Man With Healthy FoodsPeople are becoming increasingly concerned about the role food plays in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Many people have turned away from processed or prepared foods and are eating more organic foods, and millions are cutting back on salt, sugar and other substances in the hope of staying healthier. In fact, there is so much diet information available today that it can easily become confusing. Here are a few tips for maintaining a healthy diet and improving your physical and mental condition.

What Are the Components of a Healthy Diet?

– Fresher is Better

Processed foods often contain high levels of sodium and chemicals that can interfere with healthy body functioning. Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables not only helps you fill up without empty calories and chemicals, it gives your body a variety of needed vitamins and minerals as well as much-needed fiber. The closer a food is to its natural state, the better; therefore, limit cooking or treatment once the food arrives in your kitchen, as well. If possible, eat fresh fruits and vegetables raw; if you cook them, choose cooking methods that preserve vitamins and minerals, such as steaming without added fat.

– Organic can be good—but be careful

While it is not absolutely necessary to eat organic produce, many organic products are grown without pesticides and other chemicals that can harm your body. However, some foods are labeled “organic” but do not follow strict standards. Be sure you know where your organic produce and food comes from.

– Whole grains are better than processed

Grains such as wheat and corn tend to be heavily processed, but the closer you can get to their natural state the better they are for your body. Instead of white flour products, try some of the many new whole-grain products for better fiber content. Read labels carefully; not every “whole-grain” product is as healthy as advertisers would like you to believe.

– Low-fat dairy is a dietary bargain

Removing fat from dairy products requires less processing than that required for many other foods, so low-fat dairy products are a good way to cut out on fat without increasing chemical intake. Low-fat dairy provides protein, especially for those who do not eat lean meats such as vegetarians.

– Yogurt makes a great snack—along with fruits, vegetables and whole grains

Eating well does not mean cutting out all snack foods. Yogurt, fresh fruit, vegetables and whole-grain crackers with low-fat cheese are all great ways to fill up between meals without putting on extra weight.

– Portion control is essential

No matter how fresh your diet is, eating too much, even of good foods, will eventually put on pounds. Portion control, especially of starches, sugars and fats, will help you maintain a healthy body weight. Read labels carefully and measure if you are not sure what constitutes a portion. You may be surprised to find out that a “normal” serving is two to three times the recommended amount of a food. Similarly, most restaurants serve huge portions; ask for yours to be cut in half and boxed before you begin your meal to avoid overeating.

– Exercise is important

While a good diet goes a long way towards maintaining a healthy weight, exercise must be incorporated into your daily routine as well. This does not necessarily mean running marathons; a brisk 15-minute walk twice a day is enough to meet recommended guidelines for minimum aerobic exercise.

– Take a multivitamin every day

While it is important to eat healthy foods, you often cannot get all the vitamins and minerals you need from diet alone. Choose the highest-quality supplements possible and take them daily to bolster your good eating habits and give your body the vitamins and minerals it needs.

– Colorful means flavorful—and healthy

Try to choose a wide variety of color in your foods. Yellow squash, red tomatoes and green lettuce all have different essential nutrients. Your plate should contain foods of varying color—this is a great way to spot-check your healthy eating. In general, the blander the color the more processed a food is. Shoot for bright, vibrant and varied color on your plate at most meals.

– Indulge guilt-free

It is probably not possible to go your whole life without occasionally eating something “bad.” Instead of thinking in terms of good foods and bad foods, think in terms of limiting high-sugar or high-fat foods to occasional treats. Indulge in a small dessert or some candy once a week; just do not make it an everyday habit and be sure to consider portion control.

Eating a healthy diet can be difficult in our processed-food society, but with a bit of planning and attention to food, you can eat fresh, good food every day and maintain a healthy body weight.