Healthy Dieting: Making Good Food Choices

Everyday you hear about a new diet plan that is guaranteed to help you trim your belly and get you in the best shape of your life. All it takes are some tasty milkshakes, cheap pasta bowls, and out-of-this-world low-calorie desserts and you are on your way to health and fitness. I almost can’t even finish writing it without laughing.

The truth is, dieting is an important part of your physical and mental health, but there is absolutely no reason to resort to extreme or ridiculous means in order to lose weight and get your body in shape. All it really takes is some effort and smart decision-making on your part. Last week we covered the basics of a healthy, balanced diet, including calorie counting, keeping a food diary, balancing proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and ensuring you have three meals a day. Today we’ll take a look at the various food groups and how you can make smarter decisions in order to keep your dieting efforts on track and your healthy eating habits in check.

1. Dairies and Calcium (Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese)

According to the current food pyramid set by the US Department of Agriculture and the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, you should get between 2-3 servings of dairy products every day. This can be a cup of milk with your morning cereal or evening meal, a cup of yogurt, two slices of cheese, or even a cup/serving of spinach or broccoli for those who can’t eat lactose or dairy products. All of these options contain a solid amount of calcium, which promotes strong, healthy bones, proper blood pressure, muscle function, and nerve transmission.

2. Healthy Proteins

By the same food pyramid chart, it is also recommended that you consume between 2-3 servings of healthy proteins each day. Proteins, as well as nutrients like iron and zinc are necessary for proper body and muscle growth and for cell repair and reproduction. You will find healthy proteins in foods like poultry (chicken), meat (beef and pork), beans, eggs, and nuts. If you love seafood, fish like salmon are also packed with proteins, making it an easy way to get your fill of protein for the day.

3. Vegetables

The next two groups, namely fruits and vegetables, consist of foods that come from the Earth rather than from animals, or animals themselves. First up is the vegetable group, which carries a recommended serving amount of between 3-5 daily. Vegetables include carrots, potatoes, sweet corn, broccoli, and green beans, making it easiest to fit into your evening meal. That said, carrots and dip make a great lunch or midday snack, as do baked potatoes with cheese and bacon bits, so if you just include a couple more servings for dinner, you’ll be golden!

4. Fruits

As far as fruits go, it is recommended that you get between 2-4 servings of fruit each day. This is, perhaps, the easiest group to get your total recommended daily servings, mostly because fruits are sweet and delicious. You can have a banana or orange with your breakfast in the morning, throw some blueberries in your pancakes, make peach cobbler, add some fruit slices to your yogurt or salad, or add make yourself a tasty smoothie in the afternoon or before a workout. Pineapples also make a great topping on pizza, and with spring coming on, you’ll likely find fresh strawberries at your local grocery store; just remember to grab some whipped cream before you hit the checkout isle.

5. Whole Grains and Cereals

The last, and largest group on the food pyramid is the whole grains group. It is recommended that you get a daily 6-11 servings daily from this group. However, like fruit, this group is also extremely easy to get your daily-recommended amount. Start with a bowl of whole grain cereal in the morning, and then pack a sandwich for lunch (using wheat or whole grain bread). You can also eat toast or oatmeal for breakfast if you wish. For dinner options, consider something like chicken Parmesan, or lasagna. You can also make a pasta salad to go with a poultry or meat entre, and make some vegetables like carrots, potatoes, or broccoli to complete your well-balanced meal. Rice is also included in this group, so you should never rule that out as an option either.

6. Fats and Oils

While the food pyramid advises you to use these products sparingly, there are some healthy fats and oils that you should be consuming as a part of your regular diet. These include canola and olive oils, and omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, nuts, and pumpkin seeds. Try snacking on mixed nuts made with walnuts, peanuts, cashews, and almonds, and use a few tablespoons of olive oil or vinegar for making salad dressing. There are also many recipes that call for using canola, vegetable, or olive oil, so be sure to keep some of these in your kitchen.

7. Avoid Eating…

Just as you should be sure to get the daily-recommended servings for each of the food groups above, you should also avoid eating too many servings of sweets, salts, trans-fats, and bad cholesterols. These include items like baked goods, processed or frozen meals and soups that are high in sodium, and other items like candy, soda, fast food, and excessive amounts of sauces like gravy or barbeque or buffalo sauce. Basically, just take everything in moderation.