Balancing Your Diet
A healthy diet is more than calories in versus calories out. You need balance and variety in order to meet all your nutritional needs.
Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are an important part of any healthy diet. They are a major source of vitamins and minerals, contribute to daily fiber intake and supply valuable antioxidants and phytonutrients that researchers suggest can help prevent disease. Eating various colored fruits and vegetables will ensure that you are getting a variety of nutrients each day. They are also low in calories, which means a lot of nutritional bang for your caloric buck.
Generally speaking, healthy adults should limit fat to about 30% of their calories each day. This means at 1,400 or 1,500 calories a day, you should be eating no more than about 50 grams of fat per day. Stick with healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like fats found in olive and canola oils, nuts and seeds.
Saturated fat is found mainly in high- fat meats and dairy foods as well as coconut oil, palm kernel oil and some processed foods. Limit saturated fat to 10% of calories or less, which means about 17 grams when following 1,400 or 1,500 calories a day.
Much like saturated fat, there is a proven relationship between diets high in trans fat and high LDL ("bad") cholesterol, which increases the risk of coronary artery disease. Trans fat can be found in vegetable shortening, stick margarine, fried foods, salad dressings, processed foods and store-bought baked goods. Limit trans fat as much as possible and try to stay below 1.5-2 grams per day.
Eating foods high in cholesterol can increase blood cholesterol for some people, which is why it's recommended to limit daily intake to 300 mg even though saturated and trans fats have a more significant effect on blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is found only in foods from animals, such as eggs, meat and dairy products.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease, and salt can be a contributor to high blood pressure. High-sodium diets do not cause high blood pressure in everyone, but it is still wise to limit sodium to 2,300 mg per day. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium, but keep in mind that most of the salt we consume comes from processed foods, not the salt shaker. Foods high in sodium include lunch meat, condiments like soy sauce and ketchup, frozen dinners, canned foods, boxed mixes, seasoning packets and foods labeled as "smoked," "cured," "pickled" or "brined."
Healthy adults should be eating at least 20-30 grams of fiber each day, although most Americans eat far less than that. Fiber can be categorized as soluble or insoluble fiber. Soluble fiber can help lower cholesterol while insoluble fiber helps maintain a healthy digestive tract. In addition, fiber helps you feel full, which can help prevent overeating. Foods high in soluble fiber include oatmeal, beans and barley, while foods with insoluble fiber include whole wheat and rice.
Tips to help boost fiber:
- Leave the skins on fruits and vegetables.
- Add extra veggies into soups and side dishes.
- Sprinkle oat bran or wheat germ over yogurt or stir into casseroles.
- Choose whole grain breads and crackers. Whole wheat or whole grain flour should be listed as the first ingredient on the food label.
- Toss kidney beans or garbanzo beans into salads.