When it comes to making healthy choices, enlisting the help of a nutritionist can be incredibly beneficial. But finding one that will work with you and your budget can be challenging. To help, top dietitians shared their best nutrition advice.
Ditkoff recommends figuring out insurance and payment logistics upfront, as well as asking about a practitioner’s nutrition philosophy.
1. Eat a Balanced Diet
Food is the fuel that powers our bodies, and a balanced diet is essential for good health. It should include a variety of foods from all five food groups to provide the body with the nutrients it needs.
Eating a well-balanced diet includes choosing mostly nutrient-dense foods with the occasional indulgence in moderation. This will help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
It is also important to avoid foods high in saturated fat, salt and added sugar. These unhealthy foods can increase your risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. A healthy diet includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, low-fat dairy, and protein-rich foods such as nuts, seeds, beans, peas and lentils.
Nutrition experts don’t consider foods to be “good” or “bad.” Instead, they focus on making good choices most of the time and enjoying a wide variety of foods to get the nutrients the body needs.
A balanced diet should include three to four meals a day and one to two snacks. It should consist mainly of foods that are high in nutrient density, such as fresh and frozen fruits and veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and protein-rich food like nuts, seeds, and beans. It should be low in fat and sodium, and contain moderate amounts of alcohol.
It is helpful to plan meals ahead of time and eat a range of healthy foods to keep your energy up throughout the day. It is also recommended to use spices and herbs to add flavor to meals rather than adding salt. Try to read the ingredient list on packaged foods and limit their use. It’s also best to eat fresh, wholesome foods and skip high-sugar, salty snacks such as cakes and biscuits.
2. Eat More Fruits & Vegetables
A diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential to overall health. It can lower your risk of heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke. It also provides you with the vitamins and minerals, fiber and phytochemicals your body needs to keep you healthy.
It’s recommended that you eat at least five portions, or 400g, of fruit and vegetables each day. This may sound like a lot, but it’s not as hard as you might think. A portion is roughly the size of your hand. So, it could be as simple as half a grapefruit, two satsumas or 30g of dried fruit (four apricot halves or tablespoon of raisins).
When selecting your fruit and vegetables, try to eat a rainbow of colors. This is important because each color provides different nutrients and phytochemicals that are good for your health. For example, green and leafy vegetables contain the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin. These are known to help decrease the risk of eye diseases and eye infections. Other colorful fruits and veggies include carrots, which are a great source of beta-carotene; berries and tomatoes, which are full of vitamin C; and purple foods, such as eggplant and blueberries, which provide a powerful antioxidant called lycopene.
If you find it difficult to get enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, try incorporating them into your favorite meals and snacks. For instance, add them to pasta or a salad. You can even add them to soups or stir-fries. Just be sure to avoid cooking techniques that add unnecessary calories and fat, such as frying and high-fat sauces. Instead, steam your vegetables or use herbs and low-calorie dressings to add flavor.
3. Eat Healthy Fats
Fat is a major source of energy for the body. It helps build nerve tissue and hormones, controls inflammation, promotes satiety and enhances nutrient absorption. Good fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, chia, MCT oils, and fatty fish. Healthy fats lower cholesterol, increase heart health and help reduce the risk of some cancers.
Eating too many calories from unhealthy fats can lead to obesity. The goal should be to consume 25 percent-35 percent of the daily calories from a combination of unsaturated and monounsaturated fats. The rest should come from carbohydrates, proteins and fiber.
A nutritious diet includes lean meats, skinless poultry and fish, low-fat dairy products, whole fruits and vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes, quinoa, brown rice and whole grains. It also includes a variety of plant-based oils, including canola, corn and olive oil, for cooking and salad dressings.
The Nutrition Facts labels on packaged foods will tell you the amount of saturated and trans fats, as well as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Choose low-fat and non-hydrogenated fats, such as olive, safflower or canola oil, over animal or vegetable fats.
All fats are high in calories, so be mindful of portion size. One gram of fat provides nine calories, compared to four calories in a similar serving of carbohydrates or protein. Replacing fried foods with grilled or broiled foods is a great way to cut down on the number of calories you consume from fats. In addition to swapping out unhealthy fats, limiting added sugars and salt can also help keep your weight in check. For more expert advice on eating healthy, tune in to the new episodes of our Health Essentials Podcast.
4. Eat a Variety of Foods
Eating a variety of foods may help you get the nutrients you need for good health. Many nutritionists recommend a diet that includes all of the food groups and is low in added sugars, salt and saturated fat. The best way to eat a wide range of healthy foods is to choose whole foods that are minimally processed. When shopping, read the ingredient list to avoid high levels of sodium (salt), added sugars and artificial sweeteners and preservatives. Try a new food at least once each week, and add a few new ingredients each month.
The vast selection of foods in the United States may be partly responsible for consumers’ confusion about such nutrition concepts as adequate diet and food variety. A survey of consumers indicated that when asked to explain the term “food variety,” most said it meant eating different kinds of meat or balanced meals.
In reality, however, the idea of food variety is much broader. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans advises that you select foods from all six food groups: fruits; vegetables; grain products (whole and enriched breads, cereals, rice, pasta, and muffins); dairy, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese; and meats, fish, poultry, eggs, and legumes. (USDA and DHHS, 1980).
Several studies have shown that people who eat a wide variety of foods tend to consume healthier diets. However, some studies have also shown that eating a variety of foods may encourage certain individuals to consume more calories overall. This could be because the number of unique foods consumed was strongly correlated with caloric intakes, suggesting that a person who has more variety in his or her diet is likely to consume more total foods than someone who eats fewer different kinds of food.
5. Eat a Healthy Snack
We can’t always eat three healthy meals a day, especially when our busy schedules make it impossible. That’s why snacks are so important—the right ones can keep us energized and focused throughout the day.
When it comes to snacking, nutritionists recommend choosing foods that are low in sugar and sodium, as well as high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. “Snacks should be nutrient dense and filling,” says Mattes, and the easiest way to do that is by planning ahead. She recommends chopping veggies and fruits on the weekend to pack in your fridge or freezer for easy access, as well as cooking up some hard-boiled eggs and packing them in their shells so they stay fresh.
Another piece of healthy snacking advice is to read the food label, focusing on the serving size, calories per serving, and saturated and trans fats. Avoiding foods with added sugars and artificial flavors, colors, and chemical preservatives is also important.
A nutritious snack should include both carbohydrates and protein. Snacks that are just carbohydrates, like pretzels or chips, will only give you a quick burst of energy. Instead, opt for a trail mix or muesli bar that contains both proteins and carbohydrates as a more balanced snack option. Likewise, choosing dried fruit with no added sugar and pairing it with nuts provides a satisfying balance of nutrients and energy.