Most of us want to eat in a healthy and balanced way that fits our lifestyle, schedule, and budget. But what does that look like, practically? While more information about healthy eating exists than ever before, many of us frequently encounter conflicting information about nutrition—especially online—which makes it hard to know what to eat daily.
While it may be tempting to test out the latest diet craze, research tells us that overly strict dieting does not lead to positive health outcomes. As boring as it can sound, eating with balance, moderation, and variety is sound nutrition advice and your surest bet for maintaining a healthy lifestyle, as this dietary pattern ensures that we’re eating a range of foods and taking in all the micro- and macronutrients our bodies need. A balanced diet also helps us enjoy our food—which is important, too!
You might already have an idea of what kinds of foods work best with your lifestyle, and that’s great! But if you need a tune-up on general healthy nutrition advice, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s explore a few tried-and-true tenets of healthful and balanced eating.
1. Be flexible and use various forms of food to your advantage.
That might sound strange at first, but what we hope you understand is that nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, and our food choices often change from day to day. For example, if you’re on the go or short on time, you may want to choose a combination of packaged, frozen, canned and/or fresh foods to help simplify meals and snacks (while still meeting your nutritional needs). Maybe one day you cook your food completely from scratch, while the next you rely on canned or packaged foods to augment your meals. Most of the time, you may fall somewhere in between, and that’s okay! Check out these resources on shelf-stable, nutrient-dense foods and tips for navigating the center aisles of the grocery store.
2. Prioritize nutrient-dense foods and indulge in moderation.
An overall healthy diet means that you focus mostly on nutrient-dense foods with indulgences in moderation. If you’re looking for a place to start, try including several food groups like fruits, veggies, grains, dairy, and protein in your meals and snacks. Generally, eating three meals a day plus one to two snacks is ideal. Keep your kitchen stocked with recipe-ready ingredients like fresh, dried, canned, and frozen fruit; veggies, beans, peas, and lentils; as well as low-fat dairy or fortified soy alternatives, lean protein-based foods, and shelf-stable nuts, seeds, and grains. Click the following links for more information about nutrient-density and tips for eating healthy without going on a diet. For more information about how to navigate indulgences, see the next tip.
3. Embrace mindful eating and pay attention to portion sizes.
We’ve talked about the “what” of a healthy and balanced diet, but let’s talk about the “how” — mindful eating. A mindful approach to eating helps us choose foods that are enjoyable and nutritious, pay attention to our hunger and fullness cues, and slow down while eating so we can notice the tastes, textures, and flavors of our food. To complement mindful eating, being aware of portion sizes helps us manage the amount of food and drink (including indulgences!) that makes us feel full, but not overly so. Nutrition professionals such as registered dietitians are great resources for helping us determine the portion sizes that are right for us, since calorie intake can be unique to every individual, and personal portions may be different from the serving sizes listed on Nutrition Facts labels. These resources on mindful eating and portion sizes can provide more information to help you make the best eating choices for you.
While nutrition is not one-size-fits-all, we hope these tips for balanced eating help you make more nutritious and enjoyable food choices.