats, oils, and sweets
Too many high-fat foods add excess calories to your diet. This can lead to weight gain and obesity, or increase your risk for certain issues. Heart disease, diabetes, some cancers, and osteoarthritis have all been linked to diets high in fat. If you consume high amounts of saturated and trans fats, you are more likely to develop high cholesterol and coronary heart disease.
It is important that you stay hydrated for your health. However, sugar-sweetened drinks contain lots of sugar and calories. This includes fruit juices, soda, sports and energy drinks, sweetened or flavored milk, and sweet tea. Substitute water and other zero-calorie drinks.
Things to consider
Being healthy is more than a diet — it’s a lifestyle. Combine healthy food choices with regular exercise and smart habits. Adults should get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week. Children and teens should get at least 60 minutes of exercise every day. If you smoke, you should quit. You also should limit your alcohol intake. Women should have no more than one drink per day. Men should have no more than two drinks per day. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting alcohol or smoking.
When you commit to a healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk of certain conditions. These include obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. If you’re worried, try making small changes to your diet over time. Talk with your family doctor or a dietitian if you have questions.
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