Healthy Eating in a Nutshell
Healthy Eating Tips
Healthy eating isn't rocket science, it is common sense backed by scientific studies: you should eat moderately and include food from each of the five food groups.
- Focus on vegetables, whole grains and fruit
- Limit your intake of saturated fats, trans fats (replace them for fat-free or low-fat options)
- Reduce the intake of added sugars and sodium (not only salt, but sodium hidden in processed foods and drinks)
- Eat lean meats, fish, poultry, beans, nuts and seeds and also eggs
- Include fat-free dairy products
- Keep well hydrated
Count your Calories
Keep an eye on calorie intake by calculating your daily calorie needs (Try our Diet Calorie Calculator).
And control your portion sizes.
Plan your Calorie Intake
With our Diet Calorie Calculator you can define your daily calorie requirements based on: age, gender, height, weight and your level of physical activity.
If your aim is to lose weight, you should reduce your energy intake (eating less calories) and increase energy expenditure (burn more calories by exercising or increasing your level of physical activity). This will mean that your body will be getting less energy than it needs to function and will start burning stored fats to cover the energy gap.
It is often said that 1 pound of fat is equal to 3500 calories: this is known as Wishnofsky’s Rule after Max Wishnofsky, who in 1958 calculated that one pound of weight loss was equivalent to burning 3,500 calories. This is not an exact figure, but is a good rule-of-the-thumb value: Cut 3,500 calories and lose a pound of fat.
As an average American woman requires around 2,000 calories per day, a 25% reduction (500 calorie deficit) would ensure a weight loss of 1 lb per week.
In the case of a man who needs some 2,700 calories per day, the 25% deficit would mean cutting 675 calories from his daily intake to lose the same amount of weight.
Your calorie deficit will depend on how much weight you want to lose and your current weight. In general the weight-loss plans for women range from 1,200 to 1,500 calories per day, and 1,500 to 1,800 for men.
Knowing your daily requirements you can define what to eat to cover those energy needs.
You should include a variety of different foods from each of the main food groups. Of course, in the correct proportion.
Do you know the food groups? or what they are?
Food groups are categories that combine different foods that are similar in composition and nutrients, so that they can be easily understood and applied to a diet plan.
For instance milk, yoghurt and cheese combine calcium and protein while the fruit group provides vitamins and fiber.
The US has defined five main food groups:
Your diet should include foods from these five groups.
And should limit the intake from these other "groups" because they are packed with calories and may also have negative health effects:
Below is our page on Food Groups with full information on what they are and how much you should consume of each group:
Balanced Diet: Food Groups
Food Groups around the world
Different countries around the world have their specific food groups. They are variations of the same theme.
The following are just three examples. The groups are listed in a decreasing order (those in the first places should be eaten in larger quantities than the last ones):
- UK: Fruits and vegetables are grouped together. "Potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and other starchy carbohydrates" replaces what in the US is classified as "grains". Their protein group is: "Beans, pulses, fish, eggs, meat and other proteins", and it includes "oils and spreads" as the fifth group. Added sugars don't figure as a group neither do foods high in fats (they shouldn't be part of your diet)
- Australia also has five food groups plus "Healthy Fats": Vegetables and legumes/beans; Fruit; Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, legumes ⁄ beans; Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties and Milk, yoghurt, cheese and ⁄ or alternatives, mostly reduced fat
- Japan's food groups are: Grain Dishes, Vegetable Dishes, Fish and Meat Dishes, Milk, Fruits
Water as a source for hydration is mentioned in the UK, Australia and Japanese Food Groups. Water is critical for good health and can also help you lose weight.
The current recommendations of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) are (adults age +19):
- 91 ounces of total water for women (2.7 liters)
- 125 ounces of total water for men (3.7 liters)
Read our webpage on keeping well hydrated:
Should I drink 8 glasses of water a day?
Food that should only be eaten occasionally
Solid Fats and Added Sugars
Grouped as "Solid Fats and Added Sugars" also known as SoFAS, they are "foods" that add calories without contributing to your nutrition or health. Sure, they taste great and provide processed foods with texture and palatability, but are not the best options to include in your healthy eating plan.
People dieting tend to "save" calories by cutting intake of other foods, to be able to eat some sugary or fatty treat.
But by doing so actually cut back not only on calories but on the healthy nutrients, vitamins, fiber and minerals that the "real" foods contain and are virtually absent in SoFAS.
If you must eat SoFAS, remain well within the recommended daily limits.
Foods' Nutrition Facts labels now include the "Added Sugars" information, and it covers all types of sugars: corn syrup, fructose, dextrose, corn syrup, brown sugar, honey, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, raw sugar, mollases... just to mention a few.
Solid Fats are oily substances that are solid at room temperature (unlike oils, which are fluid at room temperature) such as butter, hydrogenated shortening, lard, coconut oil, palm oil, palm kernel oil, and cocoa butter.
Some Solid Fats are also Trans Fats (trans-fatty acids) such as margarine and hydrogenated vegetable oil. (read ingredients on the food's labels).
The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting daily calories from SoFAS to not more than 5 to 15% of your daily calorie intake.
So if your diet allows 1,500 Cal. per day, SoFAS can only add up to 75 to 225 of those Calories.
The USDA recommends that healthy adults keep their sodium intake to less than 2,400 milligrams of sodium per day. That is equivalent to 1 1⁄ 4 teaspoon of salt (0.21 oz. = 6 g) per day of salt.
Yes, your salt intake is far higher because it isn't only the salt you use when you cook or season your plate, it is also the salt that is added to the processed foods you buy.
Not listed as a food group and its high calorie density plus its well known health effects should keep it out of any healthy eating plan. The risks associated with alcohol even in "moderate" quantities outweigh its possible benefits.
Plan for Success
The following tips will help you start your road to a healthy diet and keep on track:
Tips for eating a healthier diet
Small changes one step at a time
Don't try to change everything at once. Do it in gradual steps. You have to create new habits and that takes time. A study by Lally et al., (2010) ( 1 ) found was that, on average, it takes 66 days before a new behaviour becomes automatic (this ranged from 18 to 254 days). So, be patient and stick to your new habits.
Make healthy changes
Replace a sugary snack with nuts or raisins or an apple.
Cook at home
By preparing your food at home you will know exactly what ingredients are used and it what quantities. You can regulate your salt intake and avoid hidden SoFAS.
Learn: read the Nutrition Facts Labels
You will be surprised to learn the stuff that goes into the processed foods you buy (hidden trans fats, added sugars). Chose the brands you consume based on how healthy they are.
As we mentioned further up, it will contribute to satiety and also help you lose weight.
Plan your meals
Think ahead and plan your weekly meals. Otherwise you will revert to eating some quick snack or fast food.
With a plan you can prepare your shopping list and buy the necessary fresh vegetables, fruit and proteins you need for your healthy meal plan.
Check our website for tasty low-calorie meals:
Food & Recipes
Vegetables are the key
Add multicolored salads packed with vitamins and fiber. Experiment with different mixes of greens. Raw spinach, romaine arugula or red cabbage can liven up a salad.
Steam broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflour, grill zucchini and eggplant, squash or carrots. Stir fry with healthy olive oil a mix of thinly sliced veggies.
Veggies also count towards your hydration goals (between 80 and 95% of a vegetable's weight is water).
Eat slowly and with moderation
Sit down, enjoy your meal, don't eat on the go. Cut down on your serving sizes. Use a smaller plate it will seem fuller. Take time to eat it will give your stomach time to signal the brain that you are no longer hungry.
Don't skip Breakfast
The old saying "Eat Breakfast Like a King, Lunch Like a Prince, and Dinner Like a Pauper" is backed by science (Almoosawi et al., 2016) ( 2 ):
- People who eat more in the evening, compared with the morning tend to be fatter (have a higher BMI -Body Mass Index)
- Those who don't eat breakfast eat more later in the day and have a higher BMI
Phase out "unhealthy foods"
Eliminate the SoFAS and alcohol gradually: cut back on portion sizes or consume them less frequently. By doing it slowly you will avoid unnecessary craving and binge eating episodes.
Complement the diet with exercise
Burn more calories and improve your fitness by sitting less and moving about more at work and at home. Park your car further away in the parking lot so you will have to walk more. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Stand up when you use the phone.
Go for a walk or ride your bike.
You should aim at a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise a day during 5 days of each week.
Cite this article:
A. Whittall. ©2018. Healthy Eating Plan. Patagonia Wellness, 24 Oct. 2018. http://www.patagoniawellness.com/diet-food/healthy-eating-plan.html
Subject: Healthy eating Plan: eat a variety of foods from each food group, hydrate and control your calorie intake.
References and Further Reading
(1) Lally et al. (2010). How are habits formed: Modelling habit formation in the real world. European Journal of Social Psychology 2010;40(6):998-1009
(2) Almoosawi S, Vingeliene S, Karagounis LG, Pot GK., (2016). Chrono-nutrition: a review of current evidence from observational studies on global trends in time-of-day of energy intake and its association with obesity, Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. June 22 2016