What you eat and drink has a deep impact on your health. Scientists have been looking at the benefits of eating healthy for years. But there is strong evidence emerging that a healthy lifestyle incorporating a healthy diet pattern- (what you habitually eat and drink) can help you obtain and maintain excellent health and decrease the chances of chronic disease at any stage in life. So, let’s look a little deeper into eating healthy and get some tips on eating healthy for adults.
What is a healthy dietary pattern?
A healthy dietary pattern is what you habitually eat and drink over any day, week, or year. A healthy pattern consists of nutrient-dense foods and drinks that span all food groups in recommended quantities and calorie limits.
Attaining a healthy dietary pattern at every life stage supports your health now and supports your health in the next life stage and possibly for future generations.
Therefore if a healthy dietary pattern can be established early in life and sustained after that, the impact on health can be significant. Another major benefit of establishing and maintaining a healthy dietary pattern is that it can help minimize diet-related chronic disease risk.
So how many calories should I be aiming for daily?
Adult estimated calorie needs range from
- 1,600 to 2,400 per day for females
- 2,000 to 3,000 per day for males.
Males generally require more calories than females. Basal metabolic rate reduces as we age; therefore, calorie needs generally decrease.
What is exciting is that everyone, no matter their age, race, or ethnicity, economic circumstances, or health status, can gain from shifting food and drink choices to support healthy dietary patterns better
So what should I be eating when trying to eat healthily?
Eating various fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy or fortified soy alternatives, and protein foods are crucial when eating healthy. Choose foods that are full of dense nutrients when deciding what to eat. Make every mouthful count.
A simple way to get started fast is to use The MyPlate Plan from the U.S. gov. It provides your food group limits along with what and how much to eat within your calorie budget. Or download from your chosen app store the MyPlate app, which will help you with dead easy positive changes you can see regarding
- daily food goals
- real-time progress,
- earning badges as you progress.
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What are nutrient-dense foods and drinks?
Nutrient-dense foods offer vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium. These include:
- Vegetables of all types—dark green; red and orange and other vegetables
- Beans, peas, and lentils
- Fruits, mainly whole fruit
- Grains, half being whole grain
- Dairy includes low-fat or fat-free milk, yoghurt, cheese, or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yoghurt as required by dietary preferences.
- Protein, including poultry, lean meat, eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy foods
- Oils, including those oils in food, such as seafood and nuts
So how do I start eating healthy?
Aim to reduce foods and drinks high in added sugars, saturated fat, and salt and limit alcoholic beverages. Meeting your food group recommendations—even with nutrient-dense choices—requires most of your daily calorie and salt requirements at every stage in life. The majority of calories a person needs each day—about 85 per cent—are required to meet food group recommendations healthfully, in nutrient-dense forms.
That doesn’t leave much room for extra added sugars, saturated fat, sodium, or alcohol. It equates to 250 to 350 remaining calories.
You can add a small number of sugars, saturated fat, or sodium to nutrient-dense foods and drinks to help meet your food group recommendations, but this should be limited. The recommended limits are:
- 10 per cent or less of calories per day for added sugars
- 10 per cent or less of calories per day for saturated fat
- 2,300 mg’s or less of salt daily—and even less for children younger than age 14.
- Alcohol—If you are of legal drinking age, you can decide not to drink or to drink or to limit yourself to 2 drinks or less in a day if you are male and one drink or less daily if you are female (no alcohol if you are pregnant)
How will I know which foods have added sugars?
In typical Western diets, the primary sources of added sugars are sugar-sweetened drinks, puddings, sweetened tea and coffee and sweetened snack foods. The latter mentioned foods add up to more than half of the intake of all added sugars! Sadly, however, they contribute very little to food group recommendations.
You have several potential options for reducing your intake of added sugars:
- reducing the intake of major sources of added sugars.
- Strategies include reducing portions, eating these items less often, and choosing options low in added sugars.
- If you have a weight loss goal, limiting your intake of foods and drinks high in added sugars is an effective plan to help reduce calorie intake. It is worth mentioning that if you replace added sugars with low- and no-calorie sweeteners, it may result in a reduction in calorie intake in the short term and facilitate weight management. However, researchers are unsure about their effectiveness as a long-term weight management strategy
How do I figure out saturated fat in food?
Your saturated fat consumption should be limited to less than 10 per cent of calories daily by replacing them with unsaturated fats, especially polyunsaturated fats. Be aware that saturated fat is a typical characteristic in some foods, such as high-fat meat. However, some sources are added, such as butter on toast. Very much like added sugars, some of the nutrient-dense choices of a healthy diet pattern include saturated fat. Roughly 5 per cent of total calories inherent in nutrient-dense foods in a healthy diet pattern are from saturated fat in sources such
- lean meat
- nuts and seeds
- saturated fatty acids found in oils.
Therefore, there is little scope to add additional saturated fat in a healthy diet whilst meeting saturated fat and total calorie limits.
Practical techniques to lower saturated fat consumption include reducing your intake of puddings and sweet snacks, eating smaller portions, and tucking into these foods less often. Additional methods involve scanning food labels to select foods lower in saturated fats and picking lower fat forms of foods and drinks, such as fat-free or low-fat milk and lean instead of fatty cuts of meat. Choose a lower fat cheese in place of regular cheese. Cook and buy foods made with oils higher in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat,
Use the above list instead of butter, shortening, or coconut or palm oils.
What about trans fats and dietary cholesterol?
Health officials recommend that trans fat and dietary cholesterol consumption be as low as possible without compromising the nutritional efficiency of your diet. The MyPlate dietary patterns are limited in trans fats and low in dietary cholesterol. Cholesterol and a small amount of trans fat occur naturally in some animal source foods.
How can I control my salt intake?
Salt or sodium is an essential nutrient. As a food ingredient, salt is used in various ways, such as curing meat, baking, thickening agent, flavour enhancer, preservative, and retaining moisture. If you are following health guidelines, there is very little room for food choices high in sodium. Healthy eating patterns curb sodium to 2,300 mg a day for adults.
Salt is in foods from almost all food groups across the food chain, including mixed dishes such as sandwiches, burgers, and tacos; rice, pasta, and grain dishes; pizza; meat, poultry, and seafood dishes; and soups. Calorie intake is highly akin to salt intake. Because salt is in so many foods, multiple techniques must be used to reduce salt intake to the recommended limits. Intelligent choices are needed across all food groups to reduce your intake of salt. Here are some helpful techniques,
- cooking at home more often
- using the food label to select foods with less salt,
- flavouring foods with herbs and spices instead of salt based on your personal and cultural food choices.
Regardless of age or health status, attaining a healthy dietary pattern will require altering food and drink choices. You can achieve this mainly by making dead easy substitutions, whilst some others will require more significant effort to accomplish.
Ultimately, you decide what and how much to eat, your relationships; the settings in which you live, learn, work, play, and gather; and other contextual factors—including your ability to access healthy and affordable food consistently —strongly influence your choices. That is where the MyPlate Plan app shines, you can plan meals, and it can help you get organized with shopping tips, save money, and tips and tricks to choose and make healthy meals.
Going one step further, you can access the USDA Food Plans. They provide thrifty, low-cost, and liberal-cost food plans at different costs but all nutritious.
Top tips for putting it all into practice so you can start eating healthy
1. Make most of your meals by using as low as possible processed foods
2. Make an eating plan weekly – this is crucial for fast, easy meal preparation.
3. Pick recipes with plenty of vegetables and fruit. Remember the MyPlate info you have from above! Select bright coloured fruits and vegetables daily, especially dark green and orange. Don’t forget frozen or tinned unsweetened fruits and vegetables are a dead easy alternative to fresh foods.
4. Steer clear of sugary drinks. Keep a reusable water bottle handy.
5. Eat smaller portions more often. Aim for at least three meals every day and take healthy snacks between meals. If you end up going long spells without food, you become too hungry and likely make unhealthy food decisions.
Moderation: is key to any healthy diet
Learn to listen to your body’s natural rhythm and only eat as much food as your body needs. Aim to feel content at the end of a meal but not stuffed. If you don’t feel fully content at the end of your meal, try adding more green vegetables or have some fruit after dinner. Eat your meal more slowly and focus on the fact that your food is “nourishment”. Try to eat with others if you can. Steer clear of eating in front of the television as it can lead to mindless overeating.
To start applying moderation, you will need to eat less than you currently do. At least, that is the case for most of us. However, it doesn’t mean banishing the foods you cherish. When we ban foods, it is an instinct to crave those banished foods, and you will also feel like a failure if you give in and typically, you will eat even more., thus a vicious cycle is created.
Control the snack foods in your home. Be smart about the foods you keep at home. It’s more difficult to eat in moderation if you have unhealthy snacks and goodies at the ready. So, fill your home with healthy snacks. When you need a reward, you can go out and get it!
Learn healthy techniques to deal with stress and emotions, to regain control over the food you eat and your feelings. This way, you can manage emotional eating as you may not be eating because you are hungry.
Healthy food choices are happy food choices
Research suggests that “healthy” food decisions such as vegetables and fruits have physical and mental health benefits and could be a long-term investment in future well-being. This view contradicts the common belief that high-calorie foods taste better, make us happy, and alleviate a negative mood.
If you want to begin eating healthy, the only person that is stopping you is you. I hope you now have enough information and resources to start making healthy food choices. Just don’t forget food is nourishment, and you should enjoy it. Just be smart and learn to appreciate more nutritious options.