Don't Fall for fad diets. Stand tall on these Pillars to Eating Well!
Welcome to October! Summer is gone and fall is here. After all that fun in the sun, you may be thinking that it’s time to get your eating habits back in line. Don't Fall for fad diets or one-size-fits-all approaches. Instead stand tall on these Pillars to Eating Well to find the foods that best support you! Diet is very individual, meaning one person’s food is another person’s poison and there’s no perfect diet for everyone. That being said, there are some general pillars to eating well that we can all operate within including: fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, whole grains, lean and plant-based protein, whole foods, fiber, and water, all while limiting sodium and added sugars.
Fruits and vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. When it comes to fruit and vegetable intake, two primary considerations to keep in mind are quantity and variety. First for quantity, the recommendation for adults is 1.5-2.5 cups fruit and 2-4 cups vegetables. Unfortunately, only 1 in 10 adults meets the recommendations for fruits and vegetable intake. Next for variety, it’s important to eat the rainbow, meaning eat fruits and vegetables throughout the week that are from all the colors of the rainbow – red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and even brown/white. Different color fruits and vegetables provide your body with different vitamins and minerals.
Here are some ways you can add more fruits and vegetables in your day:
Breakfast – fruit and vegetable smoothies, egg or tofu scrambles with veggies, fruit and veggie muffins, overnight oats
Lunch – soups, salads, wraps, grain and veggie bowls
Dinner – fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables, swap out your favorite meal with a vegetarian alternative (e.g., vegetarian chili or lasagna)
Snacks – raw veggies and hummus, fruit and yogurt
Fat gives your body energy, supports cellular function, protects bodily organs, provides insulation, helps with nutrient absorption, and assists with hormone production. Two primary considerations when it comes to fat are: quantity and type. When it comes to quantity the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for fat is 20-35% of calories, with less than 10% of calories from saturated fat, and ideally no trans fats.
For type, there are four types of fat:
When choosing foods, aim for foods with more "healthy" fats (mono and polyunsaturated) versus "unhealthy" fats (saturated and trans). Good sources of healthy fats include salmon, olive oil, avocado, nuts, and seeds. Try to reduce full-fat dairy, red/processed meat, and fried foods.
Whole grains retain all parts of the seed - bran, germ, and endosperm, which means they are better sources of important vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined grains. A major consideration is quantity, but type might also be a consideration, especially for someone who is gluten intolerant or sensitive. As for quantity, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for carbohydrates is 45-65% of calories. Whole grains are good sources of complex carbohydrates, and the goal is to try to make over half of your grains whole grains.
When it comes to type, there are gluten containing whole grains:
Whole wheat flour products (pasta and bread)
And then gluten-free whole grains:
Oatmeal (pure, uncontaminated oats are gluten free)
Lean and plant-based protein
Protein supports the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Two primary considerations for protein are quantity and type. For quantity, the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range for protein is 10-35% of calories. The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 g per kg of body weight. However, the recommendation ranges between 0.8 g/kg to 2.0 g/kg depending on your activity level and goals. As for type: white meat poultry, white fish, beans and lentils, tofu, egg whites, oats, tempeh, chickpeas, quinoa, pumpkin seeds, and chia seeds are all great sources lean and plant-based protein.
Up to this point, most of what I’ve talked about falls into the whole foods category, but I wanted to keep it a separate pillar to highlight the importance of whole versus overly processed foods.
Whole foods are foods that have been processed or refined as little as possible and are free from additives and other artificial substances. Think food you make at home; versus something pre-made that you buy in a store that’s packaged or processed in a large facility. Whole foods are higher in nutrients, and typically lower in sodium, fat, and added sugars. Focus on whole foods versus processed foods when possible.
Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that isn't digested or absorbed, but provides many important functions, including helps regulate bowel movements, feeds gut bacteria, lowers cholesterol, maintains blood sugar levels, and assists with weight management. The two main considerations for fiber include: quantity and type. For quantity, the daily fiber recommendations for adults are:
Men 38 g (50 and under) and 30 g (51+)
Women 25 g (50 and under) and 21 g (51+)
*Note: It's important to increase water intake as you increase fiber to keep things moving in your digestive tract.
Next for type, there are two types of fiber: soluble fiber and insoluble fiber. Most plant foods contain both types of fiber, but in different amounts. Both have unique benefits and support digestion. Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts, and seeds are all good sources of fiber.
It’s important to stay hydrated and water is the best option. Water is important for health and can help prevent dehydration, regulate body temperature, and rid waste from your body.
The recommended adequate daily fluid intake is:
About 15.5 cups of fluids/day for men
About 11.5 cups of fluids/day for women
These recommendations cover fluids from water, other beverages, and food; however approximately 80% of that should come from water. This number may increase based on exercise, environment (temperature), health status, and pregnancy/breastfeeding. Try carrying around a refillable water bottle with you throughout the day. If you don’t like plain water, mix things up by adding some fruit or try a non-calorie sparkling water.
Finally, underlying all of these pillars is limiting sodium and added sugars.
First let’s talk sodium. It is recommended that we consume less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day (which equates to about a teaspoon of table salt). If you have any high-risk conditions, like high blood pressure, then the recommendation drops to 1,500 mg per day. Unfortunately, Americans eat on average about 3,400 mg of sodium per day according to the FDA.
Ways to lower sodium intake include eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, reducing cheese intake, looking for “low sodium” or “no salt added” ingredients like broths, sauces, and marinades, reducing salt during cooking, and eliminating the saltshaker from the dinner table.
Next, added sugar. It is recommended that individuals 2 years and older keep intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories. Sugar, like salt, is hidden in a lot of foods, especially packaged/processed goods.
Outside of candy, which is obvious, added sugar can be found in foods like:
That wraps up the Pillars to Eating Well. If you aren’t sure where to start on your Eating Well journey, consider a Be Well Nutrition Assessment to help identify areas that may need a little better balance.
Until next time….Eat Well. Live Well. Be Well.