After a year that can be described as ‘interesting’ if we’re feeling generous (and ‘a downright nightmare’ if we’re not) 2021 has arrived with health (and healthy eating!) at the forefront of many people’s thoughts.
Why is this such a big issue – especially now? In the U.S., 60% of adults have some form of chronic illness related to their diet, according to the USDA. At the same time, 74% of adults and 40% of teenagers are either overweight or obese.
To help combat this, every five years the USDA releases a new report detailing dietary recommendations.
With 2021 just begun, why not take a few steps to make every bite count? We’ve included some of our favorite pointers here to help you with eating healthy and starting the year off right.
1. Keep an eye on veggie intake. Fruits too (Obviously)
We all know that fruits and veggies are a key part of a balanced diet, but when applying food pyramid principles to our busy lives, how much of each should we actually be getting?
For an average adult with a 2,000 calorie diet, the American Heart Association recommends 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables a day. Generally, they don’t have many calories and there’s a lot of good stuff in there.
What does this look like on your plate? For those of us who aren’t likely going to start measuring out exact portions, just think that one cup of veggies, such as carrots or broccoli, is equal to the size of a baseball. Meanwhile, one cup of leafy greens is comparable to the size of two baseballs (this makes sense when you think of how much spinach shrinks in when cooked).
How does this compare to fruit? A medium-sized whole fruit, such as an apple, peach, or plum, is about the size of a tennis ball. Grabbing a quick snack? A 1/2 cup of raw, canned, or frozen fruit is comparable to the size of a billiard ball.
Fruits and vegetables are an excellent way to get many essential nutrients such as potassium, fiber, folic acid, vitamin A, and vitamin C (just to name a few). Having these nutrients in your diet can help lower the risk of many diseases and just keep your body running smoothly.
Dietary fiber, for instance, can both help prevent constipation and lower blood cholesterol. A lot of fruits and veggies contain fiber, but artichokes, many beans, raspberries, and broccoli are definitely up there for the foods that contain the biggest amounts.
Potassium likewise, which you can get from foods like bananas, sweet potatoes, spinach, and potatoes, can help you keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
Currently, many Americans don’t get enough of either in their diets.
2. Eat more beans! (and peas. and lentils)
These get a category of their own. Why? Because they are unique foods. Beans, peas, and lentils belong to a group of vegetables called “pulses.” This group includes kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, split peas, and different-colored lentils.
While beans, peas, and lentils are considered to be part of the vegetable group and are great sources of dietary fiber and nutrients found in other vegetables such as folate and potassium, they can also be counted as protein foods. All three are excellent sources of plant protein, as well as other nutrients such as iron and zinc.
Keep in mind, though, green peas, green lima beans, and green beans aren’t counted in this subgroup. Green peas and green lima beans are similar to other starchy vegetables.
Meanwhile, green beans are grouped with vegetables with similar nutritional content such as onions, lettuce, celery, and cabbage.
3. Mix it up
In order to have a healthy diet, it is important to eat a wide variety. It can be easy to get caught with the same ole, same ole, but make sure to mix things up. Your best friend here? The rainbow!
When eating fruits and vegetables, try to eat a variety of colors. Choose dark greens, reds, oranges, and other colors to ensure that you’re doing your body good by getting a wide range of vitamins and minerals.
4. Remember a little goes a long way
Here comes the hard part. Staying away from foods high in sugar, sodium, and saturated fat can be difficult.
According to the USDA, 63% of Americans consume more than the daily recommendation for added sugar, 77% exceed the limit for saturated fats, and a whopping 90% consume too much sodium.
Does this mean you need to completely give up your favorite treats? Definitely not! (We breathed a sigh of relief on this one, too.)
What’s recommended is to divide your daily consumption by 85% to 15%. This means 85% of your daily calories should be used for nutrient-dense foods. The other 15%? You guessed it – this can be used for whatever you want, including added sugars and saturated fats (why hello, flaming hot cheetos).
5. Plan ahead. Shop accordingly
To make eating healthier easier, planning ahead can go a long way. Planning and prepping meals ahead of time can be useful for days when cooking is just not appealing.
You can also write out your meals and list out recipes that you want to try so you know what you’ll be making. If there’s a day with a busy schedule, simply pick ideas that are fast and simple to prepare.
Think ahead when you go shopping as well. Keep a running list of items that you need, updating it as you run out of something.
Keeping an eye on sales flyers and buying seasonal produce can help keep costs down, but remember that it’s ok to buy a combination of fresh, frozen, and non-perishable items.
Frozen and canned fruits and vegetables still count for servings too! (plus they keep longer). Just be careful not to buy frozen foods with extra sauces and be wary of added sugar and sodium when going for canned.
6. Get creative
Now comes the fun part. There are a lot of ways to eat healthily and get the nutrients you need while still eating delicious foods. You can sneak a handful of blueberries into pancakes or add sliced veggies to a pizza.
Even some favorite, although not entirely healthy, recipes can be improved with a few ingredient swaps.
Don’t be afraid to try new things, either. You can find a lot of great recipes here (our Korean Chicken Kebabs with Tomato Chili Sauce have especially been a crowd-pleaser!) Look around a bit and find one that works for you!