Healthy eating starts with learning new ways to eat, such as adding more fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and cutting back on foods that have a lot of fat, salt, and sugar.
A change to healthier eating also includes learning about balance, variety, and moderation.
- Aim for balance. Most days, eat from each food group—grains, protein foods, vegetables and fruits, and dairy. Listen to your body. Eat when you're hungry. Stop when you feel satisfied.
- Look for variety. Be adventurous. Choose different foods in each food group. For example, don't reach for an apple every time you choose a fruit. Eating a variety of foods each day will help you get all the nutrients you need.
- Practice moderation. Don't have too much or too little of one thing. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be part of healthy eating. Even sweets can be okay.
Why pay attention to what you eat?
Healthy eating will help you get the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. It will help you feel your best and have plenty of energy. It can help you handle stress better.
Healthy eating is one of the best things you can do to prevent and control many health problems, such as:
High blood pressure.
Type 2 diabetes.
Some types of cancer.
Is healthy eating the same as going on a diet?
Healthy eating is not a diet. It means making changes you can live with and enjoy for the rest of your life.
Diets are temporary. Because you give up so much when you diet, you may be hungry and think about food all the time. And after you stop dieting, you also may overeat to make up for what you missed.
Eating a healthy, balanced variety of foods is far more satisfying. And if you match that with more physical activity, you are more likely to get to a healthy weight—and stay there—than if you diet.
How do you make healthy eating a habit?
First, think about your reasons for healthier eating. Do you want to improve your health? Do you want to feel better? Are you trying to set an example for your kids?
Next, think about some small changes you can make. Pick ones you can keep doing.
- Don't try to change everything at once.
- Set an easy goal you can reach, like having a salad and a piece of fruit each day.
- Make a long-term goal too, such as having one vegetarian dinner a week.
Dealing With Barriers to Healthy Eating
Barriers are things that get in the way of making a change and staying with it. Changing your eating habits takes time and practice. It's normal to feel like you've slipped a little on your goals once in a while. But it's important to stay on track and keep trying.
There are many things, such as emotional eating or easy access to fast food, that can make it hard to change how you eat.
Finding your barriers and learning how to get around them can help you reach your healthy-eating goals.
Emotional eating means that you eat too much or too often for reasons other than hunger. You may eat because you're sad, depressed, stressed, or lonely. Or you may use food as a reward. Food can be soothing and distract you from what's really bothering you.
If you are an emotional eater, you may not listen to your body's natural signals. You may eat more than you need or want.
Easy access to less healthy food
It can be hard to eat healthy foods when fast food, vending-machine snacks, and processed foods are so easy to find. The good news is that there usually are healthy choices, even at fast-food restaurants.
Here are a few tips:
- Learn which restaurants offer healthier choices. For example, choose fast-food restaurants that allow you to order a side salad instead of fries with your meal.
- Have healthy snacks ready for when you get hungry. Keep healthy snacks with you at work or school, in your car, and at home. If you have a healthy snack easily available, you'll be less likely to pick a candy bar or bag of chips from a vending machine instead.
Lack of time
Lack of time is a common barrier to healthy eating. You may tell yourself that you're too busy or that you have more important things to do than shop for and make healthy meals.
But healthy eating doesn't have to take a lot of time. You can make a healthy meal just as quickly as an unhealthy one. You just need to plan, have the right foods on hand, and learn how to cook some quick and healthy meals.
- Ask friends or co-workers who eat healthfully how they find time.
- Get family members to help you chop vegetables or make a salad.
- Find a cookbook or recipes for quick, healthy meals.
- Take a cooking class with a friend or loved one.
Sometimes a food that seems like a good choice may not be so healthy. A "low-fat" cookie may have less fat, but it may have as much sugar and as many calories as a regular cookie. Potato chips that are "cholesterol-free" may still have a lot of fat, calories, and salt.
Use the Nutrition Facts label on packaged, canned, and frozen foods to help you make healthy choices. The label lists the nutrients, including the fat, salt, and sugar in each serving, and it tells you how many servings are in the package.
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