It’s actually not as hard as you think! I spent this week doing a homework assignment for my Nutrition class where my teacher made me plan a three day diet. I had to include at least two cups of fruits, three cups of vegetables, and three ounce-equivalents of whole grains every day while also meeting my DRIs (Dietary Reference Intakes). This means I basically planned an ideal healthy diet for someone of my size.
I thought it would be pretty difficult to meet the requirements, and in some aspects it was, but when I finally finished and looked over my diet, I realized it wouldn’t be that hard to follow and I would be able to lose weight and become healthier if I did. So based on my homework experience and what I have learned in class, I have compiled some things that you should consider when planning your own healthy diet.
Look up the guidelines for your body type
It helps to know what are the healthy goals you should be aiming for that suit your body type. Check out the USDA’s guidelines here Dietary Guidelines. They will help you get an idea of how many calories and servings of food groups you should eat. However, if you want something more specific for yourself, such as specified DRIs, I recommend the program Diet Analysis Plus. It asks you specific questions about yourself and your physical activity and based on that, it compiles specific DRIs you should meet. This makes it easier to pick and choose what types of foods you should eat, and the program will help you track your diet much like a food journal.
Only eat a certain amount of protein
As Americans, we tend to overeat a lot, and we tend to eat a lot of protein. Essentially, overeating protein is not supposed to be that bad, but too much protein in your diet can cause some negative effects. For instance, when you cut carbohydrates out of your diet and eat protein instead, it could cause a buildup of ketone bodies which provide energy to your heart and brain. However, when you make too many ketone bodies, it puts stress on your kidneys to flush them out because ketone bodies are acidic and cause your blood pH to lower dangerously. This also makes you lose water in your body which in turn makes you dehydrated. Balancing out the amount of protein you eat is important, and make sure you get protein from more than just red meat too. Eggs, legumes, yogurt, and many other foods are also great sources of protein.
Skip the added sugars but keep the fat
Try eating foods with more natural sugars and less added sugars, or “empty calories”. By added sugars, I mean normal table sugar, dextrose, honey, molasses, etc. Yes, those all count as added sugars. Here’s a more comprehensive list of ingredients you will find on food labels that point out added sugars: Sugars. That also means no more soda, which is nothing but added sugar basically, or you limit your consumption of soda to a moderate amount. Natural sugars are sugars that come naturally from foods like fruit and milk. While I don’t recommend eating too much sugar, the least you could do is eat natural sugar.
Now it might seem weird that I’m tell you to eat fat, but it’s actually recommended to get some fat in your diet, as long as it’s saturated fat and unsaturated fat (Poly and mono). No trans fat, and make sure to keep your fat consumption at less than 10% of your daily calories. Don’t forget your essential fatty acids, which you can get from foods like fish. Your body actually needs some of that fat for energy.
Eat more veggies, fruits, and whole grains every day!
You’d be surprised by how little you eat of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains every day. It may look like a lot on your plate, but did you know that every time you eat a salad, you’re actually only eating half of it in vegetable servings? If you want to fulfill your serving requirement for vegetables, you actually have to eat twice as many veggies as you think. And you may think that every time you eat a fruit or banana for a snack, you’re good on eating your fruit, but most people are actually supposed to eat 2 cups of fruit every day. That apple you ate only counts as 1 cup and that’s if it’s a specific size. The banana you ate only counts as 1 cup as well, and if that’s the only piece of fruit you eat every day, you’re missing 1 cup that you should be getting. On top of that, almost all of the grains that we eat today are refined, and not whole wheat. Unless the product says “Whole Wheat”, “100% Whole Wheat”, or whole wheat is listed as its first ingredient, then it’s not whole wheat, even if it says “Wheat” on it. So make sure to check if what you’re buying actually counts as a whole grain or not. To figure out if your getting the right amount of servings of everything, the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines list everything in cups/ounces. You can use this website to convert everything into cups/ounces to check each food group: My Food-a-pedia.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to exercise, especially if your goal is to be healthy and/or lose weight. Eating the right foods is a good first step towards optimal health, but exercise is also very key in being healthy. Swimming, jogging, walking, playing a sport; all of these are great ways to keep active! But do keep in mind that if you are an athlete, there are different nutrition guidelines that you should follow to adjust to your physical activity. But for most of us, a workout at the gym is a great way to exercise.
Good luck with your healthy eating everyone!
Photo courtesy of havankevin via Flickr (CC BY 2.0).