You already understand you need to eat right to manage your weight, fend off cardiovascular disease, and help fight diabetes, but how to navigate your diet alone after the program is over? If you’re overwhelmed by it all, you're not alone. Just follow these basic guidelines to stay healthy.
Refined foods are stripped of valuable nutrients and tend to be chock-full of fats, salt, sodium, and chemicals with unpronounceable names that could affect your health. Forgo white flour, canned soups, fast foods, and frozen dinners, and opt instead for natural, unprocessed fare. If you follow only one nutritional rule, make it this one.
Stock up on Fruits and Vegetables
The US Department of Agriculture recommends filling half of every plate with fresh or cooked fruits and vegetables - and with good reason. These goodies are packed with antioxidants to fight aging, boost your immune system, and are very low in calories. For optimal health benefits, eat a variety of colors: blue, orange, yellow, white, green, red, and purple.
Don't Fear Carbs
Despite diet trends, carbohydrates are not evil - you need them for energy and proper brain function. The Mayo Clinic recommends getting 45 to 65 percent of your calories from carbs, or about 225 to 325 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet. Healthy carb choices include whole grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables.
Don't Neglect Your Protein
Protein isn’t just for muscle building - every cell in your body needs it. About 10 to 35 percent of your calories should come from protein, which works out to about 50 to 175 grams per day on a 2,000-calorie diet. Choose lean protein sources like beans, tofu, seafood, poultry, and nonfat cottage cheese.
Fill up on Fiber
Fiber keeps your digestive system moving and helps prevent type 2 diabetes while improving cholesterol levels. Get fiber from dark, leafy greens, and other vegetables as well as from berries, oranges, and whole grains like oatmeal and whole-wheat bread.
Find Healthy Fats
Fat should make up 20 to 35 percent of your calories, or about 44 to 78 grams on a 2,000-calorie diet. Fat has more than double the calories of carbs and proteins, so binging on fatty foods is a fast way to pack on unwanted pounds. Avoid saturated fats from meats and cheeses, which are linked to heart disease and diabetes. Instead, get your fat from heart-healthy sources like almonds, avocados, and salmon.
Although most nutritionists have dumped the 8-cups-of-water-a-day rule, fluid intake is still important to facilitate bodily processes and prevent energy-sapping dehydration. Most healthy women need about 11 total cups of fluids per day, while men need about 15 cups per day. We get about 20 percent of our water from foods, so that leaves 9 cups of beverages per day for women and 12.5 cups for men. Water is a great (and calorie-free) option, but juice, coffee and soda all count. Alcoholic beverages do not.
Skimp on Salt
Salt leads to bloating and high blood pressure, which is why the National Institutes of Health recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day for most healthy adults - about 1 teaspoon of table salt. Packaged meals and restaurant foods are the biggest salt offenders, just one more reason to prepare your own food from unprocessed ingredients.
Skip the Sugar
Sugar is nothing but empty calories. Meaning, it provides energy but has no other nutritional benefit. When you choose sugary cereals, pastries, candies, and sodas, you rob yourself of the opportunity to feed your body nourishing fare. And if you eat these foods on top of a normal diet, the extra calories will lead to weight gain.
Heavy drinking is linked to liver damage, increased cancer risk, high blood pressure, and mental illness. Alcohol also hampers coordination, making you more likely to hurt yourself or somebody else accidentally. Although moderate drinking is OK - and may even be healthy when concerning certain kinds of alcohol - the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two drinks per day for men. One drink equals 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
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