It’s great to want to be in shape and to exercise and work out often. However to really maximize the benefits from your activities, you need to consume the right foods. It’s not always easy to make healthy food choices, especially with our lives being as busy as they are. The following are tips to make choosing healthy food simple and easy.
Focus on fruits. It’s important to eat a variety of fruits everyday. Fruit can be fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. If you’re getting your fruit consumption through juicing or store bought juice, be careful. Too much fruit juice can add lots of unnecessary sugar to your diet; and as you would think, fresh juice is still always better than store bought juice. Considering there are still lots of natural sugars in many fruits, you should limit your fruit juice intake to one serving per day. And when it comes to serving size, one medium piece of fruit, ½ cup cut fruit, ¼ cut dried fruit, or ¾ cup 100% juice, all equal one serving.
Vary your veggies. It’s also important to eat a variety of vegetables everyday. Eat more dark green veggies, such as broccoli and kale. Eat more orange veggies, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash. Eat more beans and peas, such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas, and lentils. One serving of veggies equals 1 cup raw leafy greens; ½ cup chopped cooked or raw vegetables; or ½ cup 100% vegetable juice.
Consume calcium-rich foods. Calcium plays a major role in our bodies, strengthening bones and teeth, but this bone-building mineral is also significant in other areas of our health, including weight management. Every day, drink 3 cups of low fat or fat-free milk – or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt (1 cup yogurt) and/or low-fat cheese (1 ½ ounces of cheese equals 1 cup of milk). If you don’t or can’t drink milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or Calcium-mortified foods and beverages. Don’t forget, Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption by the human body. Vitamin D is converted to a hormone which causes intestinal proteins responsible for calcium absorption to be produced. So make sure you’re consuming enough Vitamin D with foods such as cod liver oil, fish, fortified cereals, fortified soy products, fortified dairy products, and mushrooms.
Make at least half your grains “whole grains.” Studies show that eating whole grains instead of refined grains lowers the risk of many chronic diseases. You should be eating at least 3 ounces of whole grains everyday. One ounce is 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or ½ cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats, or corn are referred to as “whole” on the list of ingredients.
Go lean with protein. The truth is, we need less total protein that you might think. But we could all benefit from getting more protein from better food sources. Make sure to choose lean meats and poultry. Best methods of preparation are baking, broiling or grilling meat, poultry and fish. Vary your protein choices from only meat and poultry – with fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds. One serving of meat, poultry or seafood is 2-3 ounces, about the size of a deck of cards. For beans or peas, ½ cup is a serving, and for nuts and seeds, ¼ cup is a serving.
Know the limits on fats, salt, sugars, and alcohol. Too many people eat too much saturated fat, added salt, added sugars and alcohol. Even reducing these by small amounts can make us healthier. It can help us manage our weight better and reduce our risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, some cancers and chronic kidney disease. Make sure when you’re at the grocery store you read the Nutrition Facts label on everything that you pickup. Look for foods low in saturated fats and Trans fats. Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little salt (sodium) and/or added sugars (caloric sweeteners like sucrose or high fructose corn- syrup). Limit alcohol – it just adds empty calories.
Lastly, it’s most important to remember that all foods can be enjoyed in moderation once you know the limits. Eating healthy is all about making healthy food choices. If we really are what we eat, where would you fall on the spectrum of unhealthy to healthy?