Healthy Eating Habits

Developing healthy eating habits will promote a lifestyle filled with smart food choices for the benefit of nourishing the body. Learning how and what to eat will lead to improved health, increased energy, stabilize diet-related conditions, weigh management, and produce an overall feeling of well being. In order for healthy eating habits to develop, it is necessary to understand the fundamentals of nutrition. Nutrition is how the body uses the food it consumes. Good nutrition means that the food taken in by the body is converted effectively into energy for cell nourishment, growth, and tissue replacement. There are six nutrient classifications that the body requires for proper nutrition; carbohydrates, protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals, fat, and water. The food we consume should provide these essential nutrients and lead to a foundation for exceptional health. Converting to a healthy-eating lifestyle from the traditional American diet filled with processed foods high in calories, fat, and sodium can seem like a daunting task. However, with planning and a commitment to improving health, implementing healthy food choices can be less overwhelming. The following six healthy eating habits can be gradually worked into any lifestyle.

Healthy Eating Habit 1: Grasp serving sizes, and reduce portion sizes.

Most people choosing to adopt a healthier diet have a distorted perception of serving sizes, especially when dining out. The portion sizes at restaurants are so large that a person can unknowingly consume an entire day's caloric intake in one sitting. Making changes in portion sizes does not require being confined to the kitchen with a food scale and measuring devices. Simple visual techniques can be used to estimate healthy serving sizes.Meat and Proteins: One serving, 3 oz., of beef, pork, chicken, or fish is about the size of a deck of playing cards. A 1 oz. serving of deli lunch meat is roughly the size of a compact disc. One serving, 1/4 cup, of almonds, walnuts, or other nuts is the size of a golf ball. A serving, or ½ cup, cooked beans are equal to the size of a light bulb. Carbohydrates and Grains: Sliced bread portions should be comparable to a compact disc case. One cup of cereal or cooked pasta is equal to a baseball in size. One serving, ½ cup, of rice or humus is about the size of a light bulb. Fruits: One serving is equal to ½ cup grapes or berries the same size as a light bulb. A small piece of fruit or one cup of strawberries is approximately the size of a baseball. One ounce of dried fruit or ¼ cup of raisins is equivalent to a golf ball in size.

Vegetables: One serving of cooked or raw vegetables is equal to one cup, or the size of a baseball. A small potato is the size of a computer mouse. Milk and Dairy: A single hard cheese serving is 1 ½ oz., about the size of three dice. Half a cup of frozen yogurt or ice cream is comparable to the size of a light bulb. Fats and Oils: One serving of butter, margarine, or salad dressing is one tablespoon, the size of the poker chip. An additional tip for portion control is visually dividing the plate into three parts. Draw a line down the middle of the plate, and then visually cut one half in half for three sections. The largest section should be filled with a non-starch vegetable. One quarter is filled with a protein, such as lean beef, chicken, or fish. The remaining quarter should be filled with complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain rice or pasta.

Healthy Eating Habit 2: Make fruit and vegetable choices count.

Fruit and vegetables provide some of the highest levels of nutrients per serving, yet the majority of people do not reap their benefits because they choose to eat less healthy food options. According to the USDA, nine out of ten adults do not get the five recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables. To get the most out of the produce consumed, choose the freshest option available at the moment. However, do not forgo eating fruits and vegetables when fresh produce is not available. Fresh produce is highest in nutritional value because it is processed the least. It is beneficial when choosing fresh fruits and vegetables to look for items that are in season and of good condition. Buying from local farmers will provide fresh, minimally processed produce and contribute to the community.

Frozen fruits and vegetables are second best when fresh is not available. Frozen produce is frozen at the peak of ripeness, which helps preserves nutrients. However, the freezing process requires blanching in boiling water or steaming, a process that causes the loss of small amounts of vitamin C. Canned fruit and vegetables lose the most amounts of nutrients through the high-heat, canning process. When choosing canned fruits or vegetables, a person should opt for no-salt added vegetables or fruits that are packed in fruit juice for healthier choices.

Healthy Eating Habit 3: Shop the produce rainbow.

Filling up on a rainbow of produce is beneficial to a healthy body. Numerous studies have shown that the color of fruits and vegetables can determine the nutrients found in them.Blue and purple produce are high in antioxidants, which can enhance memory, improve immunity to illness, and reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease. Eggplant, beets, grapes, blueberries, plums, and blackberries are all high in antioxidants.Red fruits and vegetables, such as tomatoes, strawberries, red bell peppers, and watermelons are rich in lycopene, a vitamin with properties that fight cancer.

Orange, beta-carotene rich foods, boost the immune system. The best examples are carrots, mangoes, peaches, and nectarines. Dark green vegetables are filled with key vitamins and minerals, such as calcium, vitamins A, C, E, and K, magnesium, zinc, iron, and potassium. These vital nutrients are essential for a healthy body. Examples of green vegetables are lettuce, greens, broccoli, kale, artichokes, spinach, asparagus, green beans, and kiwi. Yellow indicates vitamin C, which is a free radical blocker. Pears, pineapple, and oranges are excellent sources of vitamin C. White vegetables, such as onions and garlic, provide allicin and quercetin, which effectively reduce the risk of heart disease.

Healthy Eating Habit 4: Exchange refined carbohydrates for whole grains.

Bread and grains make up the majority of daily food servings as recommended by the USDA. By simply exchanging white breads and pasta for more nutritious whole grains, the body will see many benefits. Complex carbohydrates found in whole-grain breads, pastas, and rice are excellent sources of fiber, antioxidants, and long-lasting energy for the body. Also known as good carbohydrates, whole grains digest slowly and promote the feeling of fullness for extended periods of time and do not spike blood sugars like simple carbohydrates do. Unhealthy, simple carbohydrates to avoid are white flour, refined sugars, white rice, and pastries.

Healthy Eating Habit 5: Choose high-quality protein sources

Protein is an essential source of energy for a healthy body. The protein in the food we consume is converted into amino acids, the foundation for cell growth and energy. Protein deficits can result in low-muscle mass, poor immunity response, impaired growth, and deficiencies of the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Including high-quality proteins in the diet will promote excellent health. Proteins are categorized as complete or incomplete proteins. Complete proteins are beef, pork, chicken, fish, eggs, milk, and cheese. Complete proteins supply the body with all of the essential amino acids. Incomplete protein examples are vegetable proteins such as beans, nuts, legumes, seeds, and grains. While they can be considered healthy choices, these foods do not provide all twenty essential amino acids. It is important to opt for low-fat, high-quality sources of protein. Good choices are chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, beans, or nuts.

Healthy Eating Habit 6: Inject healthy spices and herbs into food while cooking.

Converting to healthy eating does not have to mean bland food. Foods cooked with flavorful spices will create savory dishes filled with concentrated natural antioxidants. Spices used during cooking can also increase the attractiveness of certain foods, leading to an expanded diet. Adding culinary spices and herbs during preparation is a healthier alternative to seasoning with salt or other high-sodium seasonings. There are seven spices that are considered excellent sources of natural antioxidants and are rich in flavor.

Cinnamon is a sweet, pungent spice typically used in baking. This spice is among the highest in antioxidant value. Cinnamon is also an excellent source of polyphenol. Red peppers, including chile pepper, chili powder, and paprika, spice up any recipe and deliver a healthy dose of antioxidants. Capsaicin, a compound that causes the heat factor in peppers, is linked to a feeling of fullness and increased metabolism. Oregano is a dried herb that delivers an antioxidant level equivalent to three ounces of almonds. Research studies show oregano also offers antimicrobial properties. Rosemary is a popular, aromatic herb used predominately in Mediterranean cuisine that is an excellent source of antioxidants. Ginger, a derivative of ginger root, is often used as a natural alternative for treating digestive upset. Ginger packs an antioxidant punch equal to one cup of spinach. Thyme is rich in flavonoids, a compound beneficial for its anti-inflammatory properties as well antioxidants. Turmeric, also called yellow curry, is currently being studied for its beneficial effects on the body. Studies have indicated the potential of turmeric to inhibit cancer cell growth and reduce brain inflammation during illness. Gradually making simple lifestyle changes by following these healthy eating habits can lead to good nutrition and overall body wellness.

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