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Basics of Healthy Eating: Do’s and Don’ts
Everyone seems to have a difference of opinion when it comes to healthy eating. Some follow strict rules about what they can eat and follow a certain diet they believe in, some follow looser rules looser rules, and others just eat whatever they want! But, there are some basics of healthy eating we should all follow.
There are plenty of diets out there to choose from, and no, I’m not even talking about fad diets that you go on to lose weight. I’m talking about diet as in what you eat on a day to day basis.
Some of those diets are:
- gluten free
- raw food diet
- and more!
So, if you’re confused as to what ‘healthy’ is and what it isn’t, I totally understand!
If you’ve never taken a class on nutrition, or dug deep into health and what healthy eating is, then it would make complete sense that you have no idea what to eat; or where to even start when it comes to eating healthy.
If you search online for it, you’ll get plenty of conflicting information thrown at you. And, then there’s the fact that everyone’s body is different and the way you metabolize food is different from the way I do, or the way your kids do.
So, how do you know where to even start?
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Start with the Basics!
When you’re on information overload, or not sure which direction to go or what diet (what you eat day in and day out) you should use; start with the basics.
There are some aspects that most people can agree on when it comes to eating healthy. Even things that vegans and meat eaters alike can agree on, when it comes to healthy eating.
The main one is that the western diet, or Standard American Diet (SAD) sucks! And no one should be on that diet as it can cause chronic illnesses, obesity, diabetes, and more. The longer you’re on it, the worst off you’ll be down the road.
Now that you know that, let’s get into some of the basic do’s and don’ts of healthy eating and what ‘healthy’, in general, means!
The Do’s of Healthy Eating: What Healthy Means
Healthy means a lot of things to a lot of different people. But, the 10 do’s of healthy eating before are some basic things you can do to start eating healthier; no matter what diet you’re used to eating!
Filling at least half your plate with veggies and/or fruits
Fruits and veggies are great sources for so many vitamins and minerals!
Making sure half your meal is composed of them is a great thing to do to make sure you’re getting the nutrients you need and aren’t filling yourself up with food that won’t keep you full.
Plus, doing this for your own plate will encourage your kids to do the same!
Eating the right amount of food for your age, gender, and activity level
If you are trying to eat the average amount of calories for someone of your gender, then you may already be failing yourself when it comes to your own dietary needs!
It’s called an ‘average’ for a reason. How much food you need, and what types of food, depends on so many variables, such as:
- body type
- activity level
- and whether or not you’re pregnant or breastfeeding
So, don’t just eat the ‘average’ of what your gender needs. You could be overeating or starving yourself.
Eat when you’re hungry, stop before you’re completely full.
Did you know it takes about 20 minutes for your body to know that it’s full! That’s why you should never eat til you feel completely full while eating.
Eating a variety of different foods
Eating the same exact foods day in and day out could lead to a lack in some vitamins and minerals, or other nutrients you need.
That’s why most diets want you to eat a variety of different foods each and everyday!
And why there are thousands, or millions, of recipes that can be found online and in cookbooks all over the world!
Try new foods, encourage your kids to try new foods, and eat a variety! Focus on ‘eating the rainbow’ rather than eating the same fruits and veggies everyday.
*Eating the rainbow simply means to eat produce from every color of the rainbow everyday! See if you can have something different for each color for each day of the week!
Drinking plenty of water
Drinking plenty of water is one of the best things you can do for your health!
Believe it or not, we’re made mostly of water and therefore need it, and you may need more than you think you do. To start, aim for 8 eight oz cups a day, but if you can drink more, please do!
Water does some amazing things, other than just quench your thirst!
- flush out toxins
- increase energy
- prevent constipation
- lose weight and stay full longer
- keep your skin stay healthy and looking hydrated (younger)
- reduce headaches
- keep your kidneys functioning properly
- and more!
If you don’t take anything else away from this post to use in your life; at least remember this and start drinking more water!
Eating whole grains
It’s important to eat whole grains rather than refined or white grains. They help you stay full longer, and making sure it’s whole means that you’ll be getting plenty more nutrients than if it wasn’t.
If you’re thinking whole grains is only referring to whole grain breads and you’re gluten free; you’re in luck!
There is so much more you can choose from to get whole grains in your diet. Some examples of whole grains include:
- whole wheat
- whole oats
- brown rice
- whole rye
- whole couscous
- and more!
So, just like fruits and veggies, make sure you get a variety of whole grains, as well!
Eating healthy proteins
Now, this is where eating healthy can get tricky.
There are many different opinions for what healthy proteins are. I’m sure paleos and vegans could spend hours debating over this issue.
Regardless, there are a few different protein sources that will always be considered healthy; and those are beans and nuts/legumes.
Depending on the diet you follow (what you eat day in and day out), there will be many more sources of protein to choose from.
This is one of the toughest food groups to determine what ‘healthy’ means. It’s also the one that most food allergies are in; from nut allergies, to dairy, soy, or eggs.
So, what healthy proteins mean to me, may mean something entirely different to you.
Eating healthy fats; avoiding trans fats
All fats aren’t bad!
Your body actually needs fat, at least in moderation. Just look for healthy fats, mostly unsaturated fats, but some saturated fat is alright, too.
Avoid trans fats as much as you can, though! Trans fats are fats that were chemically altered and raise bad cholesterol.
Ok, so if you have no idea what a unsaturated fats, saturated, or trans fats; let me give you some examples.
Unsaturated fats (get most of your fat from these):
- flax seeds
- olive oil
- other nuts and seeds
- and more!
Saturated fats (limit these):
- coconut oil, milk, and cream
- animal products
*Some diets may say to eat more of these saturated fats, but you should still be getting more unsaturated fats in your diet than saturated fats. Even the American Heart Association states that we shouldn’t get more than 5-6% of our calories from saturated fats.
Trans fats (avoid these):
- processed cooking oil
- and basically anything made with those
- a lot of processed foods
That is why the next point is so important, too!
Knowing what you’re eating; read ingredient labels
Know what you are actually eating is one of the best things you can do to start eating healthy, right behind drinking plenty of water!
How are you supposed to know if you’re eating healthy or not when you don’t even know what you’re actually putting into your body?
If your food doesn’t have a label with an ingredient list, then it’s most likely a ‘whole’ food, such as a fruit, veggie, or whole grain from the bulk bin at a store. In that case, it’s just that one ingredient.
As for processed food, it’s a whole other story!
Some processed foods have very long lists of the ingredients that are crammed inside of them.
They’re usually stuffed full of sugar and salt, too, to make them shelf stable and expand the expiration date.
One thing you should remember when reading an ingredient list; if you don’t know what an ingredient is in the list, then it’s probably not good for you.
Some ingredients to watch out for and try to avoid, or at least limit, are:
- high fructose corn syrup
- MSG (watch out, this one goes by many names!)
- BHT, BHA, and other preservatives
- partially hydrogenated oils (these are trans fats)
- artificial sweeteners (such as aspartame)
- food dyes
- and plenty more!
Eating real, whole foods; such as ones you could grow yourself
This healthy eating do should be common sense, and maybe long ago it was. But, in today’s society, the art of growing your own food is lost by many. Most people don’t have time for that and rely on the convenience of going to the grocery store; I know I do!
*My husband also doesn’t think I can keep plants alive. Still, I’m working on keeping a tomato and strawberry plant alive…going on two weeks and counting!
If you’re like me, and aren’t trusted to grow your own food, or are simply too busy, like everyone else in this country; then sticking to the perimeter of the grocery store should help. Of course, not all grocery stores are set up the same. But, for the most part, the whole foods will be on the perimeter of the store.
These foods include a lot of the ones discussed above:
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- beans and legumes
If the food needs to be processed in a factory, then you can’t naturally grow the food yourself. This means you’re getting further away from eating healthy.
Eating homemade meals and snacks as often as possible
Going hand in hand with eating food that could be grown in your backyard; eating food you make in your own kitchen is also going to be healthier than buy processed food.
When you make your own food, you know what’s going into it.
You control the ingredients!
You get to decide how many whole ingredients you use, how much sugar (if any), and how much salt (if any).
You have complete control. Which is a much better start for eating healthy than relying on processed foods!
Grab this handy printable of Healthy Eating Do’s and Don’ts!
The Don’ts of Healthy Eating: What Healthy Does NOT Mean
Just like the do’s of healthy eating, there is a difference of opinion for what healthy doesn’t mean, as well, when it comes to all of the different types of diets (what you eat day in and day out).
But, the 10 don’ts below; most people into health will agree upon as being not healthy!
Eating out or ordering in most nights
Whether you get fast food, eat at a fancy (and expensive) restaurant, or order in a pizza; it should be done in moderation, or for rare occasions.
Eating like that most nights, or days, will not do your body any good.
Most places you can get premade food out will have food high in salt, sugar, and trans fats. Kind of like processed foods; but you’re paying more!
So, save your money and make the food yourself at home. If you don’t have time during the week to cook; meal prep on the weekends.
I’ve found that even spending the time on the weekend to chop up veggies for meals later in the week will save me tons of time!
Obsessing over what you eat
This is more of an ‘avoiding bad eating habits’ rather than a ‘what to not eat’ tip.
But, for your own mental health, and physical health, it’s best to never obsess over what you eat. Doing so can possibly result in an eating disorder, and trust me, you don’t want to go through that! It’s something no one who’s ever had an eating disorder before, could even possibly wish upon their worst enemy!
If you have to count calories, macros or micros, for a limited time to simply see where you are at on an average, once in while; that’s fine. It can be beneficial to know where you’re at when it comes to eating. It can help you realize if you need more or less of a certain food, or just in general.
*For example, when I was in my nutrition class in college, they had us track what we were eating in a fancy software for a few weeks. I was also a new breastfeeding mom at the time. After one week of tracking my food and exercise (household chores and caring for a newborn), I found out that I wasn’t eating enough. It was an eye opener, and I started to eat a ton more after that point!
Or, if you have a medical condition that requires you to keep excellent track of everything you eat or drink; then please do! Don’t go against what your doctor tells you to do.
Eating a lot of empty calorie foods
Empty calorie foods generally include most processed foods, baked goods, and other food that has little to no nutritional value.
These are usually the foods we eat when we eat for our emotions, rather than our health. Ever eat a small container of ice cream when feeling sad?
It’s alright to have empty calorie foods once in awhile; but they should be limited as they only trick your body into thinking it ate something it can use for energy and that will feed your cells. When in reality, your cells can’t use the calories sufficiently and usually just stores the calories as fat.
Soda is horrible for the human body! I hope you already knew that.
The chemicals that are put into it are strong enough to clean certain places of your home with!
Plus, most contain high fructose corn syrup, sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Drinking anything with tons of sugar or high fructose corn syrup
This includes soda, juice, and other drinks. A lot of processed drinks that are shelf stable have too much sugar in them.
Some shelf stable drinks don’t (such as some non-dairy milks). But, many do!
Your best bet when it comes to choosing what to drink is to drink mostly water, some milk (non-dairy milk), and drinks you make at home.
*For example, I’ll sometimes make myself and girls fresh juice with our juicer; I know everything going into that is from whole, fresh produce, no sugar or any other ingredient added. I also make my own smoothies everyday! (This smoothie is my favorite one.)
Eating fried or greasy foods
Greasy and fried foods contain trans fats.
Trans fats are bad and should be avoided.
Avoid greasy and fried foods!
Eating highly processed foods
Eating highly processed foods is giving up your right to choose what you put into your body!
These types of foods generally contain ingredients that you should not be eating, such as trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and more!
As tempting as it is to buy food that is ready to eat; be careful with these highly processed foods and limit them as much as possible, if you decide to eat them at all.
Eating white, refined grains
You know you should eat grains for carbs. But, the way white and refined grains are made is by, basically, taking out all of the nutrients from the whole grains and using what’s left.
This process makes these grains empty calorie foods. They have calories, but not enough nutrients to make eating these worth it, in anyway (unless you’re eating for your emotions).
Eating low fat, zero sugar, or diet foods
When a food boasts it’s low fat, zero sugar, or lacking in something else; it needs to make up for that with another ingredient to make it taste good.
So, if something says it’s low fat, it probably has a lot of sugar in it.
If a food says low, no, or zero sugar, then it probably uses some type of artificial sweetener in it.
Be weary of these boasts, and always read the ingredient label!
As for diet foods…
These are, in general, so stuffed with chemicals it’s like they were doing a science experiment with it. This isn’t good! Avoid ‘diet’ foods like the plague!
Following a fad diet
Fad diets are what most people think of when they hear the word diet. Which is why I’ve been putting ‘day in and day out’ after I mention the word ‘diet’, as to not confuse it with fad diets.
Fad diets are where you restrict something that you should be eating, in hopes of losing weight.
You may restrict calories, or fat, or protein, or carbs. All three of which are part of a healthy diet. Which is why fad diets don’t work, aren’t sustainable, and you eventually gain back the weight you lost on them, plus some!
So, do yourself, and the little ones watching you and following your example, a favor; don’t ever go on a fad diet!
So, Basically to Eat Healthy…
And to use one of my favorite quotes, ” Came from a plant, eat it; was made in a plant, don’t,” ~Michael Pollan.