Soon to be hot off the press…An article that will get published next month! Enjoy :)

Over the years, healthy eating has come to mean a diet of depravation. Whether it is a complicated fad of eating foods with no fat, no carbohydrates, no sodium or no red meat, the enjoyment of food was lost with whatever the latest buzzed about food group was popular to omit. Well, good news: a healthy diet has consistently been more about guiding you to choose the right kinds of foods and less about avoiding whole food groups. Here are 5 easy categories to ensure you are eating well-balanced and satisfying meals:

Whole Grains

                The seemingly small differences of whole versus refined grains mean a big difference for your health. Unlike refined, whole grains have their entire grain kernel, endosperm, germ and bran intact. Because of the natural form, the vitamins and minerals are in the whole grains as opposed to being enriched, meaning removed during processing and put back in artificially after the refined grains are made. There is also a higher protein and fiber content, essential in making you feel fuller and more satisfied. Foods high in fiber are also optimal for controlling blood sugar levels as the sugars are released into the bloodstream at a slower rate allowing your insulin levels to stay in check. For the average adult, consuming 5 servings of whole grains, including whole wheat flour, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice or oatmeal per day, is recommended.

Lean Meats and Protein

When choosing meats, the healthiest options are the lean cuts including round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder and “90% lean” or higher chopped meat. Poultry is a lower fat option, especially without the skin. About 5 ounces of these protein sources are recommended per day.

 Fish are a better option than red meat as some breeds also contain healthier fats including omega-3’s such as salmon, trout and herring. Omega-3’s are important for lowering LDL, the bad cholesterol and lessening your risk for stroke and heart attack due to their anti-inflammatory properties. Be sure to choose the “wild” fish variety as they are not farm-raised and therefore, were fed in their natural environment and have a higher make-up of omega-3’s.

What many people do not realize however, are the other healthy choices for high protein foods such as beans, nuts and seeds. Beans are not only high in protein, but fiber and vitamins as well. Nuts and seeds, when eaten in moderation, are also a nutrient-rich protein source, high in fiber and vitamins. Sunflower seeds, almonds and hazelnuts have the highest vitamin E content in their family and some nuts, including walnuts, are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

Eggs are typically grouped as a culprit for health ailments like high cholesterol, especially the egg yolk. Recently guidelines for egg consumption have changed in light of studies showing a decrease in coronary risk if eggs are consumed in context of a healthy diet low in saturated fat. Writing off eggs from your diet means missing out on a protein-rich food, high in omega-3’s and abundant in vitamins not easily found in foods, like choline. Although there is saturated fat and cholesterol, the benefits of the whole egg allow the average person to consume 3 egg yolks per week.

Fruits and Vegetables

                By now, the hackneyed saying, “eat your fruits and vegetables” nags in our minds for as long as we can remember. Out of all the past recommendations, getting enough fruits and veggies into our diet has been consistent. The health benefits such as reducing risks for type 2 diabetes and cancer with their antioxidant properties, vitamins and minerals and their ability to maintain your digestive system with their natural fiber content, have made natures own snack an essential part of your diet. The surprising fact is that Americans do not consume the adequate amount of, “5 a day” fruits and vegetables.

                The best way to eat your fruits and veggies is to choose a variety of colors. Each color represents specific antioxidant property and vitamin composition. For example, the orange of carrots are rich in beta-carotene, the leafy greens including spinach, romaine lettuce and broccoli, are high in folate, potassium and calcium, and the red color of tomatoes and red peppers are rich in lycopene. Keep in mind during meal planning that some vegetables count as a starch including corn, potatoes and green peas.

                A misconception when choosing fruits and vegetables is that the frozen kind is less nutritious. On the contrary, in foods like green beans, they are better as their nutrients are preserved closer to when they are picked off the vine versus undergoing the natural aging process of being transported and shelved at the market. On the other hand, you should be careful of canned varieties. Canned vegetables are packed in sodium for preservation and fruits may be processed with heavy syrup so be sure to give them a rinse before use.

Low Fat Dairy

                A common mistake is avoiding dairy products, a rich protein and calcium source. For whatever reasons, whether it is lactose intolerance or a simple distaste for milk products, many people do not consume enough.  Among other attributes, calcium is important in bone health and vitamin D, a fortification of milk, is important in helping your body to absorb calcium. Avoiding them puts you at risk for developing osteoporosis and other deficiencies.

                These days, lactose intolerance does not have to be an excuse to avoid dairy entirely. Products like Lactaid milk along with supplements and mixes are available to help ease the digestion of the proteins in the milk. Most people with the intolerance were shown in studies to tolerate at least one cup of milk per day. There are also dairy products more easily digested by those with lactase deficiency, the enzyme needed to digest the lactose in milk, such as yogurt and hard cheeses, like swiss and mozzarella, which are also the lower fat variety.

Limit Added Sugars

                Although the average person is allotted about 100 to 300 discretionary calories per day, or foods not considered essential to the diet, those calories can add up quickly. Sugar-sweetened sodas are the number one source of added sugars and make-up 21% of the total sugar in the diet of Americans. A 20-ounce soda makes up 17 teaspoons and adds a slew of risks like obesity and type 2 diabetes to your health. The average American consumes 22 teaspoons worth of soda, far more than the allotted 5-9 teaspoons of added sugar. With that being said, there is a moderate allotment for indulgent calories so choose your sweets wisely to get the most satisfaction for the amount of calories.

                Keeping these guidelines in mind will help you make the best meal choices. Try to eat a variety of foods within each category to reach optimal nutrition and satisfaction. An easy way to plan your meals to include adequate portion control and food group combination is the plate model. Dividing your plate into one quarter starch, one quarter protein and half vegetables will help ensure a balanced meal. Be sure to drink plenty of fluids, an average of 8 cups per day, and make water your beverage of choice.  Always remember that eating healthy does not mean avoiding entire food groups rather making the best balanced choices that are both satisfying and nutritious.