What you eat each day affects your health and how you feel now and in the future. Good nutrition plays a major role in helping you lead a healthy lifestyle. When combined with physical activity, your diet can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight and reduce your risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease, and promote overall health and wellbeing.
Creating and maintaining healthy eating habits doesn’t have to be hard. If you start by incorporating small changes into your daily habits, you can make a big impact on your eating pattern and create lasting, healthy eating habits. Try including at least six of the following eight goals into your diet by adding one new goal each week.
1. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables
Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables along with other vegetables for your meals. Add fruit to meals as part of main or side dishes or as dessert. The more colorful you make your plate, the more likely you are to get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to be healthy.
2. Make half the grains you eat whole grains
Switch from a refined-grain food to a whole-grain food. For example, choose whole-wheat bread instead of white bread. Read the ingredients list and choose products that list a whole-grain ingredients first. Look for things like: “whole wheat,” “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “buckwheat,” “oatmeal,” “rolled oats,” quinoa,” or “wild rice.”
3. Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk
Both have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat.
4. Choose a variety of lean protein foods
Protein foods group includes not only meat, poultry, and seafood, but also dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds. Select leaner cuts of ground beef (where the label says 90% lean or higher), turkey breast, or chicken breast.
5. Compare sodium in foods
Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose lower sodium versions of foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals. Select canned foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”
6. Drink water instead of sugary drinks
Drink water to cut back on unnecessary calories from sugary drinks. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar and calories in American diets. To add flavor to your water, add a slice of lemon, lime, apple or fresh herbs like mint or basil.
7. Eat some seafood
Seafood has protein, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids (heart-healthy fat). Adults should try to eat at least eight ounces a week of a variety of seafood. Children can eat smaller amounts of seafood. Seafood includes fish such as salmon, tuna, and trout and shellfish such as crab, mussels, and oysters.
8. Cut back on solid fats
Eat fewer foods that contain solid fats. The major sources for Americans are cakes, cookies, and other desserts (often made with butter, margarine, or shortening); pizza; processed and fatty meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs); and ice cream.
Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle
To maintain your healthy eating habits, try the following tips.
Add More Fruits & Veggies
- Mix veggies into your go-to dishes. Swap meat for peppers and mushrooms in your tacos or try veggie pasta instead of grain pasta like one made out of black beans for more plant-based protein.
- Use fresh fruits and veggies whenever possible. Watch for sodium in canned veggies and look for canned fruit packed in water instead of syrup.
- Pack your child’s lunch bag with fruits and veggies: sliced apples, a banana or carrot sticks.
Prepare Healthy Snacks
- Teach children the difference between everyday snacks such as fruits and veggies and occasional snacks such as cookies and sweets.
- Keep cut-up fruits and veggies like carrots, peppers, or orange slices in the refrigerator.
- Prepare your meals for the week by making them ahead on weekends or on a day off.
Reduce Fat, Salt, and Sugar
- When eating out, choose baked or grilled food instead of fried and do the same at home.
- Make water your go-to drink instead of soda or sweetened beverages.
- Read labels on packaged ingredients to find foods lower in sodium.
- Reduce amounts of salt added to food when cooking and use herbs and spices instead to add flavor like paprika, turmeric, black pepper, garlic or onion powder.
Control Portion Sizes
- When preparing meals at home, use smaller plates.
- Don’t clean your plate if you’re full, instead save leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Portion sizes depend on the age, gender, and activity level of the individual.
Practice Healthy Eating in School
- Bring healthy snacks into your child’s classroom for birthday parties and holiday celebrations, instead of providing sugary treats.
- Pack healthy lunches for children including whole grains, fruits and veggies, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.1
Reflect, Replace, and Reinforce
Making sudden, radical changes to eating habits such as eating nothing but cabbage soup, can lead to short-term weight loss but it won’t be successful in the long run. To permanently improve your eating habits:
- Reflect on all your habits, both good and bad, and your common triggers for unhealthy eating.
- Replace your unhealthy eating habits with healthier ones.
- Reinforce your new, healthier habits.
- Keep a food diary for a few days to evaluate what you eat every day. Note how you were feeling when you ate – hungry, not hungry, tired, or stressed?
- Create a list of “cues” by reviewing your food diary to become more aware when you’re “triggered” to eat for reasons other than hunger. Note how you’re feeling at those times.
- Circle the cues on your list that you face on a daily or weekly basis.
- Ask yourself about the cues you’ve circled; is there anything else you can do to avoid the cue or situation? If you can’t avoid it, can you do something differently that would be healthier?
- Replace unhealthy habits with new, healthy ones.
- Reinforce your new, healthy habits and be patient with yourself. You can do it! Take it one day at a time! 2
To make sure your meals are balanced and nutritious, use the MyPlate, MyWins at choosemyplate.gov to create healthy eating solutions that work for you.
- U.S. Department of Human Services: https://www.hhs.gov/fitness/eat-healthy/how-to-eat-healthy/index.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/eating_habits.html