We all know that healthy eating is important, but what does that really mean? Do you need to forever forfeit cookies and ice cream in the name of good health?
Ask a dietitian and the answer you’ll probably get is that healthy eating is all about balance and variety. It means adding lots of fruits and veggies to your plate, focusing on whole grain foods, and including a variety of protein sources. It’s about eating when you feel hungry and stopping when you feel full. It’s also about eating foods you enjoy and that you feel good about. So if that’s a spinach salad for lunch today and a slice of pizza tomorrow, great. The point is focusing more on the nutrient density of a food and less on whether it’s “good” or “bad”. Nutrient density refers to how many nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.) are in a food. So, in most cases, a spinach salad would be more nutrient dense than a slice of pizza (though this doesn’t mean that pizza is “unhealthy”). All foods can fit into a healthy diet, just in varying amounts.
So how do you eat what you want while also trying to have a healthy, balanced diet? Here’s a few tips to get you started:
- Portion size: just like eating a whole cake isn’t the best idea, eating an entire bushel of apples probably wouldn’t feel too great either. Having a piece of cake, however, or an apple at snacktime is just right.
- Balance it out: throw in a fruit or veggie with every meal to add some vitamins, minerals and fiber regardless of whatever else you’re eating at mealtime.
- Add variety: try to include at least 2-3 food groups at every meal. That means a protein, grain, fruit, vegetable, or calcium-rich food.
- Be active: while physical activity can’t compensate for a nutrient-poor diet, it’s still good for you and an important part of healthy eating.
- Seek out a dietitian: if you need help figuring out what healthy eating means to you, there are nutrition experts out there ready and waiting to lend you a hand. You can find a list of qualified nutrition professionals on the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ “Find an Expert” page.
On “eat what you want day”, I encourage you to eat exactly what you want–keeping healthy, balanced eating in mind.