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HEALTHY EATING

Exploring the Fundamentals of a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is one of the greatest gifts you can give yourself. It provides your body with the necessary nutrients, energy, and sustenance to function correctly. It also can make you feel great by boosting your mood, improving your health, and giving you energy. Sometimes, however, eating healthy is easier said than done. With all of the diets out there, it’s hard to know what is best for you. 

At Impact Health & Wellness, we want to set you up for success in your ongoing health and wellness journey. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of the fundamentals of a healthy diet and helpful tips to incorporate healthful eating into your daily life.

Choose a Wide Variety of Nutrient-Dense Foods

In today’s society, there is a significant focus on calories when it comes to healthy eating. While looking at calories can be helpful, it isn’t the only thing to consider when making dietary decisions. Instead, it would be best if you were eating a wide range of nutrient-dense foods. 

Nutrient-dense foods are high in vitamins and minerals and low in saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium. These foods will fuel your body better than less nutritious foods with the same calorie count. Eating a wide range of these foods is essential because no one food or food group provides all the nutrients needed to be healthy. 

When grocery shopping, look for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. To make intelligent choices when buying pre-packaged food, pick foods with more nutrients, lower calories, and less saturated fat, added sugars, and sodium.

Fruits & Vegetables

Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, fruits and vegetables have many health benefits. They may even lower your risk for diseases like heart disease and stroke. A few ways that you can incorporate more fruits and veggies into your diet include:

  • Keep fruit where you can see it. Purchase some of your favorite fruits, wash them, and place them in a bowl where it is easy to grab one.
  • Add fruits and vegetables to your favorite dishes. This can be as simple as adding fruit to your yogurt or vegetables to your omelet, sandwich, pizza, or pasta. The opportunities are endless!
  • Try new things. Go to your local grocery store or farmers market and pick out a new fruit or vegetable to try.

Whole Grains

Whole grains are more nutritious than refined grains because they contain more fiber and nutrients. Examples of whole grains include whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, oats, brown rice, quinoa, barley, millet, and popcorn. You can incorporate more whole grains into your diet by following some of these suggestions:

  • Make simple switches. Instead of using a refined-grain product, switch to whole grain. You could use whole grain bread instead of white bread, whole grain flour instead of white flour, whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta, or a multigrain roll instead of a white roll.
  • Try a new side dish. Whole grains like brown rice, quinoa, bulgur, barley, and whole wheat pasta all make excellent side dishes. Again, making small changes or additions to your diet can go a long way.
  • Save time by cooking extra. When cooking whole grains like barley, bulgur wheat, quinoa, or brown rice, cook extra and freeze half. In the future, you can quickly pull these out for another meal or snack.

Lean Proteins

Reduce your saturated fat intake by choosing lean proteins like poultry, fish, lean cuts of meat, legumes, tofu, and low-fat dairy products. Increase your lean protein intake with these tips:

  • Eat protein at breakfast. Starting your day with protein at breakfast will help you feel full and focused throughout the morning. Accomplish this by eating low-fat Greek yogurt, adding skim milk to your oatmeal, or making an egg and veggie casserole.
  • Add protein to your salad. Grilled chicken or shrimp, chickpeas, or black beans are delicious additions to any salad.
  • Keep seafood on hand. Keep frozen fish or shrimp in the freezer and canned tuna in the pantry for a quick meal.

Healthy Fats

Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats are healthy or “good” fats, while trans fats and saturated fats are “bad” fats. Healthy fats are good for your heart, cholesterol, and overall well-being. Foods such as avocados, fatty fish, nuts, plant-based oils, olives, seeds, soymilk, and tofu are all considered healthy fats. Incorporate more healthy fats using the following tips:

  • Cook with plant-based liquid oils. Try using plant-based oils in your cooking. Various options include olive, canola, peanut, sesame, corn, soybean, sunflower, and walnut oils.
  • On-the-go snacks. Make a mixture of nuts and seeds and place them in small baggies for a morning or afternoon snack.
  • Add Avocado. There are numerous ways to incorporate avocados into your diet. Try adding some to your sandwich, toast, or salad – to name a few! It will taste delicious and offer a whole host of health benefits.

Balance Your Macronutrients

Macronutrients, or “macros” for short, are the nutrients your body needs to run, specifically carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Balancing your macros is important because carbs give your body energy; protein is necessary for the growth and repair of your body tissues; and fat keeps you feeling full, balances hormones, and helps your body absorb certain vitamins.

You’ll want to use the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR). AMDR is the recommended range (shared as a percentage of your total daily calories) for each macronutrient. The Institute of Medicine recommends the following:

  • Carbohydrates: 45-65%
    • Examples: Whole grains, fruits, and vegetables
  • Proteins: 10-35%
    • Examples: Lean proteins
  • Fats: 20-35%
    • Examples: Healthy fats

With all this being said, counting macros is optional for most people. However, knowing the basics can be helpful in planning healthy meals.

Limit Processed Foods & Added Sugars

While they can be highly convenient, processed foods are high in salt, sugar, unhealthy fats, and additives. To make health-conscious dietary decisions, you’ll want to limit processed foods and foods with added sugars (which have been linked to various health problems). To do this, try the following:

  • Cook meals at home. When cooking at home, you can be more mindful about the ingredients used in your recipes.
  • Read nutrition labels. Skip the products with high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, and other forms of added sugars.
  • Choose whole, unprocessed foods. Remember those ready-to-eat fruits on your counter? Try one of those! Vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, or nuts are other great options.
  • Reduce sugary drinks. Limit or eliminate beverages like soda, fruit juices, and energy drinks.
  • Choose natural sweeteners. You can still add sweetness using natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or stevia. These are usually less processed than refined sugars.
  • Check your condiments. Check the labels on your condiments to see if they have added sugars. If they do, don’t worry. There are many low-sugar options at the store, or you can even make your own.

Plan Your Meals

Planning your meals and snacks can save time and money. More importantly, it can give you control over what you are eating. When you plan ahead, you can ensure that your food meets your nutritional needs and avoid last-minute, impulsive decisions.

Focus on Mindful Eating & Portion Control

Eating regular meals and snacks throughout the day can help maintain energy levels and stop excessive hunger in its tracks. 

Conversely, avoid overeating by being mindful of portion sizes and eating slowly. Doing this will allow you to savor your food and give your body time to provide cues that you’re full.

Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate

Staying hydrated, while often overlooked, is vital to our health. It plays a crucial role in maintaining body temperature, keeping joints lubricated, protecting organs, preventing infections, bringing nutrients to cells, and getting rid of wastes. It can also improve your sleep quality and mood.

So, how much should you drink? According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, women should drink about 11 cups of fluid, and men should drink about 16 cups. Remember that water is a great option, but other liquids will also work. 

It’s also important to note that the amount of fluid you need can vary depending on your personal health and activity levels. That said, discussing with your doctor is always a good idea.

Enjoy Junk Food in Moderation

Eating healthy doesn’t mean you have to deprive yourself of things you love. As with everything, moderation is key. So, let yourself indulge in your favorite treat occasionally. 

Personalize Your Diet

Your dietary needs will vary based on your age, height, weight, activity level, and any health conditions you may have. At Impact Health & Wellness, we’d love the opportunity to talk with you and develop a personalized plan.

Remember that a healthy diet is just one aspect of your overall health and well-being. Exercising regularly, managing your stress, and getting sufficient sleep are all part of maintaining a balanced lifestyle.