Managing your weight with healthy eating

For a balanced diet, you need the right types and amounts of foods and drinks. This keeps your body healthy.

Know how many calories your body needs every day. Know what size portions your body needs. A balanced diet also includes avoiding too much of some foods and not enough of others.

Stock up on healthy foods. Avoid foods like chips and candy. They are high in calories. They also don’t have much nutrition. Eat healthy snacks instead.

Choose different healthy foods from each food group. Eat foods from each group with every meal.

Protein (meats and beans)

Good sources of protein include turkey or chicken with the skin removed. Bison (buffalo meat) is also good.

Eat lean cuts of beef or pork. Trim away any visible fat.

Eat plenty of fish or shellfish.

Other good sources of protein are pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans.

Nuts and seeds are part of a balanced diet. You can also eat tofu, tempeh, and other soy products.

Do not eat more than 4 eggs per week. Eggs are a good source of protein and low in saturated fat. But they are very high in cholesterol. Try recipes with egg whites only.

Milk (dairy products)

Always choose fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) dairy products. Cheese is a healthy choice from this food.

Other good sources are milk, buttermilk, and low-fat ice cream. Yogurt is best when it is fat-free or low-fat.

Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. Cream cheese, cream, and butter are not healthy dairy products.

Grains, cereals, and fiber

Grain products are made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Foods made with grains include pasta, oatmeal, breads, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits.

There are two kinds of grains: whole grains or refined grains. Choose mostly whole-grain foods.

Whole grains have the entire grain kernel. They are much healthier for you. These include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Buy foods that have the words whole grain or whole wheat on the package.

Refined grains are changed to make them last longer. They also have a finer texture. This process removes fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Refined grains include white flour, white rice, or degermed cornmeal.

Eat fewer foods that often have refined grains, such as flour and pasta.

Choose whole-grain products over products made from refined grains.

Products with added bran, such as oat bran or bran cereal, are a good source of fiber. Just remember that they may not be whole-grain products.

Oils and fats

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most of these oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. This is the best oil to use for cooking.

Many healthy oils come from plants, nuts, olives, and some fish. Healthy choices are canola, corn, cottonseed, olive, safflower, soybean, and sunflower oils.

Solid fats are solid at room temperature. All of these have saturated fats. Saturated fats are much less healthy for you. Saturated fats often also are full of cholesterol.

Saturated fats may be found in some foods. They also may be man-made.

Fats found in animals and some fish are higher in saturated fats.

Trans fats and hydrogenated fats are often found in fried foods. They are also in some donuts, cookies, and crackers. Many processed foods and margarines have them.

Some vegetable oils also have saturated fats. These are coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils.

You can reduce saturated fats in your diet. Eat only a small amount of egg yolks, hard cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter, and fatty meats.

Boil, grill, poach, and bake fish, chicken, and lean meats.

Choose lean protein foods. Good sources are soy, fish, skinless chicken, lean meat, and fat-free or 1% dairy products.

Avoid frying food. Fried food absorbs the fats from cooking oils. This increases your fat intake. If you do fry, use polyunsaturated oils.

Read food labels. Avoid foods that have saturated fats, hydrogenated fats, or trans fats.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories. They are also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eating many fruits and vegetables can help you control your weight. It may also reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.

Fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water. This helps fill you up. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables. This can lower the calories and fat in your diet without making you feel hungry.

Be careful not to eat too many fruits. They do have calories.

Eat 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables (5 servings) per day for an average 2,000-calorie per day diet. You can always add more fruits and vegetables to your diet.

Divide your dinner plate. Fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Fill the other half with whole grains and meat.

Replace half of the cheese in your omelet with spinach, onions, tomatoes, or mushrooms.

Replace 2 ounces of cheese and 2 ounces of meat in your sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, or onions.

Add chopped broccoli, tomatoes, squash, onions, or green peppers to your dishes instead of pasta or rice. Use frozen or canned vegetables if you don’t have fresh ones.

When you feel hungry during the day, eat some baby carrots or an apple. Choose fresh fruit for dessert. Avoid cookies, cake, or pudding.

For more information, see:

Update Date: 6/14/2011

Updated by: A.D.A.M. Editorial: David Zieve, MD, MHA, and David R. Eltz. Previously reviewed by David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine (11/25/2012).


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