For proper long-term health, everyone needs to take in specific nutrients and a certain amount of calories. How do you know you’re getting enough of some nutrients? Are you overshooting some amounts? Here are four simple ways to help move towards a better balance.
1. Embrace the Five Food Groups
The simplest way to round out your nutrition is by following the advice of the USDA. Visualizations of the five food groups have taken several forms over the years, including the food wheel, food pyramid, and MyPlate.
Nutritional scientists recommend servings from these broad groups:
There are many approaches to varying your plate. Eating a plant-based diet is among the trendiest health movements in 2020. Fortunately, you can meet the target amount of nutrients from proteins and dairy with the right combinations of grains, fruits and vegetables. Beans are great sources of plant-based protein, for example, and calcium-fortified soy milk lets vegan and lactose-intolerant individuals reach the recommended servings of dairy.
2. Hydrate More Often
Water is a nutrient of all life. Even if you’re not thirsty, keeping a good habit of replenishing your hydration levels can help your metabolism, skin, and bowels. There are also many fruits and vegetables that are rich in water (soup counts, too!) that boost your intake and top up on other needed nutrients.
If you’d prefer to sip something other than plain water, you can drink other beverages like tea and infused water. Try to avoid those carbonated and sugary drinks that sneak in unnecessary calories. Bottled vegetable and fruit juices are a nutritious choice as well, but check the labels for added calories, artificial sweeteners or caffeine.
3. Trim the Saturated Fat
Out of the major macronutrients, including fats, carbs, and protein, fat is probably the most misunderstood. Fats are a source of energy, and we need it to absorb the vitamin contents of our food.
Eating the right dietary fats is an essential part of a balanced diet. Saturated fats have high LDL cholesterol and increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease or experiencing a stroke. Many feel-good snack foods have high levels of saturated fats, so it’s best to avoid those or enjoy them in moderation.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting the consumption of saturated fats to 5-6% of your total daily calories. Look to add more unsaturated fat sources to your diet like eating fish with omega-3 fatty acids, using extra virgin olive oil to prepare foods and snacking on cheese, seeds, and nuts.
4. Fill Out a Meal Log
Do you remember what you had for dinner two or three days ago, including the foods on the side? It’s easy to forget when you don’t keep track! Write down each of the foods and beverages you consume for consecutive days, then reflect on your choices. You can also use handy digital apps for looking up nutritional information and recording progress towards your dietary goals. Maintaining a balanced diet won’t be a guessing game if you plan ahead and stay informed.
Check out our recipes for tasty meal ideas to try!