Despite what certain diets would have you believe, we all need a balance of carbohydrates, protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body. But what exactly does that mean? What are good carbohydrates, protein, and fat choices for developing your own healthy eating plan? Below you will find more details on each of these topics.
Vegetables and Fruits: Vitamin, antioxidant and fiber powerhouses
Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and are packed with vitamins, minerals, protective plant compounds and fiber. They are a great source of nutrients and vital for a healthy diet.
Fruits and vegetables should be part of every meal, and be your first choice for a snack. Eat a minimum of five portions each day. The antioxidants and other nutrients in these foods help protect against developing certain types of cancer and other diseases.
Greens: Dark leafy green vegetables are a vital part of a healthy diet since they are packed with nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and Vitamins A, C, E and K. Greens help to strengthen the blood and respiratory systems.
They are currently the most lacking food in the American diet. Be adventurous in your choice of greens: kale, mustard greens, broccoli, Chinese cabbage are just a few of the many options.
Sweet Vegetables: Naturally sweet vegetables are an excellent way to add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for other sweets. Some examples of sweet vegetables are corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes or yams, winter squash, and onions.
Carbohydrates – food composed of some combination of starches, sugar and fiber - provide the body with fuel it needs for physical activity by breaking down into glucose, a type of sugar our cells use as a universal energy source.
• Bad carbohydrates are foods that have been “stripped” of all bran, fiber, and nutrients. They have been processed in order to make cooking fast and easy. Examples are white flour, refined sugar, and white rice.
They digest so quickly that they cause dramatic elevations in blood sugar, which over time can lead to weight gain, hypoglycemia or even diabetes.
• Good carbohydrates are digested more slowly. This keeps your blood sugar and insulin levels from rising and falling too quickly, helping you get full quicker and feel fuller longer.
Good sources of carbohydrates include whole grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables, which also offer lots of additional health benefits, including heart disease and cancer prevention.
Whole Grains for long-lasting, healthy carbohydrate energy
In addition to being delicious and satisfying, whole grains are rich in phytochemicals and antioxidants, which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes.
Studies have shown people who eat more whole grains tend to have a healthier heart. Make whole grains an important part of every meal.
Make sure you’re really getting whole grains. Focus on including grains that are in their whole form, such as whole grain brown rice, millet, and barley in your meals.
When you want to eat healthy grains in the form of breads or cereals be aware that the words stone-ground, multi-grain, 100% wheat, or bran, don’t necessarily mean that a product is whole grain. Look for the new Whole Grain Stamp from the Whole Grains Council.
If there is no stamp look for the words “listed is specified as whole grain. Some good sources are dark breads and toasted wheat cereals.
Avoid: Refined grains such as breads, pastas, and breakfast cereals that are not whole grain.
Dietary fiber is found in plant foods (fruit, vegetables and whole grains) and is essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system. Fiber helps support a healthy diet by:
• Helping you feel fuller faster and longer, which can help prevent overeating
• Keeping blood sugar levels even, by slowing digestion and absorption so that glucose (sugar) enters the bloodstream slowly and steadily.
• Maintaining a healthy colon - the simple organic acids produced when fiber is broken down in the digestive process helps to nourish the lining of the colon.
The two types of fiber are soluble and insoluble:
• Soluble fiber can dissolve in water and can also help to lower blood fats and maintain blood sugar. Primary sources are beans, fruit and oat products.
• Insoluble fiber cannot dissolve in water, so it passes directly through the digestive system. It’s found in whole grain products and vegetables.
A healthy diet should contain approximately 20 to 30 grams of fiber a day, but most of us only get about half of that amount.
Fruit: Eating a wide variety of fruit is another very healthy part of any diet. They provide us with beneficial properties such as natural sugars, fiber, Vitamins and antioxidants. Choose fresh or frozen, and focus on variety. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
Go for the brights: The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Avoid: Fruit juices can contain up to 10 teaspoons of sugar per cup; avoid or dilute with water. Canned fruit often contains sugary syrup, and dried fruit, while an excellent source of fiber, can be high in calories.
Avoid fried veggies or ones smothered in dressings or sauces – you may still get the vitamins, but you’ll be getting a lot of unhealthy fat and extra calories as well.