Many times, I am asked as a Registered Dietitian, what should I eat to be healthy? How many calories should I have each day? What should I eat if I want to lose weight? My answer to all of this is there is no one size fits all plan, no magic pill and I am not a magician, I am a Registered Dietitian. As one, I can provide guidance based on science and individual needs. Factors such as age, activity levels, and medical conditions change the foods and quantities that you need to eat each day. It’s important to personalize your plate to make sure you are meeting your needs and not those that friends or family members have.
To start you want to focus on balanced meals and snacks, including 3-5 different food groups in meals and at least 2 food groups in our snacks. Why is this important? Eating a variety of foods throughout the day gives your body energy aka the fuel it needs to feel and perform at its best. A variety provides different health benefits through the vitamins and minerals found in healthier choices. One tip to balance your plate and achieve this is to try new foods and flavors. Many times, you might find it easier to eat the same foods repeatedly for comfort, schedules, or interest in cooking. Switch up your meals by trying at least one new recipe or food a week. Food preferences can change over time so it’s important for achieving variety to keep things fresh.
How many times do you decide what to eat right before mealtime? This can limit your choices and how balanced your plate could be. By planning meals in advance, you can look at your day and week as a clearer picture of your health and if you are achieving your goal of balance and variety in your meals. Pick a day and time each week that you can stick to for meal planning, grocery shopping, and preparation. Making meal planning a priority like a doctor’s appointment or your child’s sports game is a way to take charge of your eating habits for improved health. As you prepare your menu, create your grocery shopping list at the same time. Shopping with a list helps to have what you need on hand, saves time when shopping, and can save money in eliminating extra trips to the store. It is also helpful to take inventory of what you have in your fridge, pantry, and freezer to incorporate into meals and prevent from overbuying what you already have at home.
When you shop, be aware of the foods you are buying by looking at the nutrition facts label including the ingredients to be aware of what you are eating. Compare similar products to aim for making the best choice for your health. Make sure to start at the top of the food label at the serving size and servings per container. At home, use measuring cups or a food scale to help visually see serving sizes. If you are choosing more than one serving for your portion, make sure to adjust nutrition information on the label to match your serving. Next look at total fat, 3-5 grams is a low-fat food, and limiting saturated fat will be a healthier choice for your heart health. By choosing foods on the outside perimeter of the store they will be less packaged and processed. The foods on the interior can often include extra sodium as preservatives which may increase our blood pressure and again affect our heart health. You only need 2300 mg a day, but that can change based on medical conditions. When comparing labels aim for as low as you can go or try to add more fresh foods and flavor with herbs and spices and skip the salt! To help us feel full, keep our digestive tract flowing, and our hearts strong, focus on 5 grams or more of fiber per serving. When comparing foods, if you can’t reach 5, every increase helps. The ingredients are listed by weight and the first 3 ingredients make up the largest portion of the food. Choose a few foods each time you shop to compare to continually help make healthier choices.
Personalize your plate each day to meet your needs and don’t forget to balance your meals with healthy snacks. Snacks should help make up for food groups you fall short on with your meals to give you the variety and health benefits you need. During mealtime put the focus on what you are eating, the pace you are eating, and eliminate distractions such as technology that can cause you to lose focus and potentially overeat. Start each day with a healthy breakfast to give you that fuel you need to get moving and set the pace for your meals and snacks balanced through the day. When we put effort into our meals like other priorities in our life, we are more aware of our choices and can continually set new goals for our personal health. For more information and resources in balancing your plate, visit https://www.myplate.gov/