One of the most important things you can do for your optimal health is to eat a balanced and nutritious diet. Doing so helps stave off chronic conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, and allows those who are chronically ill to manage their diseases. Here are the best strategies for eating healthfully long term, according to experts.
1. Start slow.
Chances are that you’re not going to know everything about healthy eating at first. Registered dietitian Trista Best advises you to start slow: “One approach is to try a new vegetable each week and research a new recipe to integrate it into a meal.” Registered dietitian Lisa DeFazio recommends a food log too. “Write down your reasons for wanting to eat healthy (lose weight, lower cholesterol, increase energy, improve moods, etc.) and read your list every day. Track your intake with an app to make sure you are getting all the nutrition you need,” she says.
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2. Eat fewer ultra-processed foods.
Pre-made foods can be super convenient, especially when you’re juggling work, family and other obligations. But as per registered dietitian Summer Yule, ultra-processed foods are designed in such a way that they’re very easy to overeat. “Some examples include store-bought cookies, sugary breakfast cereals, frozen corn dogs and similar convenience foods. These foods are often high in added sugar, white flour and/or added oils, providing relatively few vitamins and minerals but a lot of calories.” So instead, make your default whole foods and meals that you prepare yourself.
3. Balance your plate.
According to DeFazio, “Fruits and vegetables should be the foundation of your diet; half your plate should be vegetables.” She also recommends having lean protein on your plate. To get that protein at breakfast, aim for an ounce of nut butter, turkey bacon or cottage cheese or an egg. Protein should be about a quarter of your plate during lunch and dinner; reach for 3 to 4 ounces (the size of a deck of cards) of skinless chicken breast or fish.
4. Make sensible swaps.
Some foods are best consumed in moderation, one of which is white flour. Fortunately, Yule has a handy tip: Swap out a significant amount of it (or other simpler carbs) for whole grains or vegetable alternatives. “Use cauliflower rice instead of white rice, legume pasta instead of white-flour pasta or enjoy sandwich fillings in a lettuce wrap,” she says. You can also swap out mayonnaise for mustard, use spiralized veggie noodles for your pasta, and drink seltzer water instead of soda. Be intentional about these choices when you shop. “Go to the market or order grocery delivery; you need a healthy-stocked fridge and pantry so you have healthy choices in the house,” DeFazio says.
5. Don’t ditch the carbs and fats.
If there are two foods out there that have gotten a bad rap over the years, there’s no question they would be carbohydrates and fats. But “you need carbohydrates at each meal for energy, as cutting carbs leads to binging and sugar cravings,” DeFazio says. “Aim for about 1 cup of cooked starch per meal, such as oatmeal, rice, sweet potatoes, couscous or pasta — whole-grain whenever possible.” She also suggests making sure you have a serving of healthy fats like nut butter, avocado or olive oil at each meal.
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