The Basics of a Healthy Diet

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Patricia Burch
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Eating a healthy balanced diet can help keep you trim and give you lots of energy. You want to eat a diet with the right number of calories, lots of good foods, and a whole lot less of foods that are bad for you. Okay, that seems a little too simplistic; in reality, it takes a bit of work to eat a healthy, balanced diet, so I’ll walk you through the process.

How many calories do you need? On average, adults will need somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,000 to 2,500 calories per day to maintain his or her current weight. The number of calories you need depends on your natural size, muscle mass, activity level, age, and gender. There are calorie tables and calculators that will help you estimate your daily calorie need. But keep in mind these really are estimates, since you may have differences in your metabolism, you may need a few more or a few less calories than the calculator show. Over time, you will know to adjust your overall calorie intake up or down by monitoring your weight.

You need to keep a food dairy. If you need to lose weight, gain weight, watch your fat, protein, or sodium intake, you’ll have an easier time if you use a food dairy. Start by just writing down everything you eat for three or four days (before you start to cut back) so that you will see how many calories you are currently consuming. Look at how many healthy foods you eat now and how many unhealthy foods you choose to eat. Once you understand where you are in cutting back, you’ll learn which healthy foods you need to eat more of and which ones you need to eat less of. Always choose the right foods. Once you know how many calories you need, your next step is to choose foods that will offer lots of good nutrition for the calories you take in. For example, at snack time, you should choose healthy food such as a cup of blueberries for about 85 calories or a small glazed doughnut for 100 calories. Although there is only a 15-calorie difference between the two, the blueberries make a much better choice for a healthy diet. The blueberries are packed with vitamins, antioxidants, and very low in fat. The glazed donut has very little nutritional value and a lot of unhealthy fats and sugars for such a small treat.

Some of the right foods to choose would be dairy and calcium sources, whole grains and cereals, more fruits and vegetables, carbohydrates, fat, and a protein balance. If you eat all of the recommended servings of each food group and no more or no less, you should get your recommended amounts of nutrients without consuming too many calories. You can also use portion size and meal planning to make sure you get the right amounts of everything. You should limit your overall intake of foods high in sugar, fats, sodium, and calories.

Limit what you eat such as excess sugar desserts, candy, sugary soft drinks, excess fats, junk foods, fatty meats, fried foods, heavy sauces, and gravies.

Limit your sodium intake. There is excess sodium in heavily processed foods, prepackaged meals and in most canned soups and vegetables.