Do you plan your meals everyday or does your day get to busy that you find you do not have time to think about what you will eat? Does someone else plan and prepare your meals? Sometimes that can happen if your parent, spouse or significant other is the one who purchases and prepares the foods without much consultation with you or maybe you eat at a college or work cafeteria where they have set menus. In all cases, if you want to have a healthy diet, some planning and preparation has to go into it.
Start by taking a look at your schedule and determine when you can set some time aside to think about, plan and prepare your meals. I have a friend who cooks all her food for the week on Sunday and that enables her to pack a lunch everyday so she never has to eat out. I also have another friend who cooks early in the morning before going to work. Her family gets to carry a home-cooked meal everyday and the other advantage is that there is food when they get back home tired from work and school. Most people who do not plan their meals end up settling for fast food which tends to be high in fat, sugar, sodium, preservatives and calories, all of which in excess are not good for your health. We all need to cut back on eating out and we should aim at eating healthy home-cooked meals. As you plan for your healthy diet, take into consideration the following characteristics discussed below.
Five Main Characteristics of a Healthy Diet.
1. Provides Adequate Amounts
There are established recommendations from different food groups that you are supposed to eat in a day. If you do not meet these recommendations your body may not get enough of certain nutrients and may not be able to have enough stores to get through periods of increased need such as when you are sick, injured or face hunger. A diet analysis such as the one discussed in my last article would give you good insight on how well you are meeting these recommendations.
You have to balance the amount of food you eat from the different foods groups, that is, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy and grains. There are some fad diets such as the Atkin’s diet that advocate cutting carbohydrates such as fruits, milk and starches from the diet and increasing proteins such as meats and eggs. This kind of imbalance will end up negatively affecting your health.
3. Moderation is Exercised
When we talk of moderation we mean portion control. With abundance of food and heavy marketing from the food industry, people tend to over eat. The American dinner plates have also grown bigger compared to the rest of the world from 10 inches in diameter to 12-1/2 inches. The portion sizes in restaurants have also grown larger and one could actually feed 2 or more people from one plate. The whole idea of the all-you-can-eat buffets also adds to the problem. Health experts recommend choosing a small size plate to eat from, one that is 9” in width of less and controlling how much you put on that plate. Do you think you practice moderation in your eating? How about when you go out to eat? Think about some ways you can cut down your portion sizes
4. Control Amount of Calories
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins provide the body with energy needed to power the different activities in our cells. If eaten in excess they lead to weight gain. It takes 3500 excess kcalories to gain one pound of weight. If it is not your intention to gain weight then you have to keep your kcalories in check, for women not more than 2000 calories and men 2500 calories per day (This caloric amount varies depending on your height, weight and activity level). To cut back calories, choose foods that provide more nutrients with few kcalories. For example choose an apple over apple juice. An apple has more fiber, minerals, vitamins, less kcalories and keeps you fuller longer when compared to the juice. Limit or avoid foods such as potato chips, soda, cheese cake, and doughnuts (especially those Krispy Kreme ones!
5. Provides Variety
Eating a variety of foods means you get a wider variety of nutrients found in food and the different colors make food more appealing. There are certain chemical substances called Phytochemicals that are known to activate enzymes in our bodies that fight diseases such as cancer. To enjoy their benefits we have to eat a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, beans and grains. Another reason to enjoy a variety of foods is that pesticides are used in the growing of different foods especially fruits and vegetables except for organic foods. If you get used to eating just one type of fruit such as strawberries everyday, you run the risk of those chemicals accumulating in your body to high levels and at a rate that the body may not be able to clear from your system. This is especially important for children because they have smaller bodies.
Take a look at your meals and assess for yourself how well you are doing and let these characteristics described above help you plan for healthier meals.
Murugi holds a Masters of Public Health in Nutrition from the University of Minnesota. She is a Registered Dietitian and a Licensed Nutritionist in the State of Minnesota. She is a nutrition instructor at Century and Inver Hills Community Colleges and teaches nutrition classes in the community. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.