Tag Archives: food labels

Deciding on a Balanced Diet

Eating a Balanced Diet

Focusing on a balanced diet is one of the best ways to make healthy eating a part of your life.

Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The USDA sets Dietary Guidelines for Americans regularly to help guide balanced diet choices. While these guidelines can seem complicated, there are key takeaways from them you should know.

The Importance of Healthy Eating

Healthy eating helps prevent and slow the onset of diseases, like obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease.

Include in a Balanced Diet

A healthy and balanced diet, which for most people is around 2,000 calories a day, includes a variety of:

  • Vegetables, including a variety of dark green, red, and orange veggies, legumes, which include beans and peas, and starchy veggies, like corn and potatoes.
  • Fruits, especially whole fruits, like apples and oranges, which are the perfect serving  size.
  • Grains, at least half of which are whole grain.
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy (like milk, yogurt, and cheese) or appropriate substitutes.
  • A variety of foods high in protein, like lean meats, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans,  soy-based products (like tofu), nuts and seeds.
  • Oils (like canola, olive, peanut, and soybean) or naturally occurring oils in nuts, seeds, olives, and avocados.

Limit in a Balanced Diet

  • Added sugars should make up less than 10% of your daily calories, which can be hidden in processed and prepared foods, like soda, cereal, cookies, and more.
  • Limit saturated and trans fats, which should make up less than 10% of your daily calories. Foods high in these include butter, whole milk, and palm oil. Replace with unsaturated fats, like canola and olive oil whenever you can.
  • Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg per day. Processed foods, like pizza, and canned soup and sauces can be high in this salt.

A Balanced Diet with MyPlate

MyPlate replaced the food pyramid as the guide to making sense of servings. It helps you look at your plate and strike a balance with each meal.

This chart can help you divide your own plates appropriately: MyPlate

Fruits and veggies should make up about half of your plate, with just over a quarter filled with whole grains, and protein should be under a quarter. (A few ounces of meat, a piece about the size of the palm of your hand, is a good serving size for most people.) Also work in a small serving of dairy through milk, cheese, or yogurt to round out your meal.

Making Smart Choices

Combine these guidelines with smart choices, and you’ll be well on your way to eating a balanced diet. And making these smart choices doesn’t have to be difficult. There are lots of tips and tricks that can help you make a balanced diet a part of your daily life.

Tracking Your Food

Then, you can target the number of servings you should be getting of the different food groups.

These can help you figure out calorie counts and limit sodium and sugar.

This can help you understand how balanced your diet and food servings are and set and reach food goals.

Making and Meeting Food Goals

  • Start small.

Making small changes in your eating habits can have long-term effects:

  • Switch to high fiber, low-sugar cereals.
  • Give up soda with flavored sparkling waters.
  • When you’re hungry, try drinking a glass of water before you eat something.
  • Plan for all of the places you go in life:
    • Instead of eating out for lunch at work, start planning and meal-prepping ahead of time, and avoid the vending machines.
    • If you know your kids aren’t making great food choices at school, get them involved in packing lunches they’ll love ahead of time.
    • When you know you’ll spend the day at the mall, carry snacks and a water bottle, eat a healthy breakfast or snack before you head out, and skip the food court. If you just can’t avoid a meal or a snack while you’re out, find the healthiest option. Load up a sandwich with veggies, get frozen yogurt without all kinds of extra sweet toppings instead of ice cream, and choose hot tea or unsweetened iced tea instead of a frappachino.
    • Check menus for calorie counts when you’re eating out. Ask for salad dressings and sauces on the side, avoid fried foods, and keep in mind that alcoholic drinks can be full of calories.
    • Many communities have community gardens. Join in and help out to get moving and to grow things your whole family can enjoy in meals.

Results and Rewards

  • Don’t beat yourself up when you have missteps.

Everyone struggles with giving up the foods full of sugar and salt that they love, so it’s important to stay positive and get back on track.

  • Plan your cheat day.

Many people have found that planning a weekly cheat day can help them stay on course knowing they can treat themselves later. And once you get used to a balanced diet, you’ll find that you’ll cheat in smaller and smaller ways, even on the day you’re allowed to.

  • Find healthy ways to treat yourself.

For example, do you love watermelon or raspberries? Splurge on the healthy treats you love. Enjoy a piece of dark chocolate each day or a glass of red wine each week. Another option, reward meeting your goals with a treat that isn’t food-related, like a new outfit, book, or manicure.

Up Next:

Now that you know the value of a balanced diet, learn to prepare before you go grocery shopping and shop smart to meet your goals.

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The Smart Processed Foods Choice

Making Sense of Processed Foods

You’ve probably heard in the news that processed foods are bad for you. They’re frequently blamed for high rates of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes in America.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. Not all processed foods are bad for you, and it’s important to know which ones you need, which ones can help you save, and which ones to avoid.

What Is Processed Food?

There is a whole range of processed food, and the more processed it is, the less likely it is to be good for you.

Barely processed foods are things that you can find at the store that have been prepped for you for your convenience. These include:

  • Washed and bagged lettuce and spinach
  • Precut or chopped fruit or veggies
  • Roasted nuts

Foods processed at their peak lock in and preserve nutrition, quality, and freshness. These include:

  • Canned tomatoes
  • Frozen fruit and vegetables
  • Canned tuna

Foods with added ingredients may have better flavor and texture, but they can also be worse for you. While these ingredients help preserve quality, they can also have higher sugar, fat, and unnatural additives. These frequently include sweeteners, spices, oils, colors, and preservatives. Foods with added ingredients include:

  • Jarred pasta sauce
  • Salad dressing
  • Yogurt
  • Cake mixes

Ready-to-eat foods are usually heavily processed with lots of added ingredients. These include:

  • Crackers
  • Chips
  • Cookies
  • Granola bars
  • Prepackaged deli meat

Frozen and premade meals are usually the most heavily processed with lots of added ingredients, including salt and preservatives to make them last. These include:

  • Frozen pizza
  • Frozen meals
  • Microwaveable dinners

Positives of Processed Foods

As you can see, some processed foods are good for you. Fresh fruits and veggies that have just been chopped and washed before being packaged really just save you time. (Although you usually have to pay more for that time savings.)

Foods processed at their peak are a great way to save, with the same nutrition at a lower price than fresh.

And some foods with added ingredients are actually better for you. Many kinds of milk and juice have more calcium and vitamin D added in. Some breakfast cereals have added fiber.

Problems with Processed Foods

The 3 biggest problems with processed foods are added sugars, salt, and fat.

Sugars

Sugars aren’t just in candy and prepackaged desserts. They’re added in all kinds of foods, and you may not even know it.

  • Breads can have added sugars to give them a nice brown color.
  • Canned pasta sauce generally has a surprising amount of added sugar.
  • Many cereals are heavily sweetened.
  • Fruit canned in syrup is filled with sugar.

Salt

Salting your food isn’t to blame for high levels of sodium in your diet. 3/4 of the salt you take in comes from processed food.

  • Most canned vegetables, soups, sauces, and beans have added sodium to improve the taste and texture and to help preserve them on the shelf.
  • Premade meals and snacks are full of extra salt to make them taste better and preserve them.

Fats

Added fats make food shelf-stable and tastier. But trans fats in processed foods can raise your bad cholesterol.

Many products with added fats have really small serving sizes, and if you eat more than that, you’re eating a lot of trans fat in one sitting.

For instance, a serving size of Oreos is just 3 cookies, and those 3 cookies have 7 grams of fat, which is 11% of your recommended daily total of fat. Do you actually eat just 3 Oreos in a sitting? Just doubling to 6 cookies puts you over 20% of your daily fat total!

Smart Processed Foods Choices

Now that you know the basics, how can you pick out processed foods that are good for you?

Read Food Labels

  • Look for fortified milk and juice, which have added calcium and vitamins.
  • Avoid things like white bread, which are so refined that most of the healthy fiber has been removed in the processing. Look for whole grain breads, tortillas, and pastas instead.
  • Buy canned fruit packed in water or 100% fruit juice. Avoid fruit packed in syrup and fruit juice concentrate, which have added sugar.
  • Even if a product says it’s organic or all-natural, it can still have added sugar. Too much cane sugar and honey can be just as bad for you as too much corn syrup.
  • Carbohydrates on the nutrition label include naturally occurring sugars, like in yogurt and fruit. Instead, look at the ingredients list to see if sugar has been added. Look for:
    • Sugar
    • Maltose
    • Brown sugar
    • Corn syrup
    • Cane sugar
    • Honey
    • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Check things you might not think you need to for sugar, like cereals, even plain kinds, and pasta sauce.
  • Look for reduced or low sodium on things like canned vegetables, soups, and beans. You can always add a little bit of salt when you’re cooking if you need it.
  • Always rinse canned beans and vegetables, which can lower the salt content by 40%.
  • Even if a product says it has zero trans fat, check the ingredients. If it has any hydrogenated vegetable oils, then it’s going to have some trans fat.

And most importantly, just try to eat heavily processed foods in moderation and make the most of healthier processed foods in a balance with fresh foods.

Up Next:

Making sense of food labels is easy with our handy guide.

Make the most of your next grocery shopping trip to boost your diet and make healthy choices.

Salt and Your Heart

Cutting Back on Salt for Your Heart

Salt’s Effects

You’ve no doubt heard that salt’s bad for you. While the truth is your body needs salt, too much can be very bad for you.

On average, Americans eat  4,000-5,000 mg of salt every day, and your body only needs about 500 mg a day. That’s a big difference. One that can be a big problem if you have high blood pressure.

And it’s not just about what you add to your food. 75% of your sodium intake comes from processed foods. Salt adds flavor and keeps things fresh, so food manufacturers use a lot of it.

A study in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, found a high-salt diet may decrease how well meds used to treat high blood pressure work.

So, if you’re currently taking meds for or have high blood pressure, a low-salt diet could help them work.

Clean Up Your Diet

While you might want to talk to your doctor before you drastically cut back on salt, there are a lot of things you can do yourself to cut back that are good for you no matter what.

  • Stop buying heavily processed foods like corn oil and soda.
  • Shop around the outside edge of the grocery store and you’ll hit all the spots with the freshest foods.
  • Read food labels. Those with fewer and simpler ingredients are best. The longer the list, the more room there is for chemicals, sugar, salt, and oils.
  • Cook more at home. Restaurants, especially chains, use heavily processed foods.
  • Train your tongue. If you are used to salt, sugar, and fat, you’ll need time to appreciate the flavor of natural foods.
  • Add other seasonings and flavors to keep your meals delicious and interesting:
    • Allspice: Look for a low- or no-sodium options for seasoning meats, gravy, and even tomatoes.
    • Almond Extract: Great for puddings, desserts, and fruit.
    • Basil: Sprinkle on some fresh or dried basil to add a kick to fish, lamb, salads, soups, and sauces.
    • Chives: Add a light onion flavor to salads, sauces, sides, and soups.
    • Garlic: Fresh garlic is good for you and very flavorful.
    • Ginger: Try this on chicken and fish.
    • Lemon Juice: Make your lean meats and fish pop.
    • Dry Mustard:  Add to meat, marinades, homemade salad dressings, and veggies.
    • Onion Powder: Good for marinades, meat, and veggies.

Eating a low-sodium diet can be easy and delicious, it just takes a little planning and great recipes. Visit our Pinterest to find all kinds of healthy recipes you can make at home.