7 Basic Rules of a Healthy Balanced Diet

Chances are great that you see a new diet plan advertised on a daily basis; some combination of protein-packed snacks that taste great and will have you looking slimmer in no time. While the so-called "guaranteed results" of such products may be appealing to most people who feel they need to lose weight, the fact of the matter is that you don't need a diet plan that's filled with pre-formulated foods to help you lose and maintain weight. All you have to do is make good food choices, track your progress, and discipline yourself to stick to your plan and continue to make good choices.

So what are the keys to a good diet? If your goal is to lose weight, the first thing you will want to do is determine the number of calories you need to consume each day. After that all it really comes down to is making good food choices, like increasing the number of healthy foods you eat and lowering or eliminating the amount of bad foods you eat. Follow these seven basic rules of healthy dieting to reach your nutrition goals today.

1. Determine your caloric needs.

You've probably noticed that nutrition labels provided on your food packaging all state, "Based on a 2,000 calorie diet." That's because the average adult needs between 2,000-2,500 calories a day to maintain his or her current weight. Factors like your age, muscle mass, body size, activity level, and gender will also determine the specific amount of calories your body requires to maintain or lose weight. Monitoring your weight over time will help you figure out exactly how many calories you should have in your diet plan.

2. Use a calorie calculator.

Just as there are fancy calculators to help you track your mileage while running, you can use a calorie calculator to help you figure out exactly how many calories you need each day. Once again, the exact number will depend on a number of factors, but the final number can be found based on your current height, weight, basal and active metabolic rate (BMR and AMR), and exercise routine or lifestyle (ie sedentary, moderately active, or very active lifestyle). Search for sites like caloriecount.com to get started.

3. Pick the right foods.

Now that you know how many calories you need to consume each day, the next trick becomes choosing the right foods to get you your target amount of calories and other important nutrients and minerals. For example, if you were given the choice between a Clementine and a glazed doughnut, which do you think you should pick? Obviously the Clementine is the better option because it contains a healthy amount of calories, plus a decent amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. Doughnuts, on the other hand, are loaded with fatty oils and sugars that will give you a small energy boost, but leave you feeling hungry and drowsy in the end.

When it comes to choosing the right foods, remember that healthy foods are generally those that are not deep fried, smothered in sauces, and refined or processed. You will want to stick to non-processed items like poultry, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Getting a variety of foods from all the different food groups also ensures you are getting all of the essential nutrients you need for a healthy and active lifestyle.

4. Use a food diary.

Keeping a food diary can help you if your goal is losing or gaining weight, or monitoring things like your fat and sodium intake. Start by writing down everything that you eat throughout the day for the first few days. Once you have an idea of how many calories you are consuming each day by eating the foods you eat, you can start to formulate a diet plan that will both get you your target calories and help you get all of your daily recommended nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. This will also help you get an idea of what kind of food choices you are currently making, like how many sweets you eat each day, so that you can start to cut out bad choices, and make more good choices.

5. Balance carbohydrates with fat and protein.

An effective diet should include a variety of foods from each of the food groups, and also contain a balanced ratio of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.  According to the USDA, 50% of your daily caloric intake should come from carbohydrates, another 30% from fats, and the remaining 20% from protein. Sticking to the daily recommended amount for each food group will help you maintain a healthy weight and also ensure you get the recommended amount of daily nutrients.

It is also important to bear in mind that additives used with these foods such as sauces, cheese, or gravy will add extra calories to your meal, so use them sparingly, or replace them with natural oils, herbs, and spices.

6. Watch your portion sizes.

Making sure you pay attention to how much you are eating is another important step in the dieting process. Often times our eyes end up being bigger than our stomachs, and yet we still feel an obligation to eat a lot of food even when we are full or not even hungry. The best way to monitor your portion size is to use the rule of quarters: ¼ of your plate goes to your meat or protein source, another ¼ goes towards your carbohydrates and starches, and the remaining half is left to low-calorie fruits, vegetables, or salads.

7. No skipping.

Many people make the false assumption that cutting down on meals will help you lose weight. The reality is that skipping meals affects your metabolism, and can even result in you gaining unwanted weight. Skipping meals can also make you hungrier when it comes time for dinner, prompting you to overeat. Eating three balanced meals a day, or two main meals with healthy snacking in between is the best way to help you maintain a healthy diet and the waste size you've always wanted.