Making healthier food choices plays a big role in your efforts to be healthy.
The following information is based on generally applicable nutrition guidelines and may not be appropriate for you if you have special dietary needs. Before making any changes in your diet or adding vitamins or supplements, always be sure to check with your health care professional.
What is a healthy diet? For most people, it's one that includes fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free/low-fat milk products, lean meats, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts. It also means choosing foods that are low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, salt, and added sugars.
More fruits and vegetables can add up to better health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 2 cups of fruit plus at least 2 to 3 cups of veggies a day for moderately active men. And at least 1½ to 2½ cups of fruit plus 2 or more cups of veggies for moderately active women. Adding them to your daily diet may reduce the risk of chronic diseases, including stroke and heart problems, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers.
Keeping cholesterol down. The American Heart Association recommends at least 2 servings of fish a week—especially fatty fish such as salmon. They're rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can help lower blood cholesterol. You'll find those same omega-3s in tofu, soybeans, and walnuts.
Vitamin B12 and potassium have their benefits. Vitamin B12 helps keep nerve and red blood cells healthy. It can be found in many fortified cereals, as well as B12 supplements. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, potassium not only helps lower blood pressure, it also helps reduce the risk of developing kidney stones and possibly decrease bone loss with age. You'll find it in leafy green and root vegetables, and fruit from vines.
Calcium and vitamin D really count. Calcium and vitamin D are important for strong bones and teeth. The ability to absorb calcium from the food we eat is highest in infancy and childhood, but decreases as we age. So getting the recommended amount matters even more to guard against the risk for thinning bones later in life. On a daily basis, adults under age 50 need 1,000 mg of calcium and adults age 50 and over need 1,200 mg of calcium. Vitamin D also can play a key role by helping the body absorb calcium. Milk and milk products, or fish such as salmon and sardines, are good sources of both.
Thinking about becoming pregnant? Women in their 20s and 30s need B-vitamin folic acid-from foods such as liver, nuts, whole-grain breads, and spinach. Folic acid can prevent up to 75% of the most common disabling birth defects. Foods high in iron also are recommended. Some good sources include vegetables, meat, poultry, eggs, and iron-fortified foods such as some cereals.
Some ways to help ease premenstrual syndrome (PMS). To help control PMS, eat complex carbohydrates (whole-grain breads, pasta and cereals, fiber, and protein) and cut back on sugar and fat. Or reduce caffeine and cut out alcohol. Avoid salt to help reduce bloating and fluid retention.
Ask your health care professional about a good diet for your needs. Looking for healthier choices? Try the Meal Planning tool or check out the Eating Well section of the site.