Munchies don't have to be unhealthy

Eating better equals better health—here's how to get started

Hand taking a package of nuts off a store shelf


This content is provided to Johns Hopkins employees through a partnership with EHP.

Eating better has a big impact on your overall health because it helps you manage weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose, all key risk indicators for heart disease and diabetes. Here are ideas for healthy changes you can make without giving up all the foods and flavors you love.

Get started

Talk with your health care provider about eating plans, such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet. Consider also consulting a dietitian. Change a few things at a time. Give yourself time to get used to a few eating changes before adding more.

Set goals for healthy eating

Limit saturated fats and trans fats. Saturated fats raise your levels of cholesterol, so keep them to a minimum; they're found in foods such as fatty meats, whole milk, cheese, and palm and coconut oils. Avoid trans fats because they lower good cholesterol and raise bad cholesterol; they're most often found in processed foods.

Reduce sodium intake. Eating too much salt may increase your blood pressure, so limit your daily sodium intake to 2,300 milligrams (the amount in 1 teaspoon of salt), or less if your health care provider recommends it. Dining out less often and eating fewer processed foods are two great ways to decrease the amount of salt you consume.

Manage calories. Calories are units of energy. Your body burns them for fuel, and when you eat more calories than your body burns, the extras are stored as fat. Your health care provider can help you create a diet plan to manage your calories. This will likely include eating healthier foods along with exercising regularly. To help you track your progress, record in a journal what you eat and how often you exercise.

Choose the right foods

Aim to make the following foods staples of your diet. (If you have diabetes, you may have different recommendations than those listed here.)

Fruits and vegetables provide plenty of nutrients without many calories. At meals, fill half your plate with these foods; split the other half between whole grains and lean protein.

Whole grains are high in fiber and rich in vitamins and nutrients. Good choices include whole wheat bread and pasta, and brown rice.

Lean proteins provide nutrition with less fat. Good choices include fish, skinless chicken, and beans.

Low-fat or nonfat dairy products include nutrients without a lot of fat. Try low-fat or nonfat milk, cheese, or yogurt.

Healthy fats—which are unsaturated fats such as olive oil, nuts, and fish—can be good for you in small amounts. Try to have at least two servings a week of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, mackerel, rainbow trout, and albacore tuna. These contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart. Flaxseed is another source of a heart-healthy fat.

Follow these other tips for healthy eating

Read food labels. Healthy eating starts at the grocery store. Spend time looking at food labels on packaged foods. Look for products that are high in fiber and protein, and low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Avoid products that contain trans fat. And pay close attention to serving size. For instance, if you plan to eat two servings, double the numbers on the label.

Prepare food correctly. A key part of healthy cooking is cutting down on added fat and salt. Look online for lower-fat, lower-sodium recipes. Also, try these tips:

  • Remove fat from meat and skin from poultry before cooking.
  • Skim fat from the surface of soups and sauces.
  • Broil, boil, bake, steam, grill, and microwave food without added fats.
  • Choose ingredients that spice up your food without adding calories, fat, or sodium. Think horseradish, hot sauce, lemon, mustard, nonfat salad dressings, and vinegar. Or rev up the flavor with basil, cilantro, rosemary, cinnamon, or pepper.

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