Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it's about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and stabilizing your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you're not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you'll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create a tasty, varied, and nutritious diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
We all know that eating right can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid certain health problems, but your diet can also have a profound effect on your mood and sense of wellbeing. Studies have linked eating a typical Western diet filled with processed meats, packaged meals, takeout food, and sugary snacks with higher rates of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Eating an unhealthy diet may even play a role in the development of mental health disorders such as ADHD, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia, or in the increased risk of suicide in young people. Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, cooking meals at home, and reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, may help to improve mood and lower your risk for mental health issues. If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, eating well can even help to manage your symptoms and regain control of your life.
Eating a healthy diet doesn't have to be overly complicated. While some specific foods or nutrients have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it's your overall dietary pattern that is most important. The cornerstone of a healthy diet pattern should be to replace processed food with real food whenever possible. Eating food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it can make a huge difference to the way you think, look, and feel.
While some extreme diets may suggest otherwise, we all need a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals in our diets to sustain a healthy body. You don't need to eliminate certain categories of food from your diet, but rather select the healthiest options from each category. Not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good fats protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats such as omega-3s are vital to your physical and emotional health. Understanding how to include more healthy fat in your diet can help improve your mood, boost your well-being, and even trim your waistline.
What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. For many of us, moderation means eating less than we do now. But it doesn't mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza. Try not to think of certain foods as off-limits. When you ban certain foods, it's natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences. Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don't order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it's a larger portion. If you don't feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit. Take your time. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly and stop eating before you feel full. Eat with others whenever possible. Eating alone, especially in front of the TV or computer, often leads to mindless overeating.
Add color. Not only do brighter, deeper colored vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants but they can vary the flavor and make meals more visually appealing. Add color using fresh or sundried tomatoes, glazed carrots or beets, roasted red cabbage wedges, yellow squash, or sweet, colorful peppers. Liven up salad greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K. To add flavor to your salad greens, try drizzling with olive oil, adding a spicy dressing, or sprinkling with almond slices, chickpeas, a little bacon, parmesan, or goat cheese. Satisfy your sweet tooth. Naturally sweet vegetables such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, bell peppers, and squash add sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugar. Add them to soups, stews, or pasta sauces for a satisfying sweet kick. Cook green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus in new ways. Instead of boiling or steaming these healthy sides, try grilling, roasting, or pan frying them with chili flakes, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, or onion. Or marinate in tangy lemon or lime before cooking.
Salmon, berries, broccoli, almonds, and kale are among the superstars of the dietary world. But they're not the only nutritional powerhouses out there. Many other foods that haven't earned celebrity status are also worthy of a spot on your plate. Start with these nine.
Developing healthy eating habits isn't as confusing or as restrictive as many people imagine. The essential steps are to eat mostly foods derived from plants vegetables, fruits, whole grains and legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and limit highly processed foods. Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet.
Not all the nutrients and other substances in foods that contribute to good health have been identified, so eating a wide assortment of foods helps ensure that you get all of the disease-fighting potential that foods offer. In addition, this will limit your exposure to any pesticides or toxic substances that may be present in a particular food.