What Does Healthy Eating Mean to You?

Eating healthy foods can improve your overall health and may even help prevent disease. But what does this really mean and how do you go about it?

For starters, try to eat more fruits and vegetables every day and limit the amount of fat and sugar you consume. You’ll also want to eat a variety of foods throughout the week, and limit portion sizes, too.

Of course, for some people with certain conditions (such as diabetes or food allergies), you’ll want to talk with a medical professional about your special dietary needs.

What are the benefits of healthy eating? Healthy eating will reduce your risk of:

  • heart disease and stroke
  • high blood pressure and diabetes
  • breast, colon and prostate cancers

Healthy eating can also help you:

  • manage your weight successfully
  • have more energy
  • feel better now and in the future
  • meet your nutritional needs

How can I get started?

Making changes can be hard. But when it comes to taking care of yourself, it’s worth the effort. When you are ready to make some changes, here are some easy ways you can start:

Make small changes over time

Start with one change at a time. For example, try adding one serving of fruits or vegetables to any of your meals. Or try having fruit as a snack. Then, when you meet that goal, choose another small change to work on. Just remember to avoid fad diets or big changes in what you eat.

Control your portion sizes and choose leaner meat or fish

A healthy portion size is about the size of your palm, or of a deck of cards. Try incorporating skinless white meats such as turkey or chicken to your routine, and add some healthy fats to your diet, like fish and olive oil.

Simple changes add up

Switching from whole milk to lowfat milk (1 or 2 percent), or even nonfat milk, can make a big difference in your daily intake of calories. Try cutting back on sugar by limiting the amount of soda you drink; a regular 12-ounce soda has 10 teaspoons of sugar.

Instead focus on drinking more water—at least 6 to 8 glasses every day—it’s good for the body and it helps you feel full. You can add berries or cucumbers to add some flavor as well.

Also, try to eat more slowly. It takes your stomach 20 minutes to tell your brain that it’s full. Eating slower will help you enjoy your meals as well.

Avoid temptation

Make a grocery list to help you buy healthier foods and stay away from junk food. Remember that you won’t be tempted by junk food if you don’t buy it. Substitute lower fat choices (such as popcorn or reduced fat crackers) for foods with lots of fat and sugar.

If you don’t do this already, begin reading labels. Be aware of the food you are buying and plan your grocery trips so that you don’t end up shopping when you are hungry.

How can I improve what I eat?

• Add one fruit or vegetable to meals or snacks until you have reached five or more a day. A whole fruit, like a medium-sized apple, is one serving.

• Fresh is best, but frozen, dried and canned fruits and vegetables are all good choices. For canned fruits or vegetables, look for labels that say “in light syrup” or “no added salt.”

• Eat less fat. Remove all visible fat or skin from meat or chicken before cooking. Broil or bake instead of frying.

• Take healthy snacks with you (fruits, vegetables, pretzels, or lower calorie nutritional bars) to avoid hunger later in the day.

• Choose high-fiber foods, such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. These help you feel fuller, longer.

How can I succeed at making healthy changes?

Be adventurous

Include variety in the food you choose. Besides the nutritional benefits, variety adds interest to meals and snacks. Learn new ways to prepare vegetables and low-fat meals. Try new spices and herbs or visit one of the many farmers’ markets in the area and explore new tastes. There are also many low-fat and flavorful recipes available at www.kp.org/recipes—give them a try!

Be sensible

Don’t indulge in guilt. You can still enjoy your favorite foods, just don’t overdo it. If there is a high-fat, high-calorie snack you want, you can have it. Just have a small portion and eat it less often.

And if you do eat that cupcake, all is not lost. Just make sure you eat lower calorie and healthier foods at your next meal. By keeping healthy food in your kitchen, you’ll make it easier to get back on track.

Keep a food diary

Write down what you eat and how much you eat. Try keeping a food diary for a week or two. This can help you keep track of your eating patterns. For instance, you might notice that stress makes you eat more or crave certain foods. Once you are aware of your habits, you can make different choices.

Be selective when eating out

Look for dishes that are steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached or roasted. If you’re not sure about a certain dish, ask your server how it’s prepared. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want to help you eat healthy and stay on track.

Don’t forget to ask for salad dressings, sauces and gravies on the side so you can control how much to use.

Most restaurants serve extra large portions so feel free to ask the waiter to wrap some of your food to go. There is no need to clean your plate.

Make it a habit

Be realistic about the changes you are making. Make small changes over time in what you eat and add some exercise as well. By setting small, achievable goals that you work on for 1 to 2 weeks, you have a better chance of succeeding.

Then, once you have reached your goal, set another goal.  Drastic changes are harder to maintain and may not be successful in the long run so make a conscious decision to eat healthier and take simple steps to achieve your goals.

By Chris Walker, MD, Chief of Adult and Family Medicine at Kaiser Permanente in Vacaville. For more information on ways to stay healthy, visit www.kp.org.