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.
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
- First of all, make sure you know how many calories a day you should eat.
Then, you can target the number of servings you should be getting of the different food groups.
- Use food labels to guide your decisions.
These can help you figure out calorie counts and limit sodium and sugar.
- While you’re switching to a more balanced diet, it’s a good idea to track your food or calories.
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.