Like many girls growing up, I was caught up in body image. In my eyes, being thin equated to being healthy. The first college level class I took, taught me that being healthy is not just about whether or not your jeans fit. Everyone needs a certain amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat. In addition, we also need an array of vitamins and minerals to sustain a truly healthy lifestyle.
According to the USDA’s 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a balanced diet should emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products. It should also include lean meats, poultry, fish, beans eggs, and nuts while being low in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
When you eat according to these guidelines, you may see that not only are you eating better, but you feel better as well. Despite popular belief, eating healthy doesn’t have to be a difficult task. By making simple changes to your diet you can increase your daily intake of essential nutrients your body needs.
Here is a breakdown of the USDA’s food groups, their contributions to nutrition, and simple swaps you can make to maximize your health:
Fruits: Contribute many nutrients your body needs. To name a few: Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Potassium, and Fiber.
Eat More Often: Apples, bananas, blueberries, pineapples, grapefruit, raspberries, kiwi, and strawberries
Eat Less Often: Fruit juices or punches with added sugars, as well as canned or frozen fruit loaded with syrups (tip: these are the fruit juices NOT labeled as 100% juice)
Vegetables: Also contribute many nutrients your body needs. To name a few: Folate, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Potassium, and Fiber.
Eat More Often: Dark green, leafy vegetables (broccoli, arugula, kale, spinach), orange and deep yellow vegetables (carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes), and legumes (black beans, garbanzo beans, kidney beans, soybeans).
Eat Less Often: Baked or refried beans, coleslaw, french fries, potato salad, and any type of deep-fat fried vegetable of your choice
Grains: A powerhouse for nutrients such as folate, niacin, riboflavin, thiamin, iron, magnesium, selenium, and fiber.
Eat More Often: Whole grains (barley, brown rice, oats, quinoa, rye, whole wheat) and whole wheat enriched breads, tortillas, cereals, and pasta
Eat Less Often: Biscuits, cornbread, crackers, croissants, donuts, fried rice, muffins pies, and taco shells
Meat, Poultry, Fish and Eggs: Can contribute protein, niacin, thiamin, Vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc to your diet.
Eat More Often: Poultry with no skin, fish, egg whites, lean meats (those containing less than 10 g of total fat, 4.5 g or less saturated fat, and less than 95 mg of cholesterol per 3.5 ounces)
Eat Less Often: Fatty meats, deep fried meats, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats, poultry with skin, sausages with skin, and spare ribs
Legumes and Nuts: Can contribute protein, folate, thiamin, Vitamin E, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc and fiber to your diet.
Eat More Often: Soy products (tofu, soy nuts, tempeh, soy milk), almonds, flaxseed, walnuts, and sunflower seeds
Eat Less Often: Refried beans, baked beans, fried tofu and watch for the sodium/fat content of canned nuts.
Milk, Yogurt, and Cheese: Can contribute protein, riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and Vitamins A and D when fortified.
Eat More Often: Fat-free milk and milk products (low fat cheese, yogurt, soy milk)
Eat Less Often: Whole milk and milk products in addition to milk products with added sugars (chocolate milk, ice cream, milk shakes)
Oils: A great source of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats as well as Vitamin E.
Use More Often: Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Canola Oil
Use Less Often: Coconut Oil and Palm Kernel Oil
The Intern Behind the Plate,
1. Whitney EN, Rolfes SR. Understanding Nutrition, 11th Ed. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth; 2008.
2. Inside the Pyramid. MyPyramid.gov website. Available at: http://www.mypyramid.gov/pyramid/index.html. Accessed on: September 29th, 2010.
3. Whole Grains: Hearty Options for a Healthy Diet. MayoClinic.com website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/whole-grains/NU00204. Accessed on October 1st, 2010.