When it comes to improving your well-being, eating healthy is right up there with exercise. Making better food choices doesn’t mean bland, boring, expensive, or inconvenient meals and snacks. It means making sure you don’t cut out any of the major food groups, including desserts. Yes, I said it: you don’t need to eliminate dessert. Instead, make it fun by having it in moderation and sharing it with a spouse, friend, or other loved one.
Think about all the colorful nutrient-dense produce you can find at your local farmer’s market, grocery store, or in your own garden. The visual of bright colors can help to stop and appreciate your food, and remind you to be more mindful of your daily choices. Next time you go shopping, start by filling your cart with fresh produce of all the colors of the rainbow, adding something new along with your favorite fruit or veggie options. This is a great way to get your mind thinking differently about what you eat. By changing the way we look at our food and not depriving ourselves, we can begin to form healthier habits that can be sustained over the course of our lifetime. Remember, if you start by making small changes, new habits will form over time; and this is what’s crucial to helping you stay on track and reach your goals.
What is a healthy balanced meal? A combination of nutrient-dense foods that are a rich source of macronutrients—such as lean proteins, whole grains, and healthy fats—as well as a variety of micronutrients (better known as vitamins and minerals). Try keeping your plate proportioned with whole, minimally processed foods like these suggestions below.
Make 25% of your plate a lean protein at each meal. Fish, chicken, beans, and nuts are all healthy options and can be adaptable to just about any meal at any time of day. These proteins are a great addition to salads and pair well with vegetables. Add beans to soups for a hearty, fiber-packed meal. Try to limit red meat and cut down on processed meats like bacon and sausage.
I’m sure you have heard this term before, but do you know exactly what counts as healthy fat? Healthy fats come in many forms of food. They’re usually referred to on a food label as “polyunsaturated” and “monounsaturated” fats. These healthy fats include foods that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as salmon, olive and canola oils, avocados, nuts, seeds, and dark chocolate. Try to avoid or limit foods with trans fats saturated fats (fats that come from animal sources and are solid at room temperature).
Why whole grains? They are a great source of fiber! Consuming more dietary fiber has been shown to promote weight loss. It may also play a role in decreasing the risk of some chronic conditions including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. So, go ahead and make another 25% of your plate whole grains like whole-wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, and brown rice. Limit those refined grains like white rice, white bread, and products made with white flour.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies are superfoods packed with tons of vitamins and minerals essential to overall health. Pick the ones you like and eat plenty of them. Your goal should be at least 50% of your plate. Studies suggested that people who eat 10 servings of fruits and vegetables daily may have a lower risk of cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Once you get used to having them on your plate, try something new so you don’t get bored of the same old thing and fall back into old habits.
Drink plenty of water and try skipping sweetened beverages. Don’t go cold turkey on those sugary drinks, though—cut them out little by little to avoid cravings that’ll make you binge. Drinking black coffee and unsweetened iced tea is fine, and if you like green tea you’re in for a bonus: green tea may improve blood flow, lower cholesterol, and help you maintain a healthy weight. Remember, adding sugar will contribute to your daily sugar intake.
Meals don’t need to be high in fat or calories to be tasty and satisfying. Adding in fresh vegetables, herbs, and spices will help bring flavor to your plate. Avoid things like deep frying to keep down the fat, calories, and cholesterol. Embrace simple, small health-focused changes to your plate, and you’ll soon find that your health can coexist with good times!