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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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Healthy Eating for Your Heart

Healthy Eating and Exercise for Your Heart

You can reduce your risk of heart disease and lower your blood pressure and cholesterol with 2 easy lifestyle changes: healthy eating and exercise.

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating habits can help you lower 3 of the major risk factors for heart attacks, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and obesity.

Tips to Help with Healthy Eating

  • Eat a variety of fruits, veggies, grains, and dairy, which are all good for you in the right portions, and they keep your diet from getting boring. Use MyPlate to learn more about healthy  eating and portions of these foods.
  • If you keep track of the calories you take in and burn, you can balance them to keep a healthy weight.
  • Avoid foods that are high in calories and low in nutrition, like soda and candy.
  • Limit the foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol that you eat, like full-fat dairy, vegetable oil, and egg yolks.
  • Use smaller plates, which has been shown to help people eat smaller portions.
  • Don’t deny yourself the foods you love, just enjoy them in moderation.
  • Don’t eat more than 2,400 milligrams of salt a day.

Soda and Healthy Eating

The amount of soda Americans drink has risen 135% over the last 30 years.

A study from the American Heart Association found middle aged people who drink as little as one soda a day, diet or regular, are at least 40% more likely to develop risk factors for heart disease.

This could be because people who drink sodas are more likely to have a sweet-tooth and eat other sugary food.

Cutting down on soda both lowers the sugar, empty calories, and salt you’re taking in. Stick to water instead.

Say “No” to Trans Fats

Trans fats hide in a lot of prepackaged foods. Like saturated fats, they raise your bad cholesterol  and lower your good cholesterol levels, increasing your chances of heart disease.

Learn to avoid them for healthy eating:

  • Margarine: Choose margarine in a tub, which has the least trans and saturated fats.
  • Baking Mixes: These can have fat in them that you don’t know about. Baking from scratch can help you cut back and control what’s in your treats.
  • Soups: Both dried and canned soups have trans fats and lots of sodium. Try making your own with fresh veggies and meat.
  • Fast Food: Almost everything in the drive-thru has something bad for you in it. Order grilled chicken and skip the fries.
  • Frozen Foods: Even if it says low fat, it can still have trans fat. Choose frozen foods with the fewest grams of total fat.
  • Chips and Crackers: Go for baked chips, low-fat crackers, or fat-free alternatives like pretzels.
  • Breakfast Foods: Choose cereals that have no fat, and breakfast and granola bars that are low in fat.
  • Toppings, Dips, and Condiments: Wherever you can, sub a low-fat alternative, like oil and vinegar instead of a ranch dressing and low-fat milk instead of cream.

Alcohol and Your Heart

Drinking a lot of alcohol on a regular basis can affect your blood pressure and cholesterol. While a little alcohol every day, like a glass of red wine, may have some minor health benefits, heavy drinking can cause a number of health problems.

Heavy drinking can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of stroke and heart disease. Alcohol keeps the liver from making hormones that help control blood pressure. Heavy drinkers can lower their systolic blood pressure by 2 to 4 points just by cutting back.

Some studies do show that moderate drinking is linked to good cholesterol levels. Stick to no more than 2 drinks daily for men younger than 65, and one for women or anyone over the age of 65.

You don’t have to give up your favorite beverages, just drink them in moderation.

Healthy Eating During the Holidays

The average adult will eat nearly 3,000 calories during a typical holiday meal, and that doesn’t include snacks, appetizers, or dessert. Use these healthy eating tips to cut back:

  • Never go to a party hungry. Before you leave, eat a light snack full of fiber and protein so you don’t binge at the dessert table.
  • Prepare a healthy side. Substitute skim milk or egg whites in  recipes to lower fat, cholesterol, and calories.
  • Survey the spread. Before choosing what to eat, check what’s available. Look for apps with fresh veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Avoid dishes like casseroles where you can’t tell what all’s inside.
  • Eat lean. There are plenty of ways to add flavor without the gravy. Grilled, steamed, skinless, and seasoned are the best heart-smart choices.
  • Don’t stay close by. Take a few items, and walk away from the food. When you’re catching up, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’ve eaten.
  • Stay active. Instead of giving into an after-meal doze, take a walk or go to the mall for some window shopping.

Potassium and Your Heart

Potassium helps lower your blood pressure in two ways:

  • By getting rid of extra salt through urine.
  • By relaxing blood vessel walls, which lets blood flow more easily.

One article in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension found that just changing how much potassium and magnesium you eat could lower your blood pressure 2 to 6 points.

Adding potassium to your diet doesn’t mean you can eat all the salt you want. But getting enough potassium, at least 4,700 milligrams a day, plays an important part in your overall healthy eating plan to control your blood pressure.

Studies also show a link between potassium and lower stroke risk, so getting more of it is good for your family members, too, even if they don’t have high blood pressure.

From fish to fruits to dairy, lots of foods have potassium. It’s easy to fit into every meal:

1,000 mg
  • Avocado (1 cup)
  • Papaya (1)
  • Baked potato (8 ounces with skin)
  • Edamame (1 cup shelled, cooked)
  • Lima beans (1 cup, cooked)
  • Sweet potato (1 cup, cooked)
750 mg
  • Plantains (1 cup, cooked)
  • Salmon (6 ounces)
  • Tomato sauce (1 cup)
  • Winter squash (1 cup, cooked)
500 mg
  • Banana (1)
  • Beets (1 cup, cooked)
  • Cantaloupe (1 cup)
  • Dried apricots (12 halves)
  • Dried figs (4)
  • Orange juice (1 cup)
  • Yogurt (1 cup plain low-fat)
250 mg
  • Broccoli (1/2 cup, cooked)
  • Zucchini (1/2 cup, cooked)
  • Kiwi (1)
  • Mango (1)
  • Nectarine (1)
  • Orange (1)
  • Pear (1)
  • Strawberries (1 cup)
  • Raisins (1/4 cup)
  • Dates (5 whole)
  • Milk (low-fat or skim,1 cup)
  • Chicken breast (5 ounces, roasted)
  • Peanut butter (2 tablespoons)
  • Peanuts (1 ounce, about 1/4 cup)

Heart Healthy Nuts

Mother Nature’s near-perfect snack is tree nuts. They’re one of the healthiest and easiest snack foods. From boosting memory and brain power to protecting against cancer, research has shown the power of this snack.

Studies find walnuts have the most antioxidants, about twice that of other nuts, and polyunsaturated fats, that help reduce cholesterol and protect the heart, omega-3s, melatonin, and protein.

If walnuts aren’t your first choice, munching on other kinds still has plenty of benefits. Nuts actually lower levels bad cholesterol in your blood. Try substituting a serving of nuts for a food that’s high in saturated fat, like red meat, eggs, and whole-fat dairy.

Almonds
  • Packed with protein, fiber, calcium, and iron.
  • Very high in monosaturated fat, or the heart healthy fat.
  • One of the best sources of Vitamin E, which protects against cancer and stroke.
  • Per 1 ounce serving: 160 calories, 14 grams of fat.
Cashews
  • Good source of monosaturated fat.
  • Per 1 ounce serving: 155 calories, 12 grams of fat.
Pistachios
  • Great source of potassium.
  • High in monosaturated fat (almost as much as almonds).
  • Per 1 ounce serving: 160 calories, 13 grams of fat.
Peanuts
  • Has more protein than tree nuts.
  • Per 1 ounce serving: 170 calories, 14 grams of fat.
Pecans
  • Great choice for fighting high cholesterol because they’re low in saturated fat.
  • Per 1 ounce serving: 200 calories, 20 grams of fat.

Get Moving

Being active is one of the most important things you can do to help control your blood pressure and lower your cholesterol, as well as lower your risk of heart disease. It doesn’t have to take much time, in fact, you can easily add the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day simply by changing your routine.

For example, try:

  • Taking a 10-15 minute walk during your lunch break.
  • Jumping rope for 15 minutes.
  • Gardening or raking leaves for 30 minutes.
  • Going for a walk in the park with your family.

Make sure you talk to your doctor before you start a new diet or exercise routine.