What Does a Healthy Diet Look Like?
What Does a Balanced Diet Consist Of?
So many nutritionists spend so much time telling us what not to eat and how terrible crash diets are, we are left wondering just what we ought to be eating.
I'm fairly confident we all know what to avoid:
- Trans fat
- Saturated fat
- High-sodium foods
- Over-processed foods
- White bread and flour
- Added-sugar products
to name merely a few of the offenders on the "No-No" list. And it seems common sense to observe that someone eating red meat three times a day and avoiding fruit like the plague is not eating a balanced diet. We all know what a balanced diet isn't. So what does a healthy diet really look like?
The Basic Principles of Healthy Eating
Proper nutrition is dependent on your ability to introduce variety into your diet. Choose a range of foods within each food group, and on getting essentials from each group daily. Contrary to popular belief, one "bad" eating day will not wreak immediate havoc upon your body, nor even negatively affect your weight in the long run. The twenty-four hour clock is an intellectual invention; the body exists in continuity, and one "mistake" barely makes a blip on your physical radar.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), after extensive criticism of the food pyramind introduced in 1992, instituted new guidelines in 2005, with the slogan Steps to a Healthier You. The revised guidelines offer a healthier approach to eating, less based on rules and emphasizing moderation and activity in a lifelong journey to health.
The Food Groups
Ignore the low-carb diet hype. Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel, and without it, your muscles begin to atrophy - your body literally digesting itself. Instead of thinking in terms of "good" and "bad" carbs, concentrate on consuming half of your daily carbohydrates in whole grains and high-fiber foods. (See How to Fit More Fiber Into Your Diet.) Almost half of your daily calories should come from carbs. Excellent sources of complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables like peas, corn, and potatoes, and legumes like beans and lentils.
Fruits and Vegetables
The government and agricultural farmers alike have been stressing this food group for years, and for good reason. A third of your diet should consist of fruits and vegetables. Choose plenty of vibrantly colored fruits and green, leafy vegetables for the best nutrition and taste. Eat them fresh, whenever possible. (See: Eating in Season - Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.)Your next best options are steaming, baking or stir-frying in a little olive oil. Avoid deep frying or extensively boiling, as this robs vegetables of their nutrients and defeats the purpose of eating them!
Protein is essential to the functioning of the human body, but it is easy to overindulge. So much of the stereotypical American diet consists of red meat, it leaves little room for other important sources, such as seafood, nuts and seeds, and poultry. Try to vary your protein intake, based on what you enjoy eating, and pick lean cuts of meat and fish. Bake instead of frying, like in these easy oven-fried chicken recipes.
Dairy is another good source of protein, and its right to a separate group has long been debated. If you enjoy milk, cheese, and yogurt, include these in your daily routine. If not, be sure to take in enough calcium and vitamin d through other sources, like fresh spinach. Nowadays, even the lactose intolerant can enjoy dairy with a few simple tips.
This section of the old 1992 food pyramid was accompanied by the infamous warning "use sparingly." Do not obsess over removing fats and sugars from your diet, but be mindful of your intake. This does not mean buying "reduced-fat" everything. It simply takes into account the fats and sugars that are built into the other food groups, and reminds us not to overdo the extras. For quick, easy fat-free indulgences you don't have to stress over, try these cookies and other desserts.
Remember, you don't have to sacrifice balanced meals in these tough economic times. Check out my tips for eating healthy on a budget.
- The Mayo Clinic's Guide to Healthy Eating
Healthy diet — nutritional recommendations designed to promote health and help prevent disease.
- The UK Food Standards Agency - Healthy Diet
A healthy diet contains lots of fruit and vegetables; is based on starchy foods such as wholegrain bread, pasta and rice; and is low in fat (especially saturated fat), salt and sugar.
- MyPyramid.gov - United States Department of Agriculture
- Kid's Health: Eating a Balanced Diet