What constitutes healthy eating? What exactly is a healthy diet? These are both good questions, and they usually receive one of three different answers:
Some people will tell you it’s all about your weight. As long as you aren’t eating so little that you are underweight, and you aren’t eating so much that you are overweight… you probably have a healthy diet. Basically, as long as you aren’t too fat or too skinny, you’re golden. Unfortunately, that’s not true.
Obviously your weight is a big part of your health, but it’s far from the only part. There are plenty of unhealthy people who are at their body’s ideal weight. Yes, really. There are plenty of people with a great body who can still be as equally unhealthy as someone with a not so great body. Eating an amount that keeps your weight in check is just a small part of a healthy diet. So, it’s not this one.
- Another common thought is that having a healthy diet is all about eating healthy things. As long as you eat lots of fruits and vegetables and get all sorts of vitamins and minerals and eat all kinds of healthy foods, you can consider yourself a healthy eater. Wrong again.Eating healthy foods is definitely of the utmost importance if your goal is to be healthy. But, like your weight, it’s not everything.
- Then there’s the thought that it’s not how much you eat, and it’s not even WHAT you eat. Instead, it’s about what you purposely avoid eating that makes or breaks a healthy diet. As long as you avoid or at least greatly limit how much junk food you eat, or how much of whatever the “evil” nutrient fad of the day is (carbs, fat, whatever), then you are most definitely doing some healthy eating. Sorry, but that’s wrong as well.Just like the other two, limiting your intake of unhealthy food is obviously an important part of having a healthy diet. The only problem is, that alone is still not the answer.
So then, what is the answer? It’s all of the above. Truly eating a healthy diet requires all three. What you DO eat, what you DON’T eat, and the quantity of it all.
To help start you on your way, here are 8 steps to take to ensure that you are indeed eating a healthy diet.
- Eat the right number of calories per day.
As far as weight control goes, it all begins and ends with calories. Unfortunately, there is no universal “right” number of calories that everyone should eat each day. Some people are overweight, some are underweight. Some have fast metabolisms, some have slow metabolisms. Some are really active, some aren’t active at all. This is why you need to have an idea of how many calories YOUR body needs per day in order to make your weight do what it should be doing. Whether it’s losing weight, gaining weight, or just maintaining your weight as is, it’s all just a big guessing game unless you are keeping track of your calorie intake. For complete details on this, read: Calorie Counting – A Guide to Calories & Weight Control
- Drink lots of water, and little of everything else.
Cut out soda completely. Limit sports drinks, as they are not that much different than soda. It’s all just calories and sugar in liquid form. Limit fruit juices, as most are practically soda with vitamins. If you want the good stuff that’s in fruit juice, eat the actual fruit. Limit alcohol. Really, with the exception of maybe milk (specifically low fat/skim) limit any drink that contains calories. What are you left with? Water. Drink lots of it, your body requires that you do so. The only other drink I’d include on the “good to drink list” after water is green tea, which has been shown to have quite a few health benefits of its own.
- Eat a balanced diet consisting of protein, carbs, and fat.
Ignore the gimmicks and diet fads. Carbs and fat are not bad. And, just like protein, they should most definitely be a part of your diet. Restricting certain foods or food groups that have no legitimate reason to be restricted is just silly as best, and counterproductive to the long term success of your diet at worst. When it comes to protein (the most important of these 3 macronutrients), good sources include fish, chicken, turkey, lean cuts of meat, eggs (egg whites as well), nuts and beans. When it comes to carbs and fat, the key is to eat the right types and limit the wrong ones. Speaking of which…
- Eat more “good” carbs, and less “bad” carbs.
Cut out as many “bad” (refined/higher gylcemic) carbs as you can. From typical junk food like cookies, chips and candy to nutrient-less processed stuff like white rice and white bread. Instead, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (they are carbs, you know), oats, brown rice, sweet potatoes, beans, and various whole grains.
- Eat more “good” fat, and less “bad” fat.
Completely cut out anything containing any trans fat. That eliminates most fast food, most pastries, and a whole lot of your every day junk food. At the same time, limit foods high in saturated fat to a certain extent. After that, the majority of your fat intake should come from foods high in “good” fat (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). This includes nuts and seeds (peanuts, almonds, walnuts, etc.), fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.), as well as olive oil, flax seed oil, and fish oil supplements.
- Eat foods high in the Omega-3 fatty acid and/or take a fish oil supplement.
This one could have been included above since it pertains to fat, but I feel it’s so extra important that it needs it’s own number on this list. Omega-3 is an essential fatty acid that is required by your body to function properly. It helps prevent more diseases and health disorders than I even have time to list, and is in my opinion (and the opinion of practically every health and nutrition expert) an extremely important part of your diet. Unfortunately, most people don’t get anywhere near enough of it on a regular basis. While it is found in less-than-ideal forms in foods like flax seeds and walnuts, its best and most abundant source is fish. An even better idea would be taking an Omega-3 fish oil supplement. I’m not at all a fan of supplements, but if there is one I’d ever recommend to anyone, it’s fish oil. I personally use Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega.
- Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.
As if this one even needs an explanation, fruits and vegetables contain important things your body needs, such as vitamins and minerals. Big surprise, isn’t it? Eat lots of them.
- Don’t eat junk food often (if ever).
This is the one that gets the most disagreements from people, and it’s usually people looking to lose weight. They throw the old “everything is ok to eat as long as it’s done in moderation” line at me. As far as weight loss goes, sure. It is indeed possible to occasionally eat some junk food in moderation and still lose weight (hey, I’m not against cheat meals when used by people who can actually do it properly). However, I’m not saying don’t eat this stuff because it will hinder your weight loss. I’m saying don’t eat junk food because… it’s junk. It contains nothing good and plenty of bad. So, while eating some in moderation may not hurt your weight loss, it may in fact hurt your health. And, being that this is a list of 8 steps to a healthy diet, I’d be just plain stupid if I didn’t tell you to at least greatly limit unhealthy junk food.
So, there’s your 8 steps to eating a healthy diet. I won’t call this the official definitive list of being a healthy eater or anything, but if such a list existed, it would certainly look similar to this. In my personal opinion, if you can read through these 8 steps and say “Yes, I do that” to all 8, then congrats… you have a healthy diet.
If you happen to have some “No, I don’t do that” responses to some of the steps, don’t worry. Just take each step one at a time and gradually work them into your diet. Make it your goal to be able to read through these steps and say “Yes” 8 times.
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