The plethora of dieting products and weight loss ads make healthy eating seem much more complicated than it is. By following a few basic nutrition guidelines and eating nutrient-rich foods from a variety of sources, you can make sure your body gets the nutrients it needs to function while maintaining a healthy weight.
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Importance of Nutrition
Your body requires more than 45 different nutrients to function, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Eating a balanced diet filled with nutrient-rich foods can fuel your body with the nutrients it needs without going overboard on calories. On the other hand, poor nutrition can increase your risk of developing a variety of conditions, including heart disease, hypertension, certain cancers, diabetes and obesity.
Calorie Needs for Weight Management
Your specific calorie requirements vary based on your age, weight, gender, genetics and activity level. Even if you're eating nutrient-rich foods, you still can gain weight if you eat too much. Find your personal calorie needs, then adjust your diet and exercise plan to lose, gain or maintain weight. For example, if you're currently overweight and need 2,400 calories per day to maintain weight, you can lose about a pound a week by burning 200 calories through exercise and reducing your food intake by 300 calories each day.
To get the range of nutrients your body needs, eat a wide variety of healthy choices from each major food group. Eat plenty of whole grains, fruits and vegetables in a variety of colors, lean proteins like poultry and fish, legumes and low-fat dairy products. Avoid foods containing high levels of sugar, saturated fats or processed flours. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most adults should aim for two to three servings of dairy, two to three servings of lean protein, three to five servings of vegetables, two to four servings of fruit and six to 11 servings of whole grains each day.
Following proper serving size guidelines can help you control your calorie intake. A serving of protein should be about 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of playing cards. A grain serving should be 1/2 cup or the size of a hockey puck. A 1/2-cup serving of fruit or vegetables is about the size of a tennis ball, and a 1-teaspoon serving of fat is the size of a die. When eating at home, place only a single portion of each food on your plate, and leave the rest in the kitchen. At a restaurant, ask for a to-go box with your meal, and pack up all but an appropriate portion right away.
Tips for Healthful Eating
Bake, broil or grill meats instead of pan- or deep-frying. Lightly steam fresh or frozen vegetables to preserve their nutrients. Substitute healthy fats like olive oil for butter in recipes. When baking, substitute part or all of the required white flour with whole wheat flour, and use apple sauce or banana puree in place of butter to add moisture. Instead of eating three large meals each day, eat five to six smaller meals to control hunger and rev up your metabolism.