Forming healthy, conscious eating habits can be hard but rewarding. Find out how to eat more consciously and live in better health.
Healthy eating habits require a conscious decision each time you eat for what you eat, how you eat, where you eat, and whom you eat with. These choices can make a difference in your health from birth to death, no matter your lifespan.
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Healthy Eating Choices
From infancy, choices are made for our food intake and those choices reflect how we will eat for the rest of our lives. Parents make choices that will help their child form a taste for good food, according to Alan Greene, M.D., as he tells throughout his book Feeding Baby Green: The Earth-Friendly Program for Healthy, Safe Nutrition.
However, most of us do not learn to eat healthy at a young age; therefore, we must learn to eat consciously after our taste buds have already learned to love the foods that are hurtful to our bodies.
Learning to consciously eat healthy can be difficult with all the choices available. While driving, you are presented with a multitude of choices for fast food. Even though most of those choices do not fall under the label of healthy, most of us stop and choose something from their menu at least occasionally. Thankfully, because we are trying to eat better, some of those places are beginning to offer healthy choices for our consumption. Healthier fast food choices can include a Grilled Chicken Caesar from Arby’s, a yogurt from Burger King, or a Hearty Breast of Chicken Soup from Chick-fil-A.
The Food Pyramid
When choosing to eat healthy, many people get a slow start because they aren’t sure what their bodies actually need. According to the food pyramid published by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) at mypyramid.gov, an adult needs 3 oz. of whole grain bread, rice, pasta, cereal or crackers every day. When choosing your grains, make sure that the food description begins with “whole” such as “whole wheat bread” to be sure not to eat the grains that have been altered for better taste and lost most of their nutrients.
Although you should vary your two and a half cups of vegetables each day, the USDA recommends that you eat more dark green and orange vegetables for better health. Some good examples of these are: broccoli, spinach, sweet potatoes, and pumpkin. You can also use the natural sugars in some vegetables such as corn to help to curb your sweet cravings rather than eating candy.
Your two cups of fruit can come from any variety. However, you should try to alternate the fruits you eat to get more from them. To get your full fruit intake, you can use any fruit or 100% fruit juice (avoid juices that aren’t 100% fruit juice as they contain too many artificial sugars). Good fruits include fresh, canned, frozen, and dried varieties.
You need very little oil in your diet and you should make sure that most of it comes from fish, nuts, and vegetable oils. You should avoid fats like butter as much as possible.
Adults should drink 3 cups of low or non-fat milk each day. Milk provides the calcium your body needs. If you cannot drink milk, taking calcium supplements will help.
You should choose low-fat or lean meats and poultry. Your meat should not be fried, but can be baked, broiled, or grilled. As with all other food groups, vary your choice of meats to get the optimal amount of nutrients for your body. Good meat choices are lean cuts of beef, ham, lamb, pork, or veal. You can also choose game meats, like venison, poultry, or fish. Nuts and dry beans are also included in the meats section because of their nutritional makeup.
Once you know what the daily recommended value is for yourself, it will be easier to make a conscious choice to eat the foods that are best for your body. The pyramid is straightforward and easy to understand, so why do so many of us eat the wrong foods?
Freezing Healthy Foods
Convenience and time invested are two of the largest motivators when it comes to making poor food choices. Processed foods offer an easy way to make a dinner for your family without investing too much time or effort but once you understand how much you lose in nutritional value by choosing the easy path, you should realize that it’s time to find a better way. One way to do this is to cook in bulk.
If we try, we can all find some time to spend in the kitchen. When we do, we can cook in bulk and freeze the extras. The good foods that you freeze can then be heated during the week to give you and your family a nutritional meal without all the time and energy it takes to cook it every evening after work. This is a great way for working moms to feed their families.
Those with young children will not have to spend too much time in the evening away from the family to cook, and those with older children can leave instructions for them to have dinner ready as the family all arrive home from their busy days. This gives mom more time to relax, and the children are rewarded by having more time with a mom who is more energetic and ready for an evening with the family. Keep in mind, though, that freezing will stop the growth of microbes, but once the food is thawed it can start to grow again. Food from the freezer should be handled in the same manner that you would handle fresh foods for safety. These foods should be kept cooler than 1 degree Fahrenheit.
How to Eat Healthier
How you eat is as important as what you eat. There is no need to say, “I can never have that food again.” You can have your favorite foods, even the ones that are bad for you, as long as you have them in moderation and in smaller portions. Also, you should never drastically change your diet, especially to follow the latest fad diet, because that can change your body chemistry in a negative way. Instead, slowly change your diet by substituting new, healthy choices once or twice for every two week period.
This will give your body time to adjust to the change and will allow your chemistry to compensate for what it is craving. Taking the time to thoroughly chew your food will allow your body to realize that it is feeling full and trigger your brain to stop eating. This is useful to keep from overeating and you enjoy the flavors much more.
Where you eat can be just as important as what and how you eat. Eating in front of the TV or while surfing the internet can cause overeating. Also, you should eat with others. This promotes healthy eating because you make more conscious choices when others are seeing what you put on your plate. It allows parents to model good eating habits for their children as well. However, keep in mind that if you are a parent and you do not make healthy eating choices, your child will watch you model that, too. Since we all want our children to be healthy, modeling a healthy, conscious diet is a good way to help your children learn a habit that will allow them better health their entire lives.
Color is the Key to Eating Healthy
When in doubt, keep in mind that color is the key to healthy eating. Fill your body with colorful fruits and vegetables and you can be sure that you are staying on the right track even if you do slip from your healthy diet and overeat. Eating healthy is an important way to maintain the way you look, feel, and the energy you have for your entire life, and conscious food choices can help make that happen.