Tag Archives: sugar

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.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Smart Caffeine Consumption

National Caffeine Month

It’s National Caffeine Month, and you should know how much is safe. How much is too much?

Up to 400 mg a day is safe for most healthy adults, which is roughly 4 cups of coffee, 10 cans of cola, or 2 energy shot drinks. But remember, there is more than just caffeine in those drinks.

Caffeine Overload

 

Caffeine’s not a good idea for kids. You should try to limit them to no more than 100 mg per day.

Kids and Energy Drinks

 

Drinking too much has side effects, like making you jittery, nervous, and irritable and upsetting your stomach.

Too much can also give you muscle tremors, including a fast heartbeat. Cutting back can also help with heart arrhythmia.

Your Heart and Caffeine

 

It might also be to blame if you always have problems falling asleep, and getting enough sleep is important.

Sleep Deprivation from Caffeine

 

Some medications and supplements may interact with caffeine, including some antibiotics, theophylline, and Echinacea.

Echinacea Supplements

 

Find ways to cut back, and you’ll also probably be cutting back on sugar.

Cutting Caffeine

Save

Save

Save

Low-Sugar Recipes and Staples

Low-Sugar Recipes

Looking for ways to cut back the sugar in your diet? We have low-sugar recipes to help!

Skip the store-bought with these quick and easy 9 Staple Salad Dressings.

9 Staple Salad Dressings You Should Know How to Make

 

Easy Chia Jam with any fruit is a simple way to remove some sugar from your breakfast.

Easy Chia Jam
Image and Recipe via The Kitchn

 

Dump the jar with this delicious and simple Quick Marinara Sauce.

Quick Marinara Sauce

 

Sweet and Spicy Ketchup is a great way to dip without the guilt.

Sweet and Spicy Ketchup
Image and Recipe via Food & Wine

 

Get your BBQ craving with this Copycat BBQ Sauce.

Copycat Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce {Made from Scratch}

 

Skip the sugar-filled cereal aisle with this Homemade Cereal.

Homemade Reese’s Puffs Cereal
Image and Recipe via Dashing Dish

 

Abandon your favorite flavored yogurt with this Coconut Yogurt Parfait with Berries.

Easiest Breakfast Ever: Coconut Yogurt Parfait with Berries

Save

Save

Save

Save

Skipping the Sweets

Sugar Awareness Week

For Sugar Awareness Week, we’re helping you learn about sugar and make healthy sugar choices.

Do you know which of your foods have added sugar in them? There are some you might not realize!

Hidden Sugar Awareness

 

Make sense of added sugar in processed foods to make better choices.

Making Sense of Processed Foods

 

Do you have a problem with sugar? Take the quiz and find out!

Your Sugar IQ

 

Experts are warning people about the dangers of sugars, but how much is too much?

Balancing Sugar in Your Diet

 

Kicking the habit of too much sugar in your diet can be difficult. What can you do to cut back?

Making Smart Sugar Choices

 

Take the Sugar Awareness Challenge and test how dependent on sugar you are.

It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Start cutting back on sugar with these easy tips.

Cutting Back Sugar without the Sacrifice

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.

Old School Lunching

Long View: What Food Group Includes Olive Loaf?

My childhood lunch menu:

Appetizer

  • Banana
  • In-season apple

Entrée

  • Olive loaf sandwich on soft white bread, with lavishly applied mayonnaise (The sandwich had to be cut on the diagonal, or I wouldn’t eat it.)
  • Fresh Fritos in an individual bag serving

Dessert

  • Hostess Ding Dong or Sno Balls

Beverages

  • Sweet tea, chocolate milk, or Kool-Aid

There was little variation in this menu when my brother and I were little kids, and our mom saw little reason to change it. She, and countless other mothers at that time, felt this was a nutritious, filling lunch for 2 growing boys. On the positive side, the Fritos were made from corn, so it counted as a vegetable.

After lunch, Mom expected us to lie down and take a nap. We never went to sleep for some reason, but at least she got a few moments of peace and quiet.

OK, so this was probably not the most nutritious meal we could have eaten, but our supper was usually a well-balanced meal. However, dessert was a nightly occurrence, and a spectacular Jell-O salad often graced the table. Neither my brother nor I seem to have suffered any ill effects. At least not yet.

Remember, this was a time when candy cigarettes and bubble gum cigars were common treats for kids. Flavored sugar water in tiny wax bottles was a Halloween staple, for reasons that are still unclear to me now. SweeTARTS were an odd and unexplainable pleasure, and we ate them by the fistful.

In retrospect, my food preferences have certainly changed over the years. I refused anything with cheese in it, except for a grilled cheese sandwich. I guess in my head, the grilling made it acceptable. I wouldn’t eat a vegetable unless it was cooked to death. That is definitely not the case now. I needed all my seafood encased in a crispy, fried batter, and I remember hating beets. Wait, I still hate beets.

I think we all develop our palates over time and grow to have more complex taste preferences. Healthier eating seems a lot more attainable these days, at least if we make the choice.

But occasionally, I still grow nostalgic for the treats I enjoyed as a child. I recently bought some olive loaf and white bread so that I could recreate my childhood favorite.

It was disgusting.

Patrick Harness is a community liaison with a long history of experience in health insurance. If you ask him to pick a color, he always chooses orange, and he is known for his inability to parallel park.

Shop Smart by Reading Labels

Breaking Down Food Labels

While you’re shopping, understanding the nutrition labels on food can help you make smart choices for your family. We can help you make the most of them.

New Food Label for a New Era

In May, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a new Nutrition Facts label with some important improvements:

What's Different?
Image via the FDA

When you see them side by side, you can see that the new label calls out the actual serving size and calories per serving much bigger. At the store, this can quickly help you see how good for you something is in terms of calories, and how much bang for your buck you’re getting in what you buy.

New vs Old Label
Image via the FDA

It also calls out added sugars, which are sugars (like sugar, honey, or corn syrup) that are added to packaged food. Fresh fruit has natural sugars, so juices don’t list the sugar that’s naturally occurring from the fruit as added sugar.

And now it calls out the exact amount of nutrients, like vitamin D, calcium, iron, and potassium.

The FDA’s new labels have also changed serving sizes to better show how much people actually eat of certain foods:

New Serving Sizes
Image via the FDA

While a half a cup of ice cream used to be the recommended serving size, most people are scooping out closer to a cup, so the FDA wanted to make sure you know how many calories you’re actually eating in that bowl of ice cream.

Making the Most of Food Labels

1. Serving Size

Serving SizeWhen you pick something up at the store, start with the serving size on the Nutrition Facts label.

It will tell you the total number of servings in the package, and the new serving size, which better shows how much of it you actually eat.

These serving sizes are standard, so it’s easier for you to compare the calories and nutrients in similar foods to find the healthiest brand for you. Serving sizes also come in measurements you know, like cups, followed by grams.

2. Calories

CaloriesNext, look at the number of calories per serving. Calories are a measure of how much energy you’ll get from food.

Many people eat more calories than they need to, so keeping track of how many you eat can help you with your weight. Most people should eat around 2,000 calories per day.

When you’re looking at the calories, if you’re eating around 2,000 calories a day, then 40 calories is low for a serving, 100 calories is in the middle, and 400 or more calories is high. In fact, you should shoot for whole meals to be around 400 calories.

3. Nutrients to Limit

The nutrients listed first are Nutrients to Limitones that most Americans get plenty or too much of.

Eating too much fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium, or sugar can raise your risk of certain diseases, like heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes.

The bold headlines are most helpful for you when you’re shopping, so you can quickly see how much of these is in something, while the subheads, like saturated and trans fat, can help you focus on a nutrient you’re interested in.

The percentages along the side tell you how much of your 2,000 calorie diet this food takes up. So in this image, the total fat in this food takes up 10% of all the fat you should eat in a whole day.

Dietary fiber and protein that are mixed into this list are good for you and important to keep an eye on. Fiber can help you better process food and reduce the risk of heart disease, and protein can help you stay full longer and is important if you’re trying to build muscle.

4. Nutrients You Need

Important NutrientsThe bottom section of nutrients are ones that many don’t get enough of, so they’ve been highlighted to help you buy foods rich in them.

These are nutrients that can help you improve your health and help lower the risk of some diseases. For example, calcium and vitamin D can help you build strong bones and lower your risk of getting osteoporosis later in life, and potassium can help lower your blood pressure.

5. Footnote

Label FootnoteThe footnote is more simple in the new design, too. It just reminds you that the percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet.

Now that you know what the different sections of the Nutrition Facts label are telling you, it will be easy to look for food with good calorie counts, limited salt, fat, and sugar, and plenty of healthy nutrients, like calcium.

Up Next:

Why shop organic? Our Organic 101 guide makes it easy!

Make sense of expiration dates while you’re shopping to make the most of your groceries.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save