Tag Archives: USDA

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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Food Expiration Dates and Safety

Decoding Expiration Dates

Did you know the government doesn’t make food companies put expiration dates on most things? They choose to put those dates on their products so that you get the best quality as a customer, which is why there are so many different kinds of labels.

According to the Boston Globe, 3/4 of Americans think eating things after their printed dates is unsafe. That’s not always true.

What Do the Expiration Dates Mean?

“Sell by” Date

This tells the store how long it can sell the product. You should buy it before this day, but it doesn’t mean that it’s bad after that date. It really just means that it’s freshest before that date.

“Best if used by (or before)” Date

You should use a product before this date for the best quality and flavor, but it has nothing to do with safety.

“Guaranteed fresh” Date

This is usually used for bakery items. You can still eat them after this date, but they won’t be at their freshest.

“Use by” Date

This is the last date a product’s maker recommends you use it for the best quality, much like “best if used by or before” dates.

“Pack” Date

These are dates that are on many canned or packaged goods. They’re used by the manufacturer and do not tell you if the food is safe. They may also be in a code, usually month-day-year, like MMDDYY. So September 29, 2015, would be 092915.

Other Dates

Federal law says that all baby formula must be dated. It is usually marked with a “use by” or “expiration date,” and after that date, the nutrition of the formula begins to decline from what’s shown on the label.

Some states also make stores pull dairy items off the shelves after their expiration dates.

How Long Are Things Good For?

While these dates will help you eat things while they taste the best, you won’t need to rush to throw most things away by those dates.

You should always try to buy your food before these dates expire, but as long as it’s stored at the right temperature and hasn’t been contaminated during cleaning or prep, it can be good after the dates.

Product Dates and Expiration

And of course, it is important to smell and look at your food before you eat it if it’s past those dates (and before them, too). If something smells bad, tastes weird, has rotten spots, or is moldy, don’t eat it! It’s definitely time to throw it away.

You can see more info about dates and food safety from WebMD and the USDA.

Up Next:

Make sure you’re storing your food safely to keep it good for longer.

Are you always cooking things to a safe temperature to avoid foodborne illness? Our guide can help!

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Enjoying Organic Healthy Greens

Organic 101

You’ve probably noticed in your grocery store that there’s a whole display of fruits and veggies (that usually cost more) labeled organic.

Lots of people just assume that it means they’re all-natural, but everything in the produce section was grown instead of manufactured, so isn’t all of it all-natural?

When something is labeled organic, it actually means that it was grown in a certain way. Organic foods are grown without the use of:

  • Pesticides, which stop weeds and bugs from hurting a crop and are usually made with chemicals
  • Fertilizers, which make the land better for growing crops and are usually made with a town’s sewage, animal manure, or man-made ingredients, like chemicals
  • Bioengineering, when scientists change things about a crop in its DNA or genes to make it grow better
  • Ionizing radiation, when produce is radiated to preserve it, reduce the risk of illness, prevent bugs,  or slow down sprouting or ripening

Before a product can be labeled organic, someone from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) checks the farm and any companies that handle or process the food before you get it to make sure they’re meeting organic standards. This means that when you buy organic, it’s guaranteed to be organic.

However, when you buy organic, you’re also paying more because farmers who don’t use things like pesticides, fertilizers, and bioengineering usually get smaller crops from their land than other farmers. Those things were invented to help farmers grow as much food as possible, and when organic farmers don’t use them, it makes their jobs harder.

Each year, a company called the Environmental Working Group (EWG) puts out lists of which fruits and veggies have the potential to have the most pesticides on them and which don’t.

The Clean Fifteen are the fruits and veggies with little to no pesticides on them when you buy them at the store. The Dirty Dozen have the potential to have the most pesticides on them. Plus, they’re mostly things you either eat the peel of or don’t peel at all.

Whether you buy organic or non-organic produce, it’s important to get fruits and veggies in your diet. Just be sure to clean your produce properly before you eat it.

Clean Fifteen

Dirty Dozen

Up Next:

Why should you shop at farmers markets? One great reason is local food!

And make sure you keep your food safe at every stage by practicing safe food prep.

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Fresh Marionberries at Farmers Markets

Why You Should Be Shopping at Farmers Markets

You should try shopping at your local farmers markets for these 6 reasons:

1. It can save you money. At a farmers market, you can pick out exactly how much of something you need. Only need one carrot? No need to buy a bunch you won’t use, like you might have to do at the grocery store.

And the produce at a farmer’s market is only what’s fresh and in-season. It’s also local. At the grocery store, you’re paying for your fruit to be shipped across the country from where it is in-season. By buying your fruits and veggies locally based on what is fresh, you stop paying your food’s travel costs.

Illinois also has a Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program that gives you a free booklet of checks that you can use at local markets. Find details and participating counties and markets on the Illinois Department on Aging’s site.

2. You can support your community. Because the people selling at farmer’s markets live in the area, your money goes back into the local economy.

3. Many accept SNAP and WIC benefits. Many farmers markets accept these to make sure families can afford buying healthy, fresh food. Learn more about which ones take SNAP and WIC, or check out this list of all the farmer’s markets that take Illinois Link Benefits.

Certain markets, like the new Champaign Farmers’ Market downtown, have special deals for SNAP users, so it’s always good to check with the info booth first. At their market, they will double up to $20 of benefits per person while funds last when you bring your Link card to the market booth!

4. It has lots of healthy foods. Fresh fruits and veggies are full of nutrients and antioxidants and are a big part of the MyPlate guidelines from the USDA that help you eat healthier.

5. The farmers often have suggestions. They can tell you what foods are the best right now, help you find new things to try, and tell you the best ways to cook what you buy.

6. It’s a good family activity. It’s a great way to get your kids involved and learning about healthy eating, and it’s so nice to shop outside on a beautiful day.

Find farmers markets near you.

Up Next:

Need tips on shopping at farmers markets? We can help you do it right!

Checking Expiration Dates

Long View: Food Safety – What’s in a Date?

I was hunting for some cookies at my mom’s house, and I noticed a bottle of Tabasco® sauce in the back corner of the pantry. I wondered why she had a new bottle of something she rarely uses, and she told me she just keeps it around and had moved it from her house on Church Street.

“Gee, Mom, that was 12 years ago,” I said, and it got me thinking about expiration dates and what they mean.

I hope during this holiday season and all year long, Health Alliance Medicare members and non-members alike, pay attention to this wise advice from the experts. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines the most common terms this way.

• A “sell-by” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before this date.
• A “best if used by (or before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
• A “use-by” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The maker of the product determines this date.
• “Closed or coded dates” are packing numbers for use by the manufacturer.

Who knew?

Another good food safety resource is your local University of Illinois Extension office. Jenna Smith is the nutrition and wellness educator for Livingston, McLean and Woodford counties. She has a safety-first approach.

“Dates on food packaging can be very confusing,” Smith says. “But in general, most dates refer to best quality, not to food safety. When in doubt, throw it out. If the food develops an off odor, flavor or appearance, do not use it.”

As a former holder of a Food Service and Sanitation Certificate, I tend to take a very conservative approach when it comes to food safety. I especially remember some videos on the proper methods for handling raw chicken and the consequences of not maintaining the proper temperature. I didn’t eat poultry for two years.

Paying attention to safe food practices and being well informed are the best ways to be safe. I think my mom’s Tabasco sauce has transformed from a condiment to a treasured family heirloom along the way. I am OK with it for now, as long as I’m not eating it.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Health Alliance!