A Well-Balanced Diet
Instead of making a New Year’s resolution to diet, make one to which you can actually stick past mid-January. Typical fad diets restrict and deprive you, even dictating that you drop entire food groups from your daily eating plan. Where's the fun in that? Instead, resolve to eat more: more of the right foods, that is, basing your diet on the five food groups. Here’s how to eat all five food groups every day to help you crowd out the junk food, reduce your calorie intake and bolster your health with nutrient-dense fare.
The five food groups
Though the Food Pyramid has been replaced with the MyPlate icon, the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, protein and dairy — remain the same. Getting the recommended servings of each of the food groups is essential for your overall health. If you aren't used to eating all five food groups, you may be overwhelmed at how much you can actually eat when you choose healthy foods.
Aim for 1-1/2 to 2 cups of fruit per day. Any fruit or 100 percent fruit juice counts as part of the fruit group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen or dried. In general, 1 cup of fruit or 100 percent fruit juice or 1/2 cup of dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup.
Eat up: Start your day with a piece of fruit or glass of 100 percent juice. Pack dried fruit with some nuts for a midmorning snack. Add diced fruit to your lunch or dinner salad or puree as a sauce for ice cream.
Include 2-1/2 cups of vegetables in your daily diet. Experts recommend that you cover half of your plate with vegetables at mealtimes. The vegetable food group is deliciously varied, including dark leafy greens, beans and peas, starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, and many more. Any vegetable or 100 percent vegetable juice counts in this group, and they can be eaten raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned or dried. In general, 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables or vegetable juice or 2 cups of raw leafy greens can be considered as 1 cup from the vegetable group.
Eat up: Add chopped veggies to your morning omelet or drink a glass of 100 percent vegetable juice. For lunch, have a veggie salad with a variety of leafy greens and vegetables. Pack a snack bag of cut vegetables and enjoy with a side of hummus. For dinner, serve roasted veggies over a small baked potato, or add sauteed veggies and leafy greens to pasta, rice or another whole grain. You can also add sliced veggies to your sandwiches or wraps.
Set a goal of getting 5 to 6 ounces of grains per day. Grains are divided into two groups: whole grains and refined grains. Experts recommend that at least half your grains be whole (the more, the better). Refined grains, such as white-flour products, have been processed and have less nutritional value than whole grains. Whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), quinoa, oatmeal, whole cornmeal, brown rice and wild rice. In general, one slice of bread, 1 cup of ready-to-eat cereal or 1/2 cup of cooked rice, cooked pasta or cooked cereal can be considered as a 1-ounce equivalent.
Eat up: For breakfast, have a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal. For lunch, eat a sandwich made with whole-grain bread or a small bowl of wild rice or quinoa. (Be sure to add plenty of chopped veggies or dried fruit.) Make polenta or whole-wheat pasta for dinner.
Aim for 5 ounces of proteins each day. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas (which are also part of the veggie group), eggs, processed soy products, nuts and seeds are part of the protein food group. In general, 1 ounce of meat, poultry or fish; 1/4 cup cooked beans; one egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or 1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds is considered a 1-ounce equivalent. Choose lean cuts of meat and skinless poultry, as well as omega-3-rich fish, such as salmon, trout, tuna and mackerel. As you are planning your weekly meals, include at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood. Opt for raw or unsalted nuts and seeds (measure out your portions — they're easy to overeat).
Eat up: Have scrambled eggs for breakfast or a piece of whole-grain toast spread with peanut butter. Have a hard-boiled egg or handful of nuts as a midmorning snack, or add them to a salad for lunch. Serve beans in a soup or toss with rice or pasta for lunch or dinner. Bake, broil or grill meats, poultry or fish for dinner.
Consume 3 cups of dairy each day. All fluid milk products and many milk-based foods are considered part of this food group. In general, 1 cup of milk, yogurt or soymilk (soy beverage), 1-1/2 ounces of natural cheese or 2 ounces of processed cheese can be considered as a 1-cup equivalent. Note that not all milk-derived products are included in this food group; dairy that has little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream and butter, does not count toward your dairy needs. When buying dairy products, opt for low-fat or fat-free items.
Eat up: Start your day with a yogurt fruit smoothie or bowl of whole-grain cereal and milk. (Don't forget to add milk to your coffee, too!) Add a slice of cheese to your sandwich, or toss a few cubes onto your salad. Drink a glass of milk as an afternoon snack or post-workout sip. Sprinkle shredded cheese on pasta, or have a quesadilla for dinner.
What about oils?
Though oils are not considered a food group, they do provide nutrients essential for health. Derived primarily from plants, such as olive, vegetable, nut and avocado, oils can be used for cooking, baking and flavoring. Most oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats, which are favorable to heart health. Aim for 5 to 6 teaspoons of oils each day.
Don't confuse oils with solid fats. Oils are liquid at room temperature, as opposed to solid fats such as butter and lard, which tend to be high in saturated fats. Saturated fats, of course, are linked to heart disease and should be avoided.
Eat up: Drizzle flax oil over your oatmeal and stir it in. Make a vinaigrette with oil and vinegar, and toss with your lunch and dinner salads. Cook vegetables and proteins in oil instead of butter.
More health tips for the New Year