You have a ton of food choices when you hit your grocery store aisles, but what food is healthy to eat can be difficult to figure out. A healthy diet should include a variety of foods from all of the food groups. Most importantly, these foods should include complex carbs, fiber, and lean protein. When you include foods that contain those nutrients, you can rest assured you are eating a healthy diet.
What Does Eating Healthy Mean?
Although there are a lot of healthy food choices, figuring out what healthy eating means can be difficult. That’s because you’re hit with a ton of contradicting ‘health’ labels at the grocery store like low fat, low carb, gluten-free, low in calories, and more.
The good news is that healthy eating is not difficult. Healthy eating means consuming whole foods that are filling and provide you with good quality energy as well as vitamins and minerals. Eating healthily also means eating as much as your body needs and not more. There are a lot of foods that tick all of these boxes.
Leading health organizations like the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Heart Association agree on what a healthy diet includes. It includes foods high in protein and fiber alongside foods that contain healthy fats. Their healthy diet includes eating more whole grains over refined grains.
They also recommend healthy sources of protein ranging from beans and lentils to lean meats and fish. Besides the types of foods you eat, the same health organizations emphasize the importance of expending as many calories as you consume.
Key Healthy Diet Takeaways
- Eat whole grains
- Get enough fiber
- Consume healthy proteins like legumes, nuts and lean meats, and fish
- Limit consumption of added sugars
- Avoid processed foods
- Make healthy fruits and vegetables a big part of your diet
- Do not eat more calories than you use
Eating Food That Gives You Energy
All foods give you energy, but there is a difference between good energy and bad energy. Good energy foods provide you with a steady dose of energy that lasts for a long time. Bad energy foods give you a quick burst of energy followed by an energy crash.
Sources of good energy include a combination of complex carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats. When you eat these types of foods, your body requires more time to digest them. That means they keep you full longer as your body slowly digests them and turns them into energy.
So whether you’re working out or spending your day at your desk, you need a steady supply of energy to stay alert and accomplish the task at hand. Complex carbs are one of the best choices for a good diet full of energy while refined carbs are one of the worst.
Eating Food That Gives You Balance
Variety is the key to eating a balanced diet. That means you should incorporate elements of all of the food groups into your daily eating plan. The foods that you incorporate should be filling, provide you with sustained energy while also being a good source of nutrients.
Top 5 Balanced Foods
Bodybuilders swear by it, as do busy parents and folks on a budget. Oatmeal is a well-balanced food providing complex carbs, protein, fiber, and even some healthy fat. It makes for a great breakfast as it is filling and provides you with sustained energy for your day. That sustained energy helps you eat as much as your body needs and not more, which helps in weight loss and maintenance.
They may come in a small package, but eggs are packed with a lot of the nutrition you need for a balanced diet. Eggs contain much-needed protein that helps us to stay full and provides us with slow-releasing energy. Additionally, you get healthy fats and a whole lot of vitamins and minerals that your body needs to stay healthy.
If there’s a single food out there that gives you a major bang for your buck, it’s got to be kale. Kale is full of fiber, which makes it filling and therefore a sustained source of energy. But that’s not all, it is chock full of vitamins and minerals as well as antioxidants that fight free radicals, which are major culprits in a variety of non-communicable diseases.
Beans are a fantastic source of lean protein. In fact, beans contain so much goodness that they fall under the vegetables and protein category. Besides being high in protein, they are also high in fiber and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are the nutrients we get from plant foods that help prevent certain diseases like heart disease and cancer.
It is the only fruit with a nutrient profile that rivals foods in all other food groups. It’s a complete carb, has healthy fats, protein and is a good source of fiber. Few other foods rival the avocado when it comes to foods you should eat for a filling, balanced diet.
Developing A Healthy Relationship With Food
A healthy relationship with food requires adopting healthy eating habits. When you have healthy eating habits, you no longer have to look at food as the enemy. Food is designed to nourish us and it also gives us pleasure. You don’t need to follow strict diets that completely restrict some foods.
Restrictive dieting is not healthy dieting, and it often does the opposite of what you may be trying to achieve. All you need to do to create healthy eating habits is to remember to eat foods that fill you and provide you with sustained energy as well as vitamins and minerals.
What Food Should You Eat More Of?
Eating more foods that are nutrient-dense and filling is how to eat healthy. These foods contain a combination of complex carbs, lean protein with some healthy fats. They also contain vitamins and minerals that are essential for a healthy body. More specifically, we can break those foods down into protein-rich foods, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and key foods that don’t fall into any one category.
Your body needs protein for a variety of things from helping to deliver oxygen throughout your body to repairing tissue and building muscle. Foods that are rich in protein keep you full for a longer time because it takes your body time to digest them.
Protein-rich foods include animal proteins like chicken, turkey, and beef. They also include eggs and dairy like yogurt and cheese. Vegetarian sources of protein include lentils and beans. Lean proteins are your best choice, but fattier proteins like red meat are ok once in a while.
Whole grains are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates as well as fiber and protein. They reduce your risk of heart disease, obesity, and stroke. Thanks to the fiber they also aid in good digestion which helps in distributing energy as well as excreting waste.
The consumption of whole grains also helps you stay fuller longer because they do not digest quickly and cause your blood sugar to skyrocket. The added benefit of that is that you don’t overeat which prevents overeating and can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Vegetables & Fruits
One of the best things about including vegetables and fruits in your healthy diet is the sheer variety. You can eat a different fruit and vegetable every day for several weeks without having to repeat. Variety is important because different fruits and veggies provide different vitamins and minerals, which you need to fend off a host of non-communicable diseases.
- Spinach and kale provide iron, vitamins A and C, and more
- Citrus fruits provide Vitamin C
- Starchy veggies like sweet potatoes provide B vitamins and potassium
Other Key Foods
Healthy fats are an important part of a healthy diet. That’s because your body cannot make fats but it needs them. For example, fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A and E cannot be absorbed without the presence of fats.
The important thing to remember when you consume fat is to eat unsaturated fats. Unsaturated fats are found in fish and plant sources and they provide heart-healthy fats. Limit your consumption of trans fats and saturated fats which you find in processed foods and fatty animal proteins.
Dairy is a good source of healthy fats as well as calcium, protein, and potassium. You can include dairy to add variety and also if you are vegetarian and need some additional sources of fat and protein.
What Food Should You Limit For A Healthy Diet?
While we don’t recommend a highly restrictive diet, there are some foods that you should limit for a healthy body and mind. In particular, limit highly processed foods, alcohol, fruit juice, energy drinks, saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium. When you limit these types of things, you can lose weight fast, maintain your weight as well as achieve good health overall.
Highly Processed Foods
Highly processed foods are those that contain little to no amounts of whole food. They are made of refined carbohydrates, added sugars, saturated fats, and trans fats. These foods are designed to be convenient and tasty, not healthy and nutritious. They cost you calories without providing nutrition in return.
Additionally, these foods have little protein or fiber and so will not keep you full. That means you’ll end up overeating and end up gaining weight.
Foods High In Sugar
The more sugar you eat, the more you will eat overall. That’s because foods with added sugars don’t have much other nutritional value and don’t fill you up. For example, a donut has around three times the calories of an apple, but won’t fill you up as much as an apple. That’s because a donut is made up of added sugar and refined carbs which your body digests fast. On the other hand, an apple is made of natural sugar and fibers, fibers take time to digest so you are fuller longer.
Healthy sugar alternatives include Stevia, sweeteners, and honey.
Alcoholic Beverages, Juice, And Energy Drinks
Alcohol contains empty calories, meaning it's not providing you with any nutrients. Rather, a lot of mixers used with alcohol contain added sugars so you end up with a sugar high followed by an energy crash.
There is one type of alcohol that is considered acceptable when consumed in moderation. A glass of red wine for women and two glasses for men can even be considered healthy. That’s because wine contains resveratrol which can reduce bad cholesterol as well as incidents of bad cholesterol.
However, despite the above benefit, it is best to limit your alcohol consumption. Alcohol can contribute to weight gain as it can make you hungry, lead to poor food choices, and also prevents fat from being burned.
While fruit juice sounds like it should be a very healthy drink choice, the sugars in it can wreak havoc on your body. That’s because the sugars spike your blood sugar and give you a burst of energy. That quick hit of energy means you’re also depleted of energy fast which can make you feel tired and hungry. Eating whole fruits or making smoothies using whole fruits is a better choice.
Most energy drinks are full of sugar and caffeine, while too much caffeine is not good for you, the real problem with energy drinks is their sugar content. That sugar content contributes to a host of diseases and also gives you a hit of energy followed by a major slump.
The best energy drink around is water. That’s because a major cause of tiredness is dehydration which affects your oxygen supply. When you drink water, you replenish your water stores and in turn your energy. If you must drink energy drinks choose ones that are green tea-based and do not contain added sugar.
Other Foods To Limit
While the aforementioned are the biggest threats to a healthy diet and lifestyle, there are a couple more you should look out for.
Limit foods with saturated fats because they are artery-clogging and can lead to health problems like heart disease and stroke. Saturated fats should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily calorie count.
Trans Fats for the most part are artificial fats and artificial things have no place in a healthy diet. Trans Fats are made when manufacturers turn liquid fats into solid fat like margarine, which are most used in baked and fried foods. Trans Fats increase bad cholesterol and decrease good cholesterol. They are also responsible for weight gain and can lead to Type-2 diabetes.
Too much sodium in your diet can lead to high blood pressure. Over time high blood pressure can seriously damage your heart as well as affect other parts of your body like your eyes. Processed foods are heavy on salt as manufacturers use it as a flavoring agent and a preservative. You should not consume more than a teaspoon of salt in the course of your day and the best way to stick to that is to avoid processed foods.
Healthy Eating Habits
If you want to know how to eat better and have healthy eating habits, pay attention to the little things. How much you eat and how often adds up at the end of the day, week, month, and year. Go easy on the snacking and plan your meals if you want to achieve healthy eating habits.
Smaller Portions More Frequently
Eating smaller portions at more frequent intervals throughout the day can provide you with a steady source of energy. Eating three meals and snacks in between help in ensuring that you don’t fall victim to cravings and hunger pangs that can cause you to make bad food choices.
Healthy Snack Ideas
If you are used to having snacks in between meals, you don’t have to stop. However, you do need to be picky about the types of snacks you consume. Snacks that contain lean protein will help you feel satiated until your next meal and also won’t put you over on your calorie count.
You should stick to snacks that are in between 100-200 calories. When you enjoy a protein-rich snack within that calorie range along with water, you will be full and the calories will last you until your next meal.
Examples of Good Snacks
- Light English muffin with 1 tablespoon almond butter = 200 calories
- 3 ounces (85 grams) of cooked shrimp = 80 calories
- 1 ounce/~¼ cup (28 grams) of roasted chickpeas = 120 calories
- One cup of sugar snap peas sprinkled with 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese = 85 calories
- 7 olives = 140 calories
If you don’t plan, you kind of are planning to fail. You can avoid the pitfalls of added sugars, saturated fats, and energy highs and lows by planning your meals. Try to create a weekly meal plan in line with your new healthy diet.
Purchase the ingredients you need for the meal plan and do some bulk cooking. If you can prep at least five lunches and dinners on a Sunday, you have a far greater chance of sticking to your new healthy lifestyle.
Examples of Bulk Food Prep
- Filling soups and stews
- Whole Chicken
- Sliced veggie sticks
How To Improve Your Eating
You didn’t develop your existing habits overnight, so you certainly aren’t going to develop new ones overnight either. Be easy on yourself and implement changes gradually. Add one new habit a week like including healthy proteins in your lunches then move on to lunches and dinners.
After that, you can tackle your snacking by prepping healthy snacks to eat instead of your usual grab-n-go options. If you implement one new habit at a time, you have a greater chance of having it become a part of your routine.
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Author Alon Laniado is the founder of Fitmate Coach and certified in Nutrition with Stanford University School of Medicine and with Precision Nutrition. He is a certified Health & Wellness Coach and Personal Trainer with the American Council on Exercise. Alon has helped thousands of clients lose weight and is on a mission to help more people benefit from weight-loss coaches by making the service more affordable and accessible using technology.
How Do You Form A Healthy Relationship With Food?
To build a healthy relationship with food you should be able to eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. You should also be able to treat yourself when you want without guilt.
For all of that to happen, build healthy eating habits for a good food foundation. That means eating filling foods with protein and fiber. When you have a good base, then it is much easier to eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full, and enjoy treats without guilt.
How Does A Food Pyramid Help You Eat A Healthy Diet?
A food pyramid helps you visualize all of the foods available to you in a healthy diet. You have a lot of choices including fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, dairy, and whole grains. You need servings from each of the groups and once you start including them in your diet, you’ll discover you won’t be hungry for much else. That makes it easier to follow a healthy diet.
What Is The Healthiest Food?
The healthiest foods include lean protein and fiber in them. When you consume foods with lean protein and fiber, you don’t have to think too much about what you’re eating because you’ll only find those things in healthy foods. Additionally, lean proteins and fiber keep you full and help with numerous processes in the body.
How Do You Cook Healthy Food?
The best way to cook healthy food is by way of steaming, baking, or slow cooking. These methods don’t require you to add fats like in the case of frying. However, when you’re short on time, sometimes the best way to cook something might just be in the microwave. If pan-frying is the easiest method you have on hand, then that’s fine too as it is deep frying that can have the most negative impact on your body.
Keep in mind that the important thing is to use healthy ingredients and cook in a way that is the most convenient for you. That way you will not be tempted to order unhealthy forms of take-out or opt for heavily-processed food.
How Can A Weight-Loss Coach Help You Eat Healthier Food?
A weight loss coach can help you gradually build habits by working with you to set goals. They will keep you accountable and offer expert advice to help you stick to your personal plan.
Your weight-loss coach is there for you 7 days a week to answer your questions from what you can eat as a snack to what to order from a restaurant menu. Another benefit of weight loss coaching is that you’ll get helpful texts during the week to help keep you on track.