Ten Rules for Healthful Eating

If your goal this year is to lose weight, these rules for healthy eating are for you. Eating low-cal is definitely a healthy habit. But there’s more to good living than just counting calories. The nutrients in the foods you eat can make or break your efforts to live healthfully.

  • Eat vegetables and fruit daily: Eat at least three servings of vegetables and three servings of fruit every day. Most people don’t eat enough vegetables — especially the leafy-green and deep-orange ones. Half a cup of most cooked vegetables, one cup of salad, or a piece of fruit qualifies as one serving.

  • Get enough whole grains daily: You get plenty of vitamin E, vitamin B6, magnesium, zinc, copper, manganese, and potassium in whole grains. These nutrients help protect against heart disease, diverticulosis, cancer, and diabetes. Whole grains are the best source of fiber.

  • Eat beans, lentils, or peas: Eat at least four servings of beans, lentils, or peas each week. Like most vegetables, beans, lentils, and peas are good sources of fiber and phytochemicals (plant nutrients) that help cut the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. But unlike other vegetables, they have enough protein to substitute for a serving of meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Eat regularly: Eating three meals daily, along with two or three snacks, is best. You generally need to eat every three to four hours. Research has shown that people who snack are often less likely to overeat than those who restrict their eating. When you snack, make sure your snacks have carbohydrate, protein, and fat.

  • Eat breakfast: After an overnight fast, your body needs fuel to move. Otherwise, metabolism slows, which reduces how many calories you burn. Many studies have shown that children who skip breakfast have difficulty concentrating during the day. It’s true for adults, too. And here’s another good reason not to miss breakfast: The National Weight Control Registry of more than 3,000 successful weight losers eat breakfast on most days of the week.

  • Limit soft drinks: Many soft drinks pack a dose of caffeine with lots of sugar and calories without contributing nutrients. Sugar-free versions don’t add empty calories, at least, but when soft drinks replace fat-free milk in your diet, you’re missing out on one of the best sources of calcium you can get.

  • Drink water: Studies show that when you think you’re hungry, often you’re actually thirsty, because dehydration is a major contributing factor to fatigue, which leads some people to seek food for energy. The rule is 1 liter (about 4 cups) per 1,000 calories. That translates to about eight 8-ounce glasses a day for people who eat about 2,000 calories.

  • Limit caffeine: Limit caffeine to two servings or less a day. That’s two cups of coffee or tea or other caffeine-containing beverage. Caffeine speeds up your heart rate and can make you feel jittery and anxious. It also can contribute to dehydration due to its diuretic effect, which causes your body to lose water.

  • Limit salt: Processed and prepared foods — not the saltshaker — are the greatest source of salt and sodium in people’s diets. To keep your body running smoothly, you need only about 500 milligrams of sodium a day. That’s about the amount in 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

  • Limit saturated fat: Saturated fat contains the same number of calories as other kinds of fat, but it raises your blood cholesterol level and increases your risk of heart disease. Animal products and tropical oils contain mainly saturated fat.

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