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Manage Your Health

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Managing your weight with healthy eating

A balanced diet

A balanced diet means you get the right types and amounts of foods and drinks to keep your body healthy. To do this, you need to:

  • Know how many calories you should consume every day.
  • Know what size portions you should eat to meet your body’s needs, without getting too much of some and not enough of others.
  • Stock up on healthy foods. Toss high-calorie, low-nutrition foods like chips and candy. Keep healthy snacks on hand.
  • Choose a variety of healthy foods from each of the food groups. Eat foods from each group at every meal.

Here are some ideas about how to choose the right foods.

Protein (meats and beans)


  • Turkey or chicken with the skin removed
  • Bison (buffalo meat)
  • Lean cuts of beef or pork, such as round, top sirloin, tenderloin. Trim away any visible fat.
  • Fish or shellfish

Other good sources of protein are:

  • Pinto beans, black beans, kidney beans, lentils, split peas, or garbanzo beans
  • Nuts and seeds, including almonds, hazelnuts, mixed nuts, peanuts, peanut butter, sunflower seeds, walnuts. But watch how much you eat as these are high in calories.
  • Tofu, tempeh, and other soy-protein products

Do not eat more than four eggs per week. Although they are a good source of protein and low in saturated fat, eggs are very high in cholesterol. Try recipes with egg whites only.

Milk (dairy products)

This group includes products made from milk.

Always choose fat-free (skim) or low-fat (1%) dairy products whenever you can. Healthy choices from this food group are:

  • Cheese: both hard cheeses and soft cheeses, such as ricotta or cottage cheese
  • Milk or buttermilk
  • Yogurt, fat-free or low-fat, regular or frozen
  • Ice milk or low-fat ice cream

Consume 3 cups per day of fat-free or low-fat milk or milk products. Items such as cream cheese, cream, or butter do not count as healthy dairy products.

Grains, cereals, and fiber

Grain products include any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain. Foods made with grains include pasta, oatmeal, breads, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits.

Grains are divided into either whole grains or refined grains. One part of healthy eating is to choose mostly whole-grain products.

Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. They are much healthier for you. Examples of whole grains are whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. To make sure you are buying or eating whole-grain products, look for words such as whole grain or whole wheat.

Choose foods such as:

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Wild or brown rice
  • Whole-grain barley
  • Millet
  • Quinoa
  • Sorghum

Refined grains have been changed to make them last longer and give them a finer texture. But this process takes out fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Examples of refined grains include white flour, white rice, or what is called degermed cornmeal.

Limit foods items that are often made with refined grains, such as:

  • Flour and flour tortillas, crackers, corn tortillas, and pretzels
  • Noodles and pasta, such as spaghetti or macaroni
  • Most ready-to-eat breakfast cereals
  • White bread, sandwich buns, and rolls
  • White rice

Whenever possible, choose whole-grain products over products made from refined grains.

Products with added bran, such as oat bran or bran cereal, are a good source of fiber. Just remember that they may not be whole-grain products.

Oils and fats

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature. Most of these oils are high in monounsaturated or polyunsaturated fats. This is the best type of oil to use in cooking or preparing foods.

Many healthy oils come from plants, nuts, olives, and some fish. Some healthy oils are:

  • Canola
  • Corn
  • Cottonseed
  • Olive
  • Safflower
  • Soybean
  • Sunflower

Solid fats are solid at room temperature. All of these contain saturated fats. Saturated fats are much less healthy for your heart, blood vessels, and other parts of your body. Saturated fats often also contain cholesterol.

Saturated fats may be found in some foods. They also may be man-made.

Fats found in animals and some fish are higher in saturated fats.

  • Trans fats and hydrogenated fats may be found in fried foods. They are also in some commercial baked goods such as donuts, cookies, and crackers. Many processed foods and margarines also have them..
  • Some vegetable oils -- coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils -- also have saturated fats. These fats are solid at room temperature.

Ways to reduce saturated fats in your diet:

  • Eat only a small amount of egg yolks, hard cheeses, whole milk, cream, ice cream, butter, and fatty meats (or large portions of meats).
  • Broil, grill, poach, and bake fish, chicken, and lean meats.
  • Choose lean protein foods -- soy, fish, skinless chicken, very lean meat, and fat-free or 1% dairy products.
  • Avoid frying food. Fried food absorbs the fats from cooking oils. This increases your fat intake. If you do fry, use polyunsaturated oils, such as corn oil.
  • Read food labels. Avoid foods that have saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, or trans fats.

Fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables are lower in calories than the foods above. They are also packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables can help you control your weight. It may also reduce your risk of cancer and other diseases.

Because fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and water, they fill you up. Replace high-calorie foods with fruits and vegetables. This can help reduce the amount of calories and fat in your diet without making you feel hungry. Do not overdo it with fruits though because they do contain calories.

  • Add a fruit to breakfast and vegetables to lunch (lettuce and tomato on your sandwich, baby carrots on the side, or a large bowl of vegetable soup). This is a great way to get full on fewer calories.
  • Add more cooked vegetables to dinner with a salad and or soup. This causes you to get full on less calories. It is also easily digestible, which is important if you are going to sleep within 2 - 4 hours of sleeping.

Eat 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables (5 servings) per day for an average 2,000-calorie per day diet. Many fruits and vegetables have 100 or fewer calories a serving:

  • 1 cup grapes - 100 calories
  • 1 cup broccoli - 30 calories
  • One medium-sized apple - 72 calories
  • 1 cup carrots - 45 calories
  • 1 cup cantaloupe pieces - 55 calories

A few tips for adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet:

  • Divide your dinner plate into quarters. Fill up two quarters (half) with fruits and vegetables. Fill the other two quarters with whole grains and meat.
  • Replace half of the cheese in your omelet with spinach, onions, tomatoes, or mushrooms.
  • Replace 2 ounces of cheese and 2 ounces of meat in your sandwich with lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, or onions.
  • Add chopped broccoli, tomatoes, squash, onions, or green peppers to your dishes instead of pasta or rice. Use frozen or canned vegetables if you don’t have fresh.
  • When you feel hungry during the day, don’t grab cookies or other unhealthy snacks. Instead, eat a handful of baby carrots or an apple.
  • Choose fresh fruit for dessert rather than cookies, cake, or pudding.

For more information, see:

Review Date: 11/25/2010
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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