Last updated: 10/25/2018
Author: Addictions.com Medical Review
Reading Time: 12 minutes
Eating well doesn’t have to mean sacrificing the foods you love. Healthy eating is about taking part in a balanced diet that incorporates each of the food groups into the equation to promote a satisfying and healthful relationship between you and the food that you are eating. Many of the foods that we eat can promote weight loss, increase energy levels, reduce stress, and induce sleep or rest. Foods can even lift the spirits. Think of proven aphrodisiacs such as oysters, chocolate, bananas and asparagus, all of which have mood boosting qualities and can be incorporated into a healthy meal plan.
Through moderation, it is possible to enjoy certain foods that may not be high upon the health spectrum. The first step is to understand the basics of nutrition and to learn how simple meal changes can amount to dramatic results in terms of increased energy, stabilized moods, and overall health and well-being. By taking baby steps and making minor lifestyle and meal changes, health eating can become an integral part of your overall recovery plan and a new way of life.
Tips for Healthy Eating Success
In order to be successful at any lifestyle changes one must first learn what they are doing wrong and subsequently how they can fix the situation. The same goes for meal changes and for eating healthy. If you approach your meals with an open mind and a commitment to making them healthier, there’s no limit to the success you can have in terms of your own health and well-being. Follow these tips for healthy eating success:
- Small Changes Really Add Up to Big Success: Rather than focus on changing everything about your current eating habits, consider making small changes and then gradually making more small changes as you go. This approach typically leads to a prolonged commitment and results in less shock than if you were to completely stop eating the foods that you love and start eating nothing but those from a healthy menu list. You’ll be amazed at how small changes can really add up to big weight loss, big changes in mood and big improvements in other areas of your overall health.
- Keep it Simple: Healthy meals do not have to mean that you spend hours in the kitchen cooking, counting calories, measuring every single portion out to a T, etc. Instead of spending all this time focusing on meal portions, consider placing a greater emphasis on eating fresh fruits and vegetables. You can eat more of these with less guilt and most are always welcome as part of a balanced diet.
- Water, Water, Water: Any health diet will include plenty of water. Water is an integral part of a healthy lifestyle and helps to reduce risk of dehydration, keeps you feeling full longer, and can boost energy. It has been medically proven that cold water boosts the metabolism as it forces the body to work to stay warm which therefore boosts caloric burn. Water also helps to detoxify the body effectively ridding it of toxins that could otherwise be hindering overall wellness.
Fresh Fruits & Vegetables for Healthy Meals
All healthy diets will include a foundation of fresh fruits and vegetables as the primary source of vitamins and minerals. It’s important to get vitamins and minerals from fresh foods rather than from pills! Only fresh fruits, vegetables and meats or fish that are high in protein can provide the antioxidants and other nutrients in the form that will truly protect against various types of medical illness and disease such as cancer.
Fruits and vegetables come with the added benefit of providing a satisfying choice when it comes to sweet cravings or mere hunger that seemingly cannot be satisfied. They are low in fat (most don’t have any fat at all and those that do have healthy monounsaturated fat), high in nutrients, loaded with vitamins and minerals and packed with naturally occurring antioxidants.
Incorporating a colorful plethora of fresh fruits and vegetables into meals will not only promote better health, they can also reduce stress, increase energy, promote weight loss and create synergistic health benefits. Aiming to eat at least 5 servings daily of fruits and vegetables will provide lasting benefits and the greater the variety, the better!
Some of the most healthy fruit and vegetable options include:
- Fresh, Dark Greens. Kale, romaine lettuce, spring greens, spinach, broccoli, cabbage and mustard greens are all healthy choices and ideal for adding to salads, soups, stews and sides. Green vegetables are loaded with minerals such as zinc, magnesium and potassium and are good sources of vitamins A, C and E.
- Apples: An excellent source of pectin which is a beneficial soluble fiber that will lower cholesterol, apples are also high in fiber which means that they will actually make you feel full, longer.
- Avocado: These vegetables have two healthy fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat, both are heart healthy fats that our bodies need.
- Berries: Blueberries, blackberries, raspberries and strawberries all have significant antioxidant characteristics, are high in vitamin C and fiber and are low in calories. Most are sweet, too, which means that they can cure cravings for other less healthy sweets such as cookies or cakes.
- Cherries: Loaded with vitamins A & C, these small fruits pack a powerful antioxidant punch. Cherries have also been touted to reduce pain, promote muscle recovery and retention following exercise and promote overall heart health—a sweet treat that’s definitely worthwhile to eat!
- Bell Peppers: These vegetables come in a variety of different colors ranging from the traditional green to vibrant yellows, orange and red. Bell peppers are packed with vitamin C and they are an excellent source of fiber as well as various antioxidants that can help to improve vision and reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular related death.
- Brussels Sprouts: One of many cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli and cauliflower, Brussels sprouts reduce inflammation, are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids and are also full of vitamins A, B and E.
Choosing Healthy Fats
Low fat diets are the key to weight loss, keeping cholesterol levels low and to keeping the heart healthy but that doesn’t mean that a diet should be fat free. Healthy fats that are found in avocados, almonds, olives, and fish are an essential part of any healthy diet. They promote heart health, help to manage your mood and can even help you to fight fatigue and control weight. Therefore, the healthiest diet is not necessarily a fat free diet, it’s a health fat diet that is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from natural sources.
Myth: All fats are bad for you.
Fact: Polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats are actually good for you and can be found in many natural sources such as nuts, nut based oils, olives, olive oil, and fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, and sardines.
Myth: All bodies are created equal and body fat is body fat.
Fact: Studies show that the location of fat on the body can actually lead to increased health risks, especially if the majority of body fat is carried around the stomach versus in the lower hip and thigh region. All bodies are not created equal and, those who carry most of their body fat in their abdominal region are likely to suffer from insulin resistance and diabetic conditions.
Myth: Fat free foods are always healthy.
Fact: A food that is labeled “fat-free” is; a) not necessarily fat-free, b) not necessarily healthy, and c) not necessarily backed with an invitation to eat all you want without consequence. Foods labeled fat-free are often high in sugar, carbs and calories which means that they can quickly pack a powerful punch to the waistline if they are eaten in abundance. Further, the fat-free label means that there is less than 1% of fat per serving but this means that if you eat many servings you could still be ingesting rather significant amounts of fat along with the food.
Myth: Low fat diets are healthy diets.
Fact: There’s more to a healthy diet than just the fat content. Lowering the amount of fat that you eat; a) will not always promote weight loss, b) will not always mean you have made a healthy choice, and c) will not always result in healthful gains. What matters is that you are eating more good fats (such as those monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats from natural sources) than bad fats and that you are mixing the dietary fats up.
Sources of Monounsaturated Fat
- Olive Oil
- Canola Oil
- Nuts (almonds, peanuts, pecans, cashews, etc)
- Peanut butter
- Sunflower Oil
- Sesame Oil
Sources of Polyunsaturated Fat
- Soybean Oil
- Sunflower seeds
- Corn Oil
- Fatty fish (tuna, salmon, mackerel, herring)
- Safflower Oil
Sources of Saturated Fat
- Fatty meat such as beef, lamb or pork
- Chicken with skin on
- Whoel fat milk, cheese or cream
- Ice cream
- Coconut Oil
Sources of Trans Fat
- Baked goods such as cookies, cakes, pizza and pastries
- Packaged foods such as crackers or chips
- Vegetable shortening
- Fried foods
Additional Tips for Choosing Healthy Fats
Dietary fat comes from a variety of natural resources and, in many cases, you have to take the good with the bad. Most importantly, every diet should include fat but this doesn’t mean that we should load up on crackers, cookies and fried foods. Choosing good fats over bad fats is fundamental to a healthy eating plan.
Replacing saturated or trans fats with healthy fats that are monounsaturated or polyunsaturated can help you to improve your heart health, reduce weight and feel good. One of the ways that bad fats can be replaced with good fats is by incorporating beans and legumes into a diet rather than beef or pork. You can also take small steps in reducing bad fats by replacing butter with olive oil when cooking or using fish in place of certain types of meat.
Limit saturated fats. Reduce the number of meals that are prepared with red meats, pork or full-fat dairy such as whole milk or heavy cream. In many dishes, beans or legumes can be used in place of meat to provide a powerful protein punch without the saturated fat that is unhealthy.
Putting a Proper Prospective on Proteins
Every healthy diet consists of protein but not all protein necessarily packs that powerful punch that you might be looking for. Protein is broken down into many amino acids that provide the basic building blocks for human growth, energy, cell maintenance, tissue growth and organ health. Not having enough protein can result in a weakened heart and other organs, lowered immunity to illness, reduced muscle mass and various other health related problems, however, having too much protein in a diet can also hinder one’s overall well-being.
Follow these guidelines to include powerful proteins in your diet:
Moderation and change is key when incorporating proteins. Different protein sources are beneficial to your health. Protein can come from meats, fish, beans, nuts and seeds.
Some of the best protein sources include:
- Soy: Tofu, veggie burgers and tofu as well as low-fat soy milk.
- Nuts: almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts are all high in protein and many are also excellent sources of monounsaturated (healthy) fat.
- Beans & legumes: black beans, chickpeas, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans are all excellent sources of protein.
- Eggs: a good source of protein but must be kept in moderation due to high cholesterol yolk center.
- Chicken, Turkey or Fish: these meats are all excellent sources of protein without the added saturated fat that comes with other meats such as beef or pork.
Calcium for Healthy Bones
From the time we are children we are taught that milk does a body good. Calcium is one of the most important nutrients for a strong, healthy body. Men, women and children alike need calcium for health bones and to promote strength and improved motor function. It is recommended that adults get at least 1000 mg per day of calcium. This number increases to 1200 mg daily for adults who are over 50 years old and may even be a bit higher for women who are over 50 and at an increased risk of osteoporosis.
Excellent sources of calcium include:
- Healthy dairy products: low-fat milk, yogurt, low-fat cheese, and cottage cheese.
- Dark green vegetables: turnip greens, mustard greens, kale, romaine lettuce, broccoli, cabbage and green beans are all excellent sources of calcium. Asparagus and burssels sprouts are also good sources of calcium.
- Beans: kidney beans, black-eyed peas and pinto beans as well as black beans and white beans are great sources of calcium.
Foods to Avoid when Eating Healthy
A diet that is rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, a lean proteins will typically result in a lowered instance of the use of high salt, high fat or high sugar foods but not always. If you wish to really succeed in your efforts to eat healthy and to have mindful gains from your dietary changes, it’s important to also limit or reduce salt and sugar intake.
Did you know that the sodium intake for a health adult should not exceed 2,300 mg per day on the high end? This is the equivalent of just one teaspoon of salt—all day! Salt is found in many of the foods we eat and in some cases, you may not even realize the high sodium levels of the foods you are eating. Some of the saltiest foods to avoid include:
- Canned vegetables (salt is used in the canning process)
- Potato chips and pretzels
- Meals served in restaurants
- Packaged foods such as canned soups and boxed or frozen meals
The average adult consumes much more sugar than the recommended daily limit. Reducing the intake of cake, candy and sweet desserts is only half the battle when it comes to reducing sugar intake. Many foods have hidden sugars that we don’t even realize are there. Sugar can be hiding in bread, canned soups, pasta sauces, frozen meals and a number of other menu options that are being regularly consumed. Some of the most sugary foods to avoid include:
- Soft drinks: Not only do drinks not provide any real nutritional value, soft drinks such as soda can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar in a single serving.
- Sugary snacks
- Fruit juices from concentrate
- Maple sugar or cane sugar
Healthy Eating Actions: It’s not all about what you eat!
Now that you know what types of foods you need to eat in order to remain healthy, it’s time to consider the actions you take when your food is served. Rather than focus only on the types of foods that you are eating, you must also place a heavy emphasis on the way that you eat your food. Healthy eating habits are naturally learned so not only is it important to take part in these habits for yourself, children can also pick up on the cues and clues that you use when promoting healthy habits so it’s important to use healthy habits around them as well.
Follow these steps to make your eating habits healthier:
- Breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. A healthy breakfast will kick start your metabolism and keep your energy up for the day. Always make sure to eat a healthy breakfast and follow up with smaller meals and snacks periodically throughout the day.
- Avoid eating large dinners or eating late at night. The earlier you eat dinner the better your chances are for regulating your weight without major dietary changes. Most late night snacks tend to be filled with calories, fat and salts which should be avoided at any time of day and are especially detrimental in the evening when the metabolism has already slowed.
- Chew food slowly. Rushing through meals has been proven to cause gastric reflux, indigestion, weight gain, and other health problems. Take time to chew and savor each bite of food during mealtime to reduce side effects and to give your body time to tell you that it is no longer hunger. It will help you to avoid overeating!
- Eat socially with others. There are many social benefits that can be had from eating with others. Studies show that children benefit greatly from having meals with their families and loved ones too. Whenever you can, take the time out to eat with the people who matter most to you.