Essentials for Eaters and Dieters

Basics of Healthy Eating

Guidelines for implementation of healthy eating. For weight loss tips, see Dieters.

What makes a diet "healthy"?

Healthy eating means you get the nutrients and energy you need to maintain a healthy weight. By selecting a healthful balance of foods, you avoid hunger and prevent overeating. Calories are the energy that you get from the foods you eat.

The food choices you make prevent chronic weight gain
Obesity increases the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and certain types of cancer, but your diet should be healthy in many aspects beyond weight maintenance. To prevent cardiovascular disease regardless of your weight, consume foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables are good for prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions. Calcium is important for healthy and strong bones.

The food choices you make assist in preventing diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and osteoporosis
Your diet should be healthy in many aspects beyond weight maintenance. To prevent cardiovascular disease, consume foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Whole grain foods, fruits and vegetables are good for prevention of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other chronic health conditions. Calcium is important for healthy and strong bones(see Nutrition 101 section for details).

The food choices you make are enjoyable and sustainable
Eating should be something that you enjoy. If you do not enjoy your food choices, it will be very difficult maintain it for the rest of your life. Do not deprive yourself of the foods you love. Learn how to combine a wide variety of foods from each food group in order to maintain your weight.

Make it Sustainable

Establish regular eating times
Try to eat meals routinely and set an eating schedule so you will be less likely to have the urge to snack. Random snacking increases your risk of overeating. Try eating at least two or three balanced meals a day.clocks

eggsInclude lean sources of protein at every meal
Without adequate protein, our body won’t be satisfied. Evaluate the foods you eat. Most snacks, desserts, and processed foods are low in protein.

Full fat meats and milk products contain significant amounts of saturated fat, which can increase your risk for heart disease. Low fat milk products, beans and peas are excellent sources of lean protein. Lean meats have less visible fat in and around the meat. The visible fat and/or skin should be removed before or after cooking.

A little goes a long way—protein is also found in grains and vegetables so it doesn’t take a lot more to meet your needs. Add a glass of milk or a couple slices of turkey to balance a snack. A small piece of chicken breast (3 oz, the size of a single deck of cards) is plenty of protein for a meal, especially when it’s balanced with pasta, green beans, and a dinner roll.

Add fruits and vegetables to meals every day link
Aim for at least 2 cups of vegetables and 1.5 cups of fruit a day. Fruits and vegetables are important for preventing chronic disease and bulking up your meals. They are classified as “functional foods.”

Keep fresh, canned, and frozen fruits and vegetables on-hand. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables in season for the best flavor. Learn how to prepare fruits and vegetables before you buy them so fresh produce doesn’t spoil before you’ve used it. Split larger packages with a friend—share a bag of fresh apples, split a head of romaine lettuce or divide a package of carrots.

Some vegetables are more energy-dense than others. Potatoes and corn are technically vegetables, but they are often grouped with the breads, grains, and cereals group because of their high carbohydrate content (see their placement on the Food Selection Chart below).

fruitIf you choose to eat refined grains like white rice, white bread, and regular pasta, you will need to eat more fruits and vegetables to get enough fiber.

Canned fruits have more sugar and less fiber than fresh fruits eaten with the skin on. Fruit juices are practically fiber-free. For these reasons, we recommend that fresh or frozen fruits be eaten more often than canned fruits and 100% fruit juices.

Practice Moderation
Foods high in added fat and sugar generally provide a lot of energy in a small volume (i.e. fried foods and snacks, juices, ice cream, cookies, regular soda, fatty meats). It’s easy to overeat these foods and take in more calories than you need. You can enjoy these foods as part of a healthy diet as long as they provide ¼ or less of your total caloric intake.

Compare labels:
To balance your diet, you need to know the protein, fat, and sugar content of foods. The label tells you about the product itself and how it compares to similar products (Reading a Food Label). Foods with >8g of protein per serving are generally a good source of protein. Foods with <5g of fat per serving are usually lower in fat. Use labels to determine which margarine contains less trans fat, which canned soup provides more protein, and whether those sugar-free cookies contain fewer fat and calories than the regular cookies. You may be surprised by what you find.

Change takes time
Adopt a few small changes at first: adding fruits or vegetables to every meal, adapting to low fat dairy, reducing the size and frequency of desserts, or replacing regular soda with diet soda, water, or low fat milk. Set small goals which are both challenging and realistic. If you do not like the change you made, try something else. Finding a healthy eating pattern that works for you will take time to develop because it must be sustainable long term. Be patient with yourself.

Visual Examples
Shopping Tips
Creating Meals
Eating Out
3-Day Sample Menus

Summary

After following these weight maintenance techniques and advice, you will find that your meals will take the shape of this Food Selection Chart. The chart is to act as your guide to selecting a diet that is nutritious and well balanced. As you can see, the chart recommends choosing foods closer to the bottom of the pyramid while limiting foods from the top of the pyramid to 25% or less of your total calories. By doing this, you can occasionally indulge in your favorite treat or snack while limiting the added fat and calories, allowing you to receive all of the vital nutrients needed for a healthy, wholesome diet. For more information, see the Nutrition 101 section.

Food Pyramid Detailed

Click for larger view

 

Essentials for Eaters and Dieters | Version 2.0
Copyright ©2005, 2006 University of Illinois Board of Trustees