Eating healthy is really not as restrictive or boring as many people think. The essential steps are to eat mostly foods derived from plants—vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils)—and limit highly processed foods. Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet which will lead to a healthier you:
1. Eat Plenty of Fresh Produce
Aim for 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day, for a 2,000-calorie diet. If you consume more calories, aim for more; if you eat fewer than 2,000 calories, you can eat less. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple and yellow produce. The nutrients, fiber and other compounds in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, count as vegetables, though are moderately high in calories. Choose whole fruits over juice for more fiber. Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables are also good options.
2. Avoid Refined foods and sugars
The refined carbohydrates in white bread, regular pasta and most snack foods have little or no dietary fiber and have been stripped of many nutrients. On food labels, watch out for “wheat flour” (also called “white,” “refined” or “enriched” flour) on the ingredients list. Also, limit foods with added sugar, such as soda and candy. These are sources of empty calories that contribute to weight gain. Many sugary foods are also high in fat, so they’re even more calorie-dense.
3. Cholesterol is not really your enemy
Though a 300-milligram daily cap on cholesterol intake has long been advised, there’s abundant evidence that cholesterol in food has little, if any, effect on blood cholesterol in most people. Thus, many experts no longer recommend limiting dietary cholesterol (found only in animal foods, notably eggs and shrimp). The best way for most people to lower their blood cholesterol is to reduce saturated fats (as in meats) and trans fats (from partially hydrogenated oils in processed foods). A possible exception is people with diabetes, who should talk to their doctor about their overall diet.
4. More Potassium, Less Sodium
Excess sodium raises blood pressure in many people and has other harmful effects. People over 50, blacks and those with hypertension, diabetes or chronic kidney disease—that’s most adults—should limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day (about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt). Everyone else should aim for less than 2,300 milligrams a day. At the same time, consume more potassium, which lowers blood pressure. Potassium-rich foods include citrus fruits, bananas, potatoes, beans and yogurt.
You will find that by following the above tips, you will see a definite change in your mental and physical being. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet and make a difference to the way you think and feel.