Making healthier food choices can bring many benefits to your life. Eating meals with good nutritional value can boost your immune system, increase your energy levels, and prevent illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. It can also help reduce the symptoms of existing conditions and contribute to weight loss and maintenance. However, there is no denying that best-tasting meals aren’t always the healthiest ones. Not to mention that food plays a central role in most of our social and cultural events – and the meals served in these aren’t always the most nutritious either.
So, if you want to improve your health through nutrition, denying yourself these little pleasures and rigorously sticking to healthy meals isn’t a viable long-term solution. Eventually, your cravings will become too strong, and you will end up switching back to unhealthy eating habits. What you can do instead is maintain a balanced diet that not only meets your nutritional needs but lets you enjoy your meals as well. Here is how to ensure you have a well-balanced diet that’s also sustainable in the long run.
Don’t Skip Meals
The cardinal rule in healthy eating is having regular meals. While cutting out food with low nutritional values can benefit you, skipping entire food groups and even meals can have detrimental consequences for your health. Eating only 1-2 times a day can drastically lower your metabolic rate, which is particularly counterproductive if you want to lose weight. Because to do that, you need to burn all the calories you consume, which is only possible if your metabolism works at its optimum levels or higher. So instead of trying to cut corners by reducing the number of meals, you should eat 3 full meals a day with 2 more snacks in between them, while watching their portions and nutritional values.
One of the largest mistakes you can make diet-wise is not having a proper breakfast. Due to your busy schedule and hectic lifestyle, you may be tempted to either substitute it with a shake or skip it altogether. However, doing this causes your metabolism to start the day even slower, when in fact, this is the time that it should be the most active. As a result, your body will be deprived of energy, and you will feel sluggish all day. To avoid this, make sure you have a filling and nutritious breakfast that will energize you.
Eat a Variety of Foods
Although there is a lot of fresh produce that contains an abundance of nutrients, there is no one food group that meets all your health requirements. To provide your body with all the nutrients it needs, you must incorporate a variety of food into your diet. Getting five portions of veggies and fruit is a great way to boost your immune system and avoid infections. Whereas having the appropriate amounts of proteins and carbs will ensure you stay full until your next meal. It will also provide your body with all the micronutrients it needs to function. In addition, you will need to incorporate healthy fats in your diet as well, as they can help your tissues absorb the vitamins and minerals you take in through other resources. You may find these in fish, avocados, olives, and nuts.
Learn the Proper Proportions
There are very few types of food that you shouldn’t eat in small amounts – you just have to learn how to be mindful of each type of food’s proper proportions. The ideal way to prepare your meals would be to fill at least half of your plate with veggies and fruit and divide the other half between healthy carbs and protein. Depending on the type of protein you are having, you may add some dairy products (or dairy substitutes) on the side as well.
To enjoy the maximum benefits of a well-balanced meal, it’s also a good idea to watch the size of your portions. A great way to control portion sizes is to eat slowly, which will enable you to realize when you are full and stop eating. This will also allow you to stick to one more diet rule – eating healthy meals 80% of the time and enjoying some not-so-healthy ones for the other 20%.
Establish a Healthy Relationship with Food
Try not to view any food as good or bad. Doing this will only make you feel guilty about eating it – and this is something you should never experience. Although there are certain types of food that you should only consume in moderate amounts, there is no reason to deprive yourself of them. Unless you are severely allergic to them, no food is bad for you. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you notice any slip-ups either. Everyone can have a bad day and we all deserve a little bit of comfort now and then. Understanding that having that burger or cupcake once a week will not ruin your entire week’s progress is a great way to establish a healthy relationship with food.
Learn How to Prepare Meals the Healthy Way
Contrary to popular belief, healthy eating doesn’t necessarily mean spending endless hours hunting down rare ingredients or preparing complicated dishes. In fact, with the vast majority of veggies and fruit, the less time it takes for you to prepare them, the more benefits you can get from them. Different cooking processes affect the nutritional content of your food differently. Since they can be quite sensitive to temperature changes, minerals in food are probably the most affected by your food preparation methods. Even the tiniest bit of fluctuation in temperature can lower the mineral content of your meals. Consuming these meals will also modify your body’s delicate mineral balance.
By eating more fresh, raw produce, you can provide more nourishment to your body. If you have to cook your vegetables, you can do it in a way that helps preserve the nutrients in them. For example, steaming your veggies rather than boiling them takes less time and keeps the vitamins and minerals locked in rather than having them evaporate. If you have no other option but to boil them, make sure to keep the water they have cooked in. It’s full of healthy nutrients, and you can use it for other meals. Keeping the skin on your vegetables whenever possible is also a great way to preserve lots of nutrients.
And if your goal is to cut back on your calorie intake, there are plenty of ways to do that as well. Here are some of them:
- Swapping refined flour for whole wheat flour in baked dishes
- Soaking up the excess oil from fried food with a paper towel
- Using non-stick kitchenware to eliminate the use of oil
- Opting for low-fat dairy products like skimmed milk
- Choosing lean protein sources
- Cooking in water or other liquids instead of fats
- Using cornstarch instead of cream as a thickening agent
- Replacing spreads with high saturated fat content with healthier alternatives
- Adding more veggies to your sandwich instead of cheese and meat
- Using yogurt instead of mayonnaise for salad dressing
- Adding fruit to yogurt, instead of buying a flavored one
Watch Your Liquid Intake
Being aware of your liquid calorie intake is another way to control your diet. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that most popular fizzy drinks, energy drinks, and alcoholic beverages have high sugar content. But they aren’t the only ones to blame for your liquid calorie consumption. All those premade smoothies and vitamin drinks that are supposed to be good for us also have very high-calorie content. Avoiding these can help you cut a surprising amount of calories from your diet. Try substituting them with homemade fruit juices or simply eating the fruit itself. However, the majority of your fluid intake should come from pure water. Water is essential to your metabolic processes, including digestion. To keep everything in working order, you should drink at least 8 cups of water a day. If you have trouble getting that amount, taking a bottle of water with you wherever you go can be a great reminder to drink it. After a while, your body will get used to this amount and remind you by sending you thirst signals.
Burn Your Calories
Moving your body requires it to burn calories, which means you can consume more food. Even walking for 30 minutes a day can help counterbalance your calorie intake. Not only that but doing a household chore that requires a lot of movement can have the same effect or even more. And if you have a little more calories to burn, you can always find a more enjoyable form of exercise, like dancing or swimming. That’s not to say you should only rely on burning extra calories via exercise to ensure you aren’t over your limits. However, physical activity does help a lot in that regard. Plus, it can keep your body fit and healthy, and combined with nutritious meals, it can even energize your body throughout the day.
Set Attainable Goals
Whatever your goals are when establishing a well-balanced diet, you must ensure they are attainable and that you can keep track of them. You have the power to change your life for the better, which means you will need to decide how to do it as well. Take advantage of this, and set goals that you can always keep in front of you. A great way to do this is by simply writing down everything you consume through the day in a food journal. You can even use an app to log in and track your meals or learn their nutritional value. Understanding the components of your meals will allow you to make better dietary choices.
Tracking your calorie intake and seeing your progress in the app can also help you stay motivated and consistent with incorporating healthier eating habits into your lifestyle.
Choose Healthier Alternatives
Nowadays, eating healthier is easier than it was ever before. You don’t even have to research ingredients with better nutritional value for your meals anymore. If you want to prepare a low-calorie version of your favorite meals, you only have to go online, and you will find tons of recipes for them. Even supermarkets have a vast selection of healthy snacks, which you can keep with you at all times to avoid getting tempted by unhealthy ones. That said, if you don’t like the taste of something, you shouldn’t eat it just because they represent a healthier alternative for the meals you do enjoy.
Don’t Hesitate to Ask for Help
Creating a well-balanced meal plan isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It often requires you to make fundamental changes to your lifestyle and keeping up with these often represents a challenge. Having the support of your loved ones can help you get through these hurdles, especially if you have someone in your circle who has had a similar experience. However, not all changes work for everyone, and you may try to incorporate something that ends up not working out for you. While this is entirely normal if you aren’t sure what would be the best dietary solution for you, feel free to ask a dietitian. They can answer all your questions regarding your diet and help find a solution that meets your nutritional needs and keeps your body and your mind healthy.
By creating a meal plan you can stick to, you can achieve all your nutritional and health goals. Whether you aim to lose weight, get stronger, or gain muscle, a well-balanced diet can help you get there. This diet should contain a variety of foods in proportions in which their nutritional content meets your body’s requirements for calories, vitamins, macro-, and micronutrients. Your meals should also offer the right amount of dietary fiber and antioxidants.
That being said, you mustn’t forget about consuming foods you truly enjoy. And if this means eating an occasional slice of pizza or a piece of cake, this is entirely normal. After all, it’s all about finding a healthy balance. If you feel that you cannot do this on your own, you can always consult a dietitian about the food choices you should make to become healthier.