Healthy eating habits begin by being educated about foods, reading labels, and making smart choices. Prudent nutrition recommendations include eating fresh fruits and vegetables (less processed), whole grains (dark-colored grains are generally better than light-colored), low-fat dairy products, and lean sources of protein (fish, turkey, and chicken). Alternate protein sources include things like beans, nuts, and soy products. Additional smart choices include regular exercise, moderate alcohol consumption, and a limited amount of salt, sugar, or oils.

A healthy diet should be balanced, and include a variety of foods and recommended servings from each food group. Additionally, it is important to understand what an appropriate portion size is for food and to be familiar with examples from each food group. General serving recommendations per day from the American Heart Association include about 6-8 servings of grain (whole grain is preferred), 4 servings of both fruits and vegetables, 2-3 servings of dairy (fat-free or low fat recommended), 1-2 servings of lean meat (approximately 3-6 ounces), 4-5 serving of alternate protein sources such as nuts and beans, and a minimum amount of fats, oils, and sugar (1 serving or less a day of each).

Serving sizes vary based on individual food and food group; knowing these will aid in healthier and more appropriate choices. General examples of a single serving include 1 slice of bread or ½ cup of pasta (grains), 1 cup of raw vegetable, 1 medium fruit or ½ cup of cut fruit, 1 cup of milk or yogurt, 3 ounces of cooked or grilled meat, ½ cup of nuts or dry beans, 1 tsp. of margarine or oil, and 1 tsp. of sugar or jelly. A good rule of thumb for a serving size is about the same size as a person’s fist. Understanding serving sizes will help minimize overeating since some consider a “spoonful” one serving; actually, it depends on the size of the spoon or who is serving.

Cooking practices, shopping habits, and having a pantry stocked with healthy choices also promote wellness and healthy eating habits. Baking and broiling are cooking methods preferred over breaded and fried. Also, when smart choices are made while shopping, meal preparation is easier. It is helpful to know the produce person, spend more time in the produce aisle, and support local farmers. Spend less time in the snack and beverage aisles or avoid them together. Make sure to buy foods everyone enjoys, that fit into the budget, and are readily available. It is also helpful when a list is made ahead of time and shopping is done according to the list. This discourages reflex buying, which also makes the shopping experience more beneficial. Look for more lean cuts of meats such as loins and breasts,  avoiding fattier cuts and darker meats. When preparing dishes calling for eggs and milk, try using more egg whites instead of whole eggs, and low-fat or fat-free milk products. Remember it’s not only food purchase and selection, but also preparation that matters.

Snacks can help decrease hunger, provide a boost of energy, and help reduce overeating at mealtimes. Be smart, plan your snacks and snack times, and remember moderation and portion size. Good portion size for most snacks will fit in the palm of your hand. Healthy snacks include whole-grain pretzels, popcorn, fresh fruit, raw vegetable sticks, a boiled egg, a scoop of peanut butter, hummus, a handful of almonds, and cottage cheese. More protein, low salt, and low carbs make better choices that better satisfy a hunger urge.

Wellness and healthy eating incorporate a variety of factors; knowledge is key. Know your foods, portion sizes, and preparation. Also, take in fewer calories than you burn up in a day and incorporate exercise into your daily routine. A generally accepted recommendation for exercise is at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise 5 days a week. Additionally, other areas that benefit wellness are minimizing the adding of sugar and salt to foods, discontinuation of smoking, and limiting consumption of alcohol to less than 3 drinks per week.

Wellness and healthy eating incorporate a variety of factors, all of which help improve your health and longevity. They also assist in reducing disease, especially cardiovascular disease, stroke, hypertension, and diabetes. Remember, be conscientious about where and what you eat; eat fresh, less processed, low-fat foods, whole grains, and lean meats; limit sugar and salt; give up those “bad habits;” and incorporate an exercise plan into a daily schedule.

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