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The Most Important Keys to a Healthy Diet

Eight simple steps to reset your health and weight, regardless of your "diet."

Striving toward healthy choices and increased psychological health should be goals for everyone. Below you will find recommendations adapted from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and recommended by our registered dieticians at The Center • A Place of HOPE. These are excellent guidelines for long-term, healthy choices:

  1. Eat a variety of foods, even in very small amounts. This may seem simple, but it is of tremendous importance. Our dietitians recommend eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds. A balanced meal contains a protein source, a grain or starchy vegetable, fresh vegetables, and healthy fat. Fruit makes an excellent dessert. Eating a variety of foods keeps meals interesting, enjoyable, and nutritious.
  2. Eat frequently to keep blood sugar balanced. This means trying not to go more than four hours without a meal or snack. A balanced snack consists of a carbohydrate source and a protein/fat source. Examples of balanced snacks include: apple with nut butter, hummus and pita, or nuts and dried fruit. Keeping blood sugars balanced also helps us make better food choices, as we are more likely to go for the most convenient foods when desperately hungry.
  3. Balance the food you eat with physical activity. The key word here is balance. Physical activity is an important companion to healthy eating, as it works to increase metabolism. For healthy adults, about two and a half hours of moderately intense aerobic activity and two hours of strength training is recommended each week.
  4. Eat breakfast every day. Even if you don’t feel hungry for breakfast at first, getting yourself in the habit of eating breakfast means training your body to eventually wake up hungry. Eating breakfast actually jump-starts your metabolism for the day. If you’re in a fasting mode, your metabolism decreases to conserve energy. By starting your day with breakfast, you allow your metabolism to run at a higher pace, producing more energy. A balanced breakfast should include a variety of high-fiber and nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits, nuts, eggs, and dairy.
  5. Make food choices that are moderate in sugar content. Again, sweets and carbohydrates are often the binge foods of choice for many people in this country. Hyper-charging your system with sugars increases blood sugar, which results in an increase in the production of insulin. When insulin elevates, blood sugar drops, and appetite surges, perpetuating a cycle of overeating unhealthy food.
  6. Be intentional about your meal environment. How we feel affects our ability to digest what we eat. Stress and anxiety while eating can lead to digestive distress and exacerbate symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). That’s why it’s important to be intentional about where and how you eat. Strive to prepare a calm, relaxing place and atmosphere for eating. This will promote healthy digestion and absorption of nutrients. Eat at your table instead of in your car, in front of the television or computer. Avoid distractions and allow yourself to enjoy your meal.
  7. Listen to your body’s signals. Many people mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. Take time to consciously observe the sensation of hunger and fullness. By listening to your body throughout the day, and before and after meals, you will learn to understand and distinguish the signals.
  8. Slow down to eat. Set aside the proper amount of time to eat instead of rushing, slamming down food as an afterthought in an already hectic day. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your hunger and satiety mechanism to send the signal to the rest of your body that you’re full. Slow down and allow your body to let you know it’s satisfied.

This post features excerpts from Dr. Jantz's book Hooked.


More from Gregory L. Jantz Ph.D.
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