Experts agree the key to healthy eating is the time-tested advice
of balance, variety and moderation. In short, that means eating
a wide variety of foods without getting too many calories or too
much of any one nutrient. These 10 tips can help you follow that
advice while still enjoying the foods you eat.
Eat a variety of nutrient-rich foods. You need more
than 40 different nutrients for good health, and no single food
supplies them all. Your daily food selection should include bread
and other whole-grain products; fruits; vegetables; dairy products;
and meat, poultry, fish and other protein foods. How much you
should eat depends on your calorie needs. Use the Food Guide Pyramid
and the Nutrition Facts panel on food labels as handy references.
Enjoy plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Surveys show most Americans don't eat enough of these foods. Do
you eat 6-11 servings from the bread, rice, cereal and pasta group,
3 of which should be whole grains? Do you eat 2-4 servings of
fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables? If you don't enjoy some
of these at first, give them another chance. Look through cookbooks
for tasty ways to prepare unfamiliar foods.
Maintain a healthy weight. The weight that's right
for you depends on many factors including your sex, height, age
and heredity. Excess body fat increases your chances for high
blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, diabetes, some types of
cancer and other illnesses. But being too thin can increase your
risk for osteoporosis, menstrual irregularities and other health
problems. If you're constantly losing and regaining weight, a
registered dietitian can help you develop sensible eating habits
for successful weight management. Regular exercise is also important
to maintaining a healthy weight.
Eat moderate portions. If you keep portion sizes
reasonable, it's easier to eat the foods you want and stay healthy.
Did you know the recommended serving of cooked meat is 3 ounces,
similar in size to a deck of playing cards? A medium piece of
fruit is 1 serving and a cup of pasta equals 2 servings. A pint
of ice cream contains 4 servings. Refer to the Food Guide Pyramid
for information on recommended serving sizes.
Eat regular meals. Skipping meals can lead to out-of-control
hunger, often resulting in overeating. When you're very hungry,
it's also tempting to forget about good nutrition. Snacking between
meals can help curb hunger, but don't eat so much that your snack
becomes an entire meal.
Reduce, don't eliminate certain foods. Most people
eat for pleasure as well as nutrition. If your favorite foods
are high in fat, salt or sugar, the key is moderating how much
of these foods you eat and how often you eat them.
Identify major sources of these ingredients in your diet and make
changes, if necessary. Adults who eat high-fat meats or whole-milk
dairy products at every meal are probably eating too much fat.
Use the Nutrition Facts panel on the food label to help balance
Choosing skim or low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat
such as flank steak and beef round can reduce fat intake significantly.
If you love fried chicken, however, you don't have to give it
up. Just eat it less often. When dining out, share it with a friend,
ask for a take-home bag or a smaller portion.
Balance your food choices over time. Not every food
has to be "perfect." When eating a food high in fat,
salt or sugar, select other foods that are low in these ingredients.
If you miss out on any food group one day, make up for it the
next. Your food choices over several days should fit together
into a healthy pattern.
Know your diet pitfalls. To improve your eating habits,
you first have to know what's wrong with them. Write down everything
you eat for three days. Then check your list according to the
rest of these tips. Do you add a lot of butter, creamy sauces
or salad dressings? Rather than eliminating these foods, just
cut back your portions. Are you getting enough fruits and vegetables?
If not, you may be missing out on vital nutrients.
Make changes gradually. Just as there are no "superfoods"
or easy answers to a healthy diet, don't expect to totally revamp
your eating habits overnight. Changing too much, too fast can
get in the way of success. Begin to remedy excesses or deficiencies
with modest changes that can add up to positive, lifelong eating
habits. For instance, if you don't like the taste of skim milk,
try low-fat. Eventually you may find you like skim, too.
Remember, foods are not good or bad. Select foods
based on your total eating patterns, not whether any individual
food is "good" or "bad." Don't feel guilty
if you love foods such as apple pie, potato chips, candy bars
or ice cream. Eat them in moderation, and choose other foods to
provide the balance and variety that are vital to good health.
Figuring Out Fat
With so much information available about the effects of dietary
fat on health, understanding the role fat plays in a well-balanced
diet can be pretty confusing. To cut through the confusion, it's
important to remember that fat is an essential nutrient that everyone
needs to stay healthy.
Fat is a valuable energy source and carries fat-soluble vitamins
needed for proper growth and development. It also contributes
important taste and textural qualities that are part of enjoying
Too much fat, however, can increase the risk of heart disease,
obesity and other health problems. When moderating fat intake,
it's important to consider these points:
Health authorities recommend Americans consume 30 percent
or less of their total daily calories from fat, with 10 percent
or less of those calories from saturated fat. Remember, the 30
percent refers to your total fat intake over time, not single
foods or meals. Use the following chart to guide your fat intake.
If you eat this Total fat Total saturated
number of calories per day fat
per day: (grams) (grams)
1,600 53 or less 18 or less
2,000 65 or less 20 or less
2,200 73 or less 24 or less
2,500 80 or less 25 or less
Use the Nutrition Facts panel on the food label to help determine
how much fat is in foods. Remember, it's the total fat intake
over time that's important. A food high in fat can be part of
a healthy diet as long as it's balanced with other lower-fat food
All fats are a combination of saturated, polyunsaturated and
monounsaturated fatty acids. Each of these types of fats have
different effects on the body, but all contain nine calories per
Blood cholesterol levels are influenced by family history,
weight, age, smoking, physical activity and eating habits. Studies
have shown that diets which are too high in certain saturated
fatty acids and dietary cholesterol can raise blood cholesterol.
The Food Guide Pyramid
The Food Guide Pyramid is a practical tool to help you make food
choices that are consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Using the Pyramid enables you to eat a variety of foods daily
so that you can get the nutrients you need.
To make the most of the Pyramid, you need to know what counts
as a serving.
Food Group--Serving Size
Bread--1 slice bread, 1\2 bagel or English muffin, 1 ounce
ready-to-eat cereal, 1\2 cup cooked cereal, rice or pasta, or
5-6 small crackers
Vegetable--1 cup raw, leafy vegetables, 1\2 cup cooked or
chopped raw vegetables or 3\4 cup vegetable juice
Fruit--1 medium piece of fruit, 1\2 cup mixed fruit or 3\4
cup fruit juice
Milk--1 cup milk or yogurt, 11\2 ounces natural cheese or
2 ounces process cheese
Meat--2 - 3 ounces cooked lean meat, poultry or fish (about
the size of a deck of cards)
Other foods which count as 1 ounce meat: 1\2 cup cooked dry
beans, 1 egg, 2 tablespoons peanut butter or 1\3 cup nuts
If You Want To Know More
A nutrition expert can help you develop a personal action plan
for improving your eating habits while keeping the fun in food.
A registered dietitian (R.D.) is an authority on food, nutrition
and health, and can provide valuable information and advice.
To locate a registered dietitian in your area, ask your physician,
or call the consumer nutrition hot line (800/366-1655) of the
National Center for Nutrition and Dietetics, the public education
center of The American Dietetic Association. Registered dietitians
are available to answer your food and nutrition questions Monday
through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. central time. In addition,
you can listen to nutrition messages in English and Spanish, Monday
through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. central time.
International Food Information Council Foundation
1100 Connecticut Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
Reprinted from the International Food Information Council Foundation,