Eating Healthy

Strategies for Eating Healthier

be healthy

With the epidemic of obesity continuing to rise, it is imperative that each and every individual review their eating habits and the foods that they consume. In fact, anyone that is considering a lifestyle change to that of a life filled with good health, fitness and mental well-being must consider their eating habits and patterns. Eating healthy is not about limiting an individual’s food intake to that of a strict nutritional diet, or eliminating all of the foods that the individual enjoys.

Instead, eating healthy is about consuming foods in moderation, consuming foods that are natural and unprocessed, and consuming a variety of foods that are directed at providing all of the nutritional requirements of the human body.

Although this may seem like a daunting task to individuals that have never given thought to their nutritional diet, putting together a dietary regimen that is filled with the nutrients that the human body requires to perform optimally is really quite simple.

The human body is the greatest and most complex device ever created. The internal workings of the human body and the continual activities that are taking place around the clock to sustain life, ward off and combat disease, and provide physical and mental functioning are truly amazing. In order for our bodies to perform these functions on a daily and ongoing basis we need to feed our bodies with the nutrients it needs. What this means is that we need to provide our bodies with the appropriate fuel so that it can operate and function at its optimum level.

With the hectic and busy lifestyles of most individuals, this aspect of our health has become more and more challenging. Consuming “fast food,” processed foods, foods that have been depleted of their nutrients, and foods that are filled with pesticides, hormones and chemicals only facilitates the ill health of many individuals.

One common sense approach to consuming a healthy and nutritious diet is to focus on only eating foods that are of the Earth. More specifically, if an individual could not go out into nature and physically gather the food then they should not eat it. For example, one could go into nature and gather all types of fruits, vegetables, meats, nuts and whole grains.

On the other hand, one could not venture out into nature and gather a candy bar, a piece of white bread or a can of soda. Although many of these foods have ingredients that are found in nature, they are derivatives and are not the types of food that appropriately fuel the human body. One evidence of this fact is that while the Unites States has the highest rate of obesity in the world, most individuals are also severely nutrient-deficient as well.

Eating healthy is really quite simple: consume foods that improve your health and well-being and avoid the types of foods that increase your risk of illnesses such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. This being said, eating healthy is really all about incorporating a food intake lifestyle that is conducive to good health and wellness.

Eating Healthy: Tips and Strategies for Consuming a Healthy Diet

Below are several general tips and strategies designed to provide an overview of how to assemble a healthy dietary approach to your food consumption. These tips boil down to consuming foods that are nutritious (i.e. feed our bodies and improve our health) while avoiding foods that increase our risk for illnesses and disease.

  • Consume enough calories but do not overindulge – Maintain a balance between your daily calorie intake and daily calorie expenditure, also called your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR). In other words, do not consume more calories than your body burns in a day. As an average, the typical recommended daily allowance is 2,000 calories. However, please note that this value varies depending on an individual’s age, sex, height, weight and physical activity.

  • Consume a wide variety of foods – Do not be afraid to consume a wide range of food choices, particularly fish, vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

  • Consume moderate portions – Especially when consuming foods that are high in calories. For instance, instead of ordering a full meal at a restaurant, order an appetizer, or if ordering a meal, divide the portions between yourself and a friend.

  • Consume plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes – Make sure that your nutritional diet is comprised of a large portion of foods that are high in complex carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals, while remaining low in fat and cholesterol. Try purchasing fresh local produce whenever possible.

  • Consume plenty of water – Lean muscle tissue is comprised of approximately 75% water by weight. Blood contains 95% water, body fat contains 14% water, and bone contains 22% water. In addition, human skin is also comprised of a high level of water. In general, the human body is about 60% water for adult males and 55% for adult females. The importance of water relative to the human body cannot be overstated. Water assists in flushing the toxins and waste by-products from many of our systems and organs, especially the kidneys and bladder.

  • Minimize foods high in sugar, salt and refined processed grain products – White sugar contains 15 calories per teaspoon. In fact, sugar is a basic carbohydrate that every healthy body needs for energy, and is an essential fuel for muscles, internal organs and first-rate brain function. While sugar in itself is not to blame for the overweight and obese conditions that exist for many individuals, the problem lies in the fact that most individuals simply consume too much sugar. Hence, the approach should not be to completely eliminate sugar from your diet, but to simply moderate the amount of sugar consumed.

  • Remember: Salt is not the enemy – processed salt is the enemy. The reason a diet high in processed salt is unhealthy lies with industrial development and the chemical cleaning of salt. “Essential minerals and trace elements, seen as impurities, have been removed and salt has been reduced to the combination of sodium and chloride”, say Dr. Barbara Hendel and Peter Ferreira, authors of Water and Salt – the Essence of Life. In other words, the natural properties of salt have been changed to accommodate its industrial uses. An excellent alternative to processed white table salt is to purchase unprocessed sea salt. Sea salt is obtained through the evaporation of sea water and is high in vitamins and minerals.

  • Do not limit yourself to a diet you cannot maintain – The human body is very forgiving and it is not necessary that an individual put together a perfectly balanced and nutritious diet. It’s perfectly acceptable for an individual to enjoy some of their favorite sweets and fried foods so long as they consume them in moderation.

  • Be physically active – While a healthy diet improves energy levels and feelings of mental well-being, and reduces the risk of many diseases, the benefits are even greater when coupled with a fitness routine.
    Do not try to modify your dietary lifestyle all at once. Trying to go from a dietary regimen that is unhealthy to that of a highly nutritious diet in a single step can lead to frustration, depression and eventual failure. Instead, try modifying your nutritional diet a little at a time over a 2 to 3-month period.

Healthy Eating Practices

Eating healthy begins with learning how to incorporate proven practices associated with consuming food. Stated another way, it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat it. Below are a few tips and strategies designed to promote healthy eating practices.

  • Slow down and chew your food – Make sure to take the time to thoroughly chew your food. The digestion process actually begins in the mouth, and chewing is a vital component of the digestive process. The action of chewing mechanically breaks down very large amounts of food molecules into smaller particles. This results in food that is increased in surface area, an important contributing factor to good digestion.

    Chewing your food well allows the food to be exposed to your saliva for a longer period of time. Thoroughly chewing your food is not just important because it helps to lubricate the food, allowing for less stress on your esophagus, but because saliva contains enzymes that contribute to the chemical process of digestion. The digestion of carbohydrates begins with enzymes in the saliva breaking down some of the chemical bonds that connect the simple sugars that comprise starches.

    In addition, the initial stage of fat digestion begins in your mouth with the secretion of enzymes by glands located under the tongue. Thoroughly chewing food aids in the proper transport of nutrients within the human body. Chewing each bit forces the individual to slow down, pay more attention to what they are consuming, and be in the moment. When an individual eats more slowly, their brain can tell them that they are full earlier, causing them to eat less.

  • Minimize stress while eating – When consuming food, it is important to be relaxed as the process of digestion can be compromised, thus causing health issues like colitis and heartburn. Whenever possible, avoid consuming food while working, driving, arguing or watching TV. Take several deep breaths prior to beginning your meal, or light candles and turn on music that creates a relaxing atmosphere.

  • Listen to your body – Prior to eating, you should consciously ask themselves if you are really hungry. The sensation may indicate that you are actually thirsty, so try drinking a glass of water first. During a meal, stop consuming food prior to the time that you actually feel full. In general, it takes approximately 15 to 20 minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has consumed enough food. Eat slowly and consume just enough food to satisfy your hunger. By doing so, you will remain alert, relaxed and satisfied instead of tired and stuffed.

  • Eat early and frequently – Begin you day with a healthy and nutritious breakfast. This approach will activate your metabolism, improve your focus, and provide your body with the energy needed to perform optimally throughout the day. Try to consume the majority of your calories by 4pm or 5pm each day. This approach will allow your body the time to burn the calories prior to relaxing for the evening. Finally, eating small, nutritious and healthy meals throughout the day instead of the typical three large meals can assist in maintaining more constant blood sugar and metabolic levels. This approach minimizes binge eating as well.

Healthy Eating Practices

Despite what certain fad diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins and minerals to sustain a healthy body. But what exactly does that mean? What are good carbohydrate, protein and fat choices for developing your own healthy eating plan? Below you will find more details on each of these topics.

Carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are foods comprised of some combination of starches, sugar and fiber. Carbohydrates provide the body with the energy it needs for physical activity by breaking the carbs down into glucose. Glucose is a type of sugar that the cells of the human body use as an energy source. Carbohydrates contain four calories per gram.

  • Unhealthy Carbohydrates – Unhealthy carbohydrates are foods that have had all their bran, fiber and nutrients removed. Examples of unhealthy carbohydrates include white flour, refined sugar and white rice.

    These types of unhealthy carbohydrates are digested rapidly by the body and can cause large swings in blood sugar levels, which over time can lead to excessive weight gain, hypoglycemia and even Type 2 diabetes.

  • Healthy CarbohydratesHealthy carbohydrates are carbohydrates that break down and are digested at a slower rate. Healthy carbohydrates minimize large shifts in blood sugar levels, assist in creating a feeling of being full for a longer period of time, and provide long-term energy.

    Ideal sources of healthy carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables.

    In addition, these types of healthy carbohydrates provide a high level of vitamins and minerals, which in turn provide the nutrients needed by the human body to ward off illnesses such as heart disease and cancer, to name a few.

Whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which assist in protecting the body from coronary heart disease, certain cancers and diabetes. Medical studies have concluded that individuals that consume more whole grains tend to have a stronger and healthier heart.

It is important to ensure that the foods that an individual believes are whole grains are truly whole grain. Focus on consuming grains that are in their whole form. Grains of this type include brown rice, millet, quinoa and barley. In terms of breads and cereals, words and phrases such as “stone ground,” “multi-grain,” “100% wheat” and “bran” do not necessarily mean that the product is 100% whole grain.

It is important to look for a whole grain stamp from the Whole Grains Council. If a whole grain stamp or a 100% whole grain or wheat stamp cannot be located, then check the ingredients to ensure that each grain listed on the food label is defined as whole grain.

Fiber

Dietary fiber is most commonly found in plant foods. Typical food types that are high in dietary fiber include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. One of the primary benefits of fiber is the support and maintenance of a healthy digestive system. Fiber assists in supporting a healthy diet as listed below:

  • Dietary fiber assists in feeling full more quickly and for a longer period of time. This can be beneficial for individuals that are looking to lose weight and minimize their food portions.

  • Dietary fiber minimizes large swings in blood sugar levels by slowing the rate of food digestion and absorption, so that the food is converted to glucose (sugar) at a slower and steadier rate.

  • Dietary fiber, when broken down during the digestive process, produces organic acids that nourish the lining of the colon.

There are two types of fiber:

  • Soluble fiber: Dissolves in water and assists in lowering blood fats while maintaining blood sugar. Primary sources of soluble fiber include beans, fruits and oat products.

  • Insoluble fiber: Does not dissolve in water and is passed directly through the digestive system. Primary sources of insoluble fiber include whole grain products and vegetables.

Note: A nutritious and healthy diet should consist of approximately 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day.

Fruits and Vegetables: High in Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants and Fiber

Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Fruits and vegetables are an outstanding source of nutrients and are essential for any healthy diet.

In fact, every meal should include fruits and vegetables. In addition, fruits and vegetables make an excellent mid-morning or mid-day snack. Each individual should try to consume a minimum of 5 servings of fruit and 5 servings of vegetables per day. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants found in fruits and vegetables fortify the human body with the ability to combat the contraction of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and a whole host of other diseases.

  • Dark Leafy Green Vegetables: Dark leafy green vegetables are packed with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E and K, and are a must for any healthy diet. Dark leafy green vegetables strengthen the circulatory and respiratory systems. Typical dark leafy green vegetables that are packed with nutrients include kale, mustard greens, broccoli and Chinese cabbage, just to name a few.

  • Sweet Vegetables: Sweet vegetables are an excellent way to satisfy your craving for sweets. A few examples of sweet vegetables include corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, winter squash and onions.

  • Fruit: Consuming a wide variety of fruit is essential to any healthy and nutritious diet as well. Fruits provide the body with natural sugars (good for energy), fiber, vitamins and antioxidants. It is best to consume a wide variety of fresh fruits as each type of fruit contains different nutrients. For example, berries contain high levels of fiber and are rich in vitamin A, B and C, apples provide fiber, and oranges and mangos provide vitamin C.

  • Bright Deep Colored Fruits and Vegetables: Bright, deep colored fruits and vegetables contain higher levels of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

  • Limit consumption of the following:

    • Frozen fruit juices and bottled fruit juices can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per cup.

    • Canned fruit typically contains a sugary syrup.

    • Dried fruit, although an excellent source of fiber, may be high in calories.

    • Fried veggies are generally high in unhealthy fats.

    • Vegetables smothered in dressings or sauces, although they contain vitamins and minerals, are high in unhealthy fat.

Protein

During the process of digestion, protein is broken down into the 20 amino acids that are the basic building blocks of the human body. The human body requires protein to maintain healthy tissue, organs and cells, as well as for the regeneration of healthy cells.

A lack of protein in an individual’s diet can result in slow growth and development, reduced muscle mass, lower immunity, and a weakened heart and respiratory system. Protein provides the primary energy required for many of the daily bodily functions, both physically and mentally, that occur.

Typical amounts of protein needed on a daily basis range from 0.8 grams to 1.4 grams of protein per every pound of body weight.

Each person is unique and may need different amounts of protein depending on their body type and activity level. Protein contains 4 calories per gram.

Primary sources of protein include foods such as meat, poultry, fish, milk, eggs and cheese. When shopping for meat, poultry and fish, it is important to read the food label and purchase products that are free of hormones and antibiotics. A complete protein source is one that provides all of the essential amino acids. The aforementioned foods fit the bill.

  • Incomplete Proteins: A protein source that is low in one or more of the essential amino acids.

  • Complementary Proteins: Complementary proteins are defined as two or more incomplete protein sources (i.e. foods) that together provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids. For example, rice and dry beans. Dry beans and rice are each incomplete proteins, but together they provide adequate amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs.

  • Nuts, Seeds, Beans and Tofu: Additional Sources of Healthy Proteins: Beans, nuts, nut butters, peas and soy products are excellent sources of protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals. In addition, several of these food types provide iron, which is better absorbed when a source of vitamin C is consumed during the same meal.

  • Healthy Protein Choices: Black beans, navy beans, garbanzos, lentils and several other beans. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and pecans. Soy products like tofu, soy milk and veggie burgers. In addition, each of these food choices are great sources of protein for vegetarians.

Limit consumption of the following:

  • Salted or sugary nuts

  • Refried beans

Dairy Products and Additional Sources of Calcium and Vitamin D

Dairy products are rich in calcium, necessary for good bone health. Most dairy products are fortified with vitamin D (vitamin D added), which assists in the absorption of calcium within the small intestine. Purchase non-fat or low-fat dairy products that do not contain rBST (bovine growth hormone). If you are lactose-intolerant, choose lactose-free products or products that are lower in lactose (lactose-free milk, soy milk, hard cheeses and yogurt). Calcium is also present in dark green leafy vegetables (e.g. kale, spinach and collard greens), as well as in dried beans and legumes.

The recommended daily allowances (RDA) for calcium are 1,000 mg per day, or 1,200 mg if the individual is over 50 years of age. Purchase a nutritional supplement that is high in vitamin D and calcium if the foods that you consume do not provide the levels previously stated.

Limit consumption of the following:

  • Full-fat dairy products

  • Products from cows treated with rBST

Fats

Contrary to popular belief, fats are an essential part of a healthy diet. Healthy fats are needed to nourish the brain, heart, nerves, hormones, cells, hair, skin and nails. They also serve to insulate the organs and regulate body temperature.

Fat also contributes to the feeling of being full during a meal. The single most important aspect related to fat is the type of fat that is consumed during a meal. Fats contain 9 calories per gram.

  • Saturated fats: Saturated fats are primarily found in animal products, including red meat and whole milk dairy products. Saturated fats raise the low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels and increase an individual’s risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). One solution is to substitute lean meats, skinless poultry, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, fish and nuts. Additional saturated fat sources include vegetable oils such as coconut and palm oils and foods made with these oils.

  • Trans fat: Trans fat also raise the low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol levels that increase an individual’s risk for coronary heart disease (CHD). In addition, trans fat also lowers the high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol). Trans fats are the by-product derived from a process called hydrogenation, heating liquid vegetable oils in the presence of hydrogen gas.

    Primary sources of trans fat include vegetable shortenings, some margarines, crackers, candies, cookies, snack foods, fried foods, baked goods and other processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. Many common food products have now had their trans fats eliminated, and this is typically stated as such on the product packaging.

  • Monounsaturated fats: People following traditional Mediterranean diets, such as the Sonoma Diet, consume foods that are high in monounsaturated fats like olive oil. These types of diets tend to have a lower risk for cardiovascular disease. Primary sources include plant oils like canola oil, peanut oil and olive oil. Additional sources of monounsaturated fats are avocados, nuts (i.e. almonds, hazelnuts and pecans), and seeds such as pumpkin and sesame seeds.

  • Polyunsaturated fats: Polyunsaturated fats include the Omega-3 and Omega-6 groups of fatty acids. These groups of fatty acids are not produced by the human body and are called essential fatty acids (EFA’s). Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids are primarily found in cold water fatty fish and fish oils. Foods rich in certain Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids called EPA (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA (Docosahexaenoic Acid) can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve mental stability and wellness, and assist in preventing dementia.

    Additional benefits derived from essential fatty acids include support for the reproductive, immune and nervous systems. The human body needs EFAs to manufacture and repair cell membranes, enabling the cells to obtain optimum nutrition and expel harmful waste products. Additional sources of polyunsaturated fats include sunflower, corn, soybean and flaxseed oils, as well as walnuts. However, when any of these oils are heated one of the by-products is the formation of free radicals, which can lead to disease.

So, how much fat is too much? First, it depends on the individual’s lifestyle, their height and weight, their age, and their current state of health. Second, it is important for all individuals to focus on consuming foods that primarily contain monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Third, each individual should focus on decreasing their consumption of saturated fats, and avoid trans fats as much as possible.

Below are several USDA recommendations relevant to the consumption of fats for the average individual:

  • Limit total fat intake to 20-35% of the total number of calories consumed per day.

  • Limit saturated fats to less than 10% of the total calories consumed per day (200 calories for a 2,000 calorie diet).

  • Limit trans fats to 1% of the total calories consumed per day (2 grams per day for a 2,000 calorie diet)

  • Limit cholesterol intake to no more than 300 mg per day, less for individuals with diabetes.

  • Consume healthy fatty acids and oils to promote optimum brain and body functionality.

  • Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA can reduce cardiovascular disease, improve mental well-being and help prevent dementia.

  • Food sources and products with EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids include fish such salmon, herring, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and several cold water fish oil supplements.

Sugar and Salt

Sugary Drinks and Sweets: Millions of individuals battle the temptation to consume foods that are high in processed ingredients, sugars, fats and calories (i.e. cakes, cookies, doughnuts, etc.). In fact, many of the calories are considered “empty calories” since they contain very little nutritional value. While it is acceptable to consume foods of this type on occasion, the frequency should be kept to a minimum. As with most things in life, moderation is the key.

Refined sugar is no exception, as consumption in moderation poses no real health concerns. However, when consumed at a high rate, and with a dietary plan that is high in fat and low in vitamins, minerals, protein and healthy carbohydrates, it can be a problem.

When sugar is consumed in large quantities, it not only modifies an individual’s blood sugar level, but it also consumes stored resources within their body (i.e. minerals and enzymes) in order to process the sugar. In addition, diets that are extremely high in sugar have been associated with hypoglycemia, suppression of the immune system, arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, headaches and depression.

One option for individuals that crave sweets is to consume foods that naturally contain sugar (i.e. various fruits). Another alternative is to prepare desserts using one-half or one-third of the recommended sugar. Additional options may be to decrease the portion size by 50% or limit the consumption of desserts to only special occasions.

Many foods have naturally occurring sugars (fructose), such as fruits, vegetables, grains and beans. Add foods that are naturally sweet into your diet to help minimize your cravings for unhealthy processed desserts. Strawberries, apples, grapes, oranges, sweet potatoes and winter squash are all great options.

Avoid or greatly reduce the intake of sugary drinks. It is not uncommon for a single 12-ounce soft drink to contain 10 teaspoons of sugar (15 calories per teaspoon x 10 teaspoons = 150 calories). In addition, soft drinks that use an alternative sweeter have been shown to interfere with the body’s natural regulation system and result in increasing an individual’s cravings for additional foods and beverages that are high in sugar. All in all, it is best to just minimize or eliminate the consumption of soft drinks. As an alternative, add a lemon or lime or even a splash of 100% fruit juice to your water.

Salt: The problem with consuming processed salt is that all of the vitamins and minerals have been stripped from it. Hence, it is recommended that individuals limit their sodium intake to approximately 2,300 mg per day.

However, it is not that salt itself is unhealthy – it’s that the salt has been processed, making it devoid of vitamins and minerals. An alternative approach would be to purchase a high quality sea salt. Sea salt can contain up to 90 minerals which are healthy for the human body. When purchasing sea salt, look for a salt that has a reddish or brownish tint, has no added coloring, additives or chemicals, and has not been bleached.

The intent of this article is to provide a top level review of what a healthy and nutritious dietary regimen is comprised of, the types of healthy foods to focus on consuming, and the types of foods to avoid or at least minimize. There are three primary objectives associated with consuming high quality foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, protein and fats.

  • First, by consuming foods that are healthy and nutritious we provide the fuel that the human body requires to perform and function optimally.

  • In addition, a healthy diet filled with nutritious foods promotes a strong immune system, and hence the ability of the body to ward off disease.

  • Finally, healthy and nutritious foods support a lifestyle in which an individual’s weight is more apt to be appropriate for their height.

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