According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), 117 million Americans are living with a chronic disease that likely could have been avoided with smarter choices in regards to healthier eating and exercise. That’s nearly half of our population! When we think about leading a healthy lifestyle in these terms, the effort (healthy eating and exercising) seems so minuscule next to the potential reward (disease prevention). Plus, there are additional rewards in the areas of weight, energy, mood, and more. So why is it that we Americans don’t take these seemingly simple steps toward better lifestyle choices and healthier eating?
One of the biggest barriers American’s face when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, is knowing what to eat. A survey conducted by Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine asked 10 nutrition-based questions to over 1,000 adults and made some surprising discoveries:
- Only 18% were aware that 70% of the calories in cheese come from fat
- Only 22% understood that beans, broccoli, and milk are calcium-rich foods
- Only 7% knew that an egg is higher in cholesterol than a Big Mac from McDonald’s
Knowledge is imperative to eating right. However, there’s so much information out there about different diets and things that are good for you/things that aren’t, that it can become overwhelming to sift through all of this and identify what’s accurate. To help you make some good, clean decisions for your diet, we’ve collecting dietary suggestions from the American Heart Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Take a look at what you should be eating, what you shouldn’t, and some tips to help you on your healthier eating journey.
Head to the produce section and grab some fun fruits that are in season. In the summer, get excited for strawberries and tomatoes you can toss into a salad. And as the cold comes, start thinking about how you can work pomegranates and persimmons into some of your favorite dishes.
Grill ‘em, steam ‘em, saute ‘em; whatever it takes to get you to eat them, do it.
Brown rice is easy to add to any dinner dish, oatmeal is great in the morning, and guess what? Even popcorn can fill that whole grain craving your body has. Plus, whole grains give you fiber — a necessity for your diet!
Beans & Legumes
Protein plus fiber! Beans and legumes are another great way to get in your dietary fiber. Fiber helps by making you feel full faster, meaning you don’t need to eat as much. Simply stir some beans into a soup or toss them into a salad — you’ll hardly notice they’re there, but your body will thank you.
Nuts & Seeds
Good things come in small packages, and that couldn’t be truer for nuts. From protein to good fat, the health benefits of nuts and seeds are far and wide. However, because they’re so powerful, it’s best to have them in moderation. Grab a small handful and you’re good to go.
When it comes to fish, the oilier the better. Oily fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids which your body needs. Keep in mind, it’s best to rotate your animal protein sources. Try to work in fish like salmon or tuna twice a week, and for the other days, you can try some chicken or turkey — preferably skinless.
Fat-Free & Low-Fat Dairy
Try yogurt! Have it for breakfast with granola, use it as a dip for veggies, or simply enjoy it by itself! Another great source of dairy is cottage cheese which is great topped with some peaches or pineapple.
Healthier Fats & Oils
Do you use a lot of butter in your cooking? Try swapping that out with a healthy oil like olive oil or canola oil, you probably won’t even notice the difference!
Try to stay away from things like:
- Sodium & Salt
- Saturated Fat
- Sweets & Added Sugars
- Red Meats (but if you must, go for lean)
The Opposite of Good
Stay away from anything with trans fat. Cookies, crackers, donuts, oh my! These store-bought items are foes, not friends. When looking at nutrition labels while grocery shopping, if you see the words “hydrogenated oil” stay far, far away – that’s not healthier eating.
- Shop Smarter – Look at nutrition labels, Google information while in-store, and be skeptical about the things you’re putting into your shopping cart.
- Cook at Home – The easiest way to know what you’re putting in your body is to make it yourself.
- Keep Calories in Mind – Know how many you should have in a day, know how many are in the foods you’re consuming, and track your intake.
- Munch Mindfully – Take your time enjoying a meal and listen to your body. By giving your body time to digest and by listening to that full feeling, you’ll notice that you don’t need as much on your plate to feel satisfied.
- Keep It Interesting – Don’t bore your taste buds with those same old foods. Changing up your diet is a treat for your tongue as well as your body as it helps you maintain a more well-rounded diet and ensures you consume a greater number of nutrients.
You can try to apply the information and tips above all you want, but if you don’t keep a healthy mindset while doing it, the effects will be short-lived. For instance, someone may decide to eat only the foods under “The Goods” list, but maintain the thoughts, “Healthy eating is a bore” and “I wish I wasn’t doing this.” That someone may decide that they deserve a cheat day once a week to reward themselves for a job well done. When the cheat day comes, however, they’ll likely go overboard because they feel like they’ve been depriving themselves of the foods they really want. This mindset is not helpful.
Instead of looking at healthy eating as a negative thing, try opening your mind up to loving these healthy foods you’re introducing into your diet. Treat every day that you eat well as a reward and trick yourself into thinking that they are all cheat days (just not ones that include chips and soda). You may be surprised by the new habits you form. In this post, you’ll notice we’ve focused a lot more on the things you should eat than the things you shouldn’t. That’s because there are so many good, healthy options to choose from. There’s no need to sit around mourning the foods of your former life. Start eating right and loving it!
Have you tried sticking to the foods found on our “Goods” list? What did you think? How did they make you feel?
Disclaimer: This blog post provides publicly sourced information about nutrition and healthy eating, and should be used for educational purposes only. For specific dietary information, please speak with your doctor or nutritionist.