How to Eat Well Effortlessly

How do you eat well?

Do what works for you.

I’m a huge advocate of that phrase in all areas of life. But it can be confusing and frustrating when you’re trying to make changes in your life, especially when you don’t know where to start. It’s easy to feel lost. Once you do establish a baseline, a starting point, then it’s easier to play around and morph your diet into what works best for you.

I want to help you live healthier and reduce your confusion. Below, we’ll discuss the most widely accepted recommendations for the general population of healthy eating.

You’ll learn how to find specific recommendations for you, and I’ll go over simple ways to incorporate this into your lifestyle.

Before we get into all of that, I want to state that I’m not going to get into specific foods. What my body needs as a healthy diet will be different from yours.

A tomato is generally accepted as healthy, and I could eat them all day long, but for you, they may be too acidic and mess with your stomach. Some people take comfort in this knowledge that they have choices, but for some, this is frustrating, and they just want to be told what to eat and what not to eat.

I get it.

Recommendations for the General Population

First, we’ll look at the generally accepted recommendations. A 2,000 calorie diet for healthy adults (ages 19-59) suggests 2.5 cups of vegetables per day, 2 cups fruits, 6 ounces of grains, 3 cups dairy, 5.5 ounces of protein, and 27 grams of oil. This is from the USDA Guidelines for Americans 2020-2025, which uses MyPlate as a guide.

Sometimes, a visual is easier to see the recommendations for eating well. The two plates show this graphic for the recommendations for each meal. Look at any differences you can spot, and just be aware of them. If it will help you remember day-to-day to include these food groups, MyPlate does offer actual visual plates you can buy.

Instead of the visual plates, some people use their hands. Of course, hand sizes vary, and the portion sizes vary slightly from source to source, but it gives you an idea, a baseline. The most consistent size I see is protein serving being the size of your palms, and a serving of fats being the size of your thumb. Vegetables I’ve seen as the size of your fist or two hands cupped together. Carbohydrates are also the size of your fist or one cupped hand. One cupped hand is the serving size for fruit.

The most common recommendations you’ll see for eating a healthy diet is to limit: sugary beverages, alcohol, refined grains and sweets, processed foods, including processed meat, and solid fats (such as butter). Refined foods have been processed, which changes or removes various components of the original food. After the processing, they can then be enriched which adds some or all of the nutrients back in.

It is recommended to include more unprocessed whole grains, beans, fish, nuts, seeds, and to include a variety of vegetables and fruits. Whole grains are grains that contain the germ, bran, and endosperm. If you’re looking at bread, wheat bread does not necessarily mean it’s a whole grain. You should look at the ingredients list to see if it says “whole” or “whole grain” before the grain ingredients name.

Recommendations Specific to You

Now, if you want to get away from the general recommendations, you can get more specific.

This website will calculate daily nutrient recommendations for you, based on your age, gender, and activity level. This will give you a better idea of how many calories, vitamins, minerals, and macronutrients you should be consuming. When looking at the recommendations, “upper limit” just means to eat less than that amount. This will be more tailored to you than the general 2000 calorie diet information. Still, it’s not written in stone (because nothing can ever be that easy). Some people might need more, and some people might need less.

I highly recommend looking at your current eating habits before making any significant changes. I suggest looking at everything you eat for at least 3 days. Input your meals, snacks, and drinks into this calculator. You can input this information as you go about your day, or you can do it before bed when you’re winding down. It will not be 100% accurate for various reasons, and it can take some time, but it really gives you a good idea of where you’re at. The calculator will show you your calories, calories by source, vitamins, minerals, and more. It does an excellent job of showing where you’re getting enough and where you might be lacking. The quality of foods you eat can also be seen.

Adding more vegetables to your diet is great, but eating iceberg lettuce vs. romaine lettuce is a considerable nutrient difference. You might have enough protein, but a hamburger and salmon are not the same quality. When I did this, I thought I ate relatively well. It was a big eye-opener to me to see that I was including way too much salt in my diet, and the amount of fruit I was eating wasn’t nearly enough.

So How Do you Start Eating Well?

Eat-in moderation.

No foods need to be cut entirely out. Eating regular meals every 3-4 hours will help your metabolism, maintain muscle mass, and help cut out unhealthy snacking between meals. Skipping meals can lead to hunger, feeling deprived, and leave you vulnerable to binge eating and unhealthy snacking. Wait 10-15 minutes before going back for seconds and see if you really need it.

If you don’t eat meat or want to reduce your intake, plants do contain protein! Many meals automatically contain complementary plant proteins that help us meet our essential amino acid requirements. Remember from high school, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. There are nine essential amino acids because our bodies cannot make those nine. There are three plant protein amino acids that are most often limited: lysine, methionine, and cysteine. Legumes generally are high in lysine. Grains, nuts, and seeds are usually high in methionine and cysteine.

Some of these complementary plant protein pairs are rice and beans, lentils and rice, chickpeas and rice, bread and peanut butter, cashews and tofu, corn tortilla and beans, hummus (sesame seeds and chickpeas), cornbread and black-eyed peas, sesame seeds, and peanut sauce, nuts, and soybeans, rice, and tofu.

Older adults should pay special attention to their Vitamin B-12 and vitamin D intake. Fortified foods or supplements can help increase those vitamins. Limit sodium to 1500 mg per day (¾ tsp) and get 4700mg per day of potassium from foods. Eat foods rich in fiber and drink plenty of water.

Final Thoughts and Advice

Find what agrees with your body with these recommendations in mind. Pay attention to how it makes you feel. Be mindful when you’re eating. Do I love pizza? Absolutely. Do I feel sluggish and heavy afterward, wanting to sit on the couch and do nothing but watch tv? Yes. On the other hand, if I make a veggie wrap with hummus, I feel satisfied, energized, and have clarity of mind. Not sluggish.

Not paying attention to how our food makes us feel can cause us to overeat and eat foods that don’t actually make us feel good.

Do small steps at a time. You don’t have to change your entire life overnight. That’s an enormous task. It’s exhausting, confusing, and overwhelming. Why stress yourself out? (This is one of my big flaws.) Instead, do little things that you can control. Start by incorporating one more cup of fruit into your diet every day. Once that’s habitual, start going out to eat one day less a week. Identify what you’d like to change, prioritize them, and work from that last. One. Thing. At. A. Time.

It never hurts to have a reminder, drink more water! I always have a bottle with me but I never kept track. Now that I’m consciously drinking more, I realize how much I didn’t actually drink 😬. What helped me was this bottle with times to drink from 8 am – 7 pm. It’s very simple and sits at my desk so when I look at it, I see that I actually haven’t drunk anything in the past hour and I need to.

Here are some healthy recipe ideas from Harvard you can check out.

If money is a concern, here are some tips for when you’re on a budget from MyPlate and budget-friendly recipes.

If you’re wanting to learn more about specific diets, check out this post next.

All content and information on this website are for informational and educational purposes only. The information presented here is not a substitute for any kind of professional advice, and you should not rely solely on this information. Always consult a medical professional or healthcare provider in the area of your particular needs and circumstances prior to making any health, medical, or other related lifestyle, changes, or decisions.

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