Friday, January 13, 2012

5 Essentials of a Healthy Meal Plan

Eating healthier doesn't have to be painful or leave you feeling deprived. Easy additions and substitutions boost the nutritional value of your meals without sacrificing flavor. Portion control helps you carve calories and fat out of a meal while still sitting down to a full plate of food. Use fresh food to cook quick, simple meals that place an emphasis on vegetables and avoid processed and convenience foods.
Portion Control
When meat is the star of your meal and everything else is relegated to supporting roles, you're probably eating more than a recommended serving as well as more fat than you need. Keep your servings of meat to 3 oz., which the American Cancer Society points out is about the same size as a deck of cards. A 3 oz. fish fillet is about the size of a checkbook. Use a smaller plate for meals to trick yourself into being satisfied with smaller servings.
Add Vegetables
Fill half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables to visually make up for eating less meat and for the health benefits. Vegetables contain essential vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, and are low in calories and fat. Eat a wide range of brightly colored vegetables, such as red peppers, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes and beets, for maximum nutrition. Two or three side dishes of individual vegetables is appealing but to save time, just stir fry a large heap of mixed vegetables.
Use Whole Grains
Whole grains are an excellent source of fiber, which makes you feel full and may help you eat less. A diet high in fiber also helps reduce your risk of developing heart disease and diabetes and keeps your bowels healthy. Make side dishes with whole-grain couscous, brown rice or whole-wheat pasta. Low-sugar bran muffins studded with fruit make a healthy dessert.
Cut Sodium
Diets high in sodium have been linked to heart disease, kidney disease and strokes, notes the Mayo Clinic. While the body needs sodium to function well, most people get too much. Keep your intake under 2,300 mg per day, and if you have high blood pressure, diabetes or kidney disease, consume 1,500 g or less of sodium per day. Use alternatives to salt to flavor your dishes, such as pepper, spices, fresh or dried herbs, chili peppers, flavored vinegars or citrus juices.
Healthy Fats
You need fat in your diet, but it's essential to keep intake levels low and to use heart-healthy fats. When recipes call for cooking oil, use minimal amounts of oils high in polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat, such as olive, canola or sunflower oils. Choose lean meats, trim visible fat and remove the skin from poultry. Eat more fish to get heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

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