Eating healthy is the first step to health. Eating well is associated with cancer prevention, and overall better health. Eating well is not just something you should do to please your doctor; it is something you should do to please yourself. Eating healthy is doing your body a favor, because your body requires the nutrients that help it run and for you to avoid the ingredients that make you feel unwell and negatively impact your health.
The USDA recommends the following nutrient breakdown:
- 45-65 percent of daily calories coming from carbohydrates
- 10-35 percent from protein
- 20-35 percent from fat (less than 10 percent of which should come from saturated fat)
When it comes to your heart, what you eat matters. Follow these tips for heart-healthy eating:
- Eat less saturated fat. Cut back on fatty meats and high-fat dairy products. Limit foods like pizza, burgers, and creamy sauces or gravy.
- Cut down on sodium (salt). Read the Nutrition Facts label and choose foods that are lower in sodium. Look for foods labeled “low sodium” or “no salt added” — like some canned soups, canned vegetables, packaged meals, and snack foods.
- Get more fiber. Eat vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains to add fiber to your diet.
Take this list with you the next time you go food shopping and prepare a grocery list ahead of time when you are heading to the grocery store.
Be reasonable with yourself about how many fruits and veggies you purchase, and keep in mind what is reasonable to incorporate. If you do not really like raspberries per se, do not purchase them. Too many times I have fallen guilty to purchasing produce that goes spoiled in the fridge because I bought too much or things that we would not eat.
One thing I like to do when I am preparing to go to the grocery store is look up any new recipes I would like to try ahead of time. For instance, if I am interested in making a new pot roast recipe, I’ll be sure to pick up the number of vegetables that I need to make it and not more than that. Planning for the grocery store ahead of time will save you time, and money, in the long run. Check sales adds for your local grocery stores as well, as these may indicate which products, such as meats or produce, that are going on sale and that I can purchase at a discount. Select recipes that include these sale items, so you are sure to use them up!
Vegetables and Fruits
Eat a variety of vegetables and fruits — including options that are fresh, frozen, canned, or dried. This may shock some, but honestly does not matter if your food comes from the best farm and is organic. What matters is that you get the proper nutrients that these foods provide, and that you find meals that incorporate fruits and vegetables into your diet.
- Fresh vegetables like tomatoes, cabbage, and carrots
- Leafy greens for salads, like Romaine lettuce, spinach, and kale
- Canned vegetables that are low in sodium
- Frozen vegetables without added butter or sauces, like broccoli or cauliflower
- Fresh fruits like apples, oranges, bananas, pears, and peaches
- Canned, frozen, or dried fruit without added sugars
Farmers markets are great places to buy vegetables and fruits that are in season. The Mulberry Market, operated by Community Health Works, is an option for individuals wanting to shop locally in Bibb County.
This group includes milk, yogurt, cheese, and certain dairy alternatives that contain similar nutritional content. Consuming dairy products is essential for building and maintaining strong bones as foods in this group are good sources of calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and protein.
Foods in the dairy group can also be high in fat; however, so consider moving to low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Low-fat dairy foods have the same benefits as full fat dairy foods by less fat and calories to help you and your family maintain a healthy weight and heart.
To help make the move easier, try switching milk gradually. Start by mixing a cup of mostly whole milk with a little 1% milk. Every time you drink milk, add more 1% milk and less whole milk until you are only drinking 1% milk.
Look for fat-free or low-fat options.
- Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
- Fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt
- Fat-free or low-fat cheese or cottage cheese
- Soy milk with added calcium, vitamin A, and vitamin D
For products with more than 1 ingredient, make sure whole wheat or another whole grain is listed first in the ingredient list. Look for products that say 100% whole grain. Whole grains are packed with nutrients including protein, fiber, B vitamins, antioxidants, and trace minerals (iron, zinc, copper, and magnesium). A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer.
- Whole-grain bread, bagels, English muffins, and tortillas
- Whole-grain hot or cold breakfast cereals with no added sugar, like oatmeal or shredded wheat
- Whole grains like brown or wild rice, quinoa, or oats
- Whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta and couscous
Your body needs protein to stay healthy and work the way it should. Protein is also a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in your blood, and it also helps make antibodies that fight off infections and illnesses and helps keep cells healthy and create new ones.
Choose a variety of foods with protein. When I am thinking through my grocery list, I tend to center my meal planning around proteins on sale and try to get a variety of them.
- Seafood — fish and shellfish
- Poultry — chicken or turkey breast without skin, or lean ground chicken or turkey (at least 93% lean)
- Lean meats — like pork shoulder, beef sirloin, or lean ground beef (at least 93% lean)
- Beans, peas, and lentils — like black beans and garbanzo beans (chickpeas)
- Unsalted nuts, seeds, and nut butters, like almond or peanut butter
Healthy Fats and Oils
Replace saturated fat with healthier unsaturated fats like seafood, nuts, seeds, avocados, and oils. Try these healthy swaps:
- Vegetable oil (canola, corn, olive, peanut, safflower, soybean, or sunflower) instead of butter for cooking
- Low-fat or light mayonnaise instead of full-fat mayo
- Oil-based salad dressings like balsamic vinaigrette or Italian instead of creamy dressings like ranch
Vegetable oils are usually healthy choices — just avoid coconut and palm oils, which are high in saturated fat. And margarine and other soft spreads may have less saturated fat than butter — check the Nutrition Facts label and look for options with less saturated fat. Remember, you want less than ten percent of your fat intake to be from saturated fats, so be sure to read labels when purchasing products to ensure your product is dominantly composed of unsaturated fats.