Healthy Eating Guidelines:
Understanding Nutrition Data and Healthy Eating

healthy eating guidelines

Luckily, it is not difficult to follow some basic healthy eating guidelines in order to see your health improve, simply by substituting some healthier choices for many of the foods you already enjoy.

Our healthy eating guidelines will show you how to understand the nutrition data on a nutrition label, and explain the benefits of healthy eating, and touch on some of the foods to avoid. This will help you to create a healthy diet plan and make healthy food choices when shopping for food.

What is Healthy Eating?

Basic healthy eating guidelines are simple really: Consume a wide variety of whole, fresh, unprocessed foods in moderate amounts, including meat, fish, dairy, vegetables, and grains. Oddly enough, finding these foods is becoming more difficult, and many people don't know what “real food” actually is any more.

When you look at the food, or at the nutrition label on a package, how much of it is actually a naturally occurring food? Chemicals, preservatives and additives are not foods, they are substances used by manufacturers to make their products cost-effective. These substances extend shelf life, add flavor, color or texture to food, add individual nutrients, or just add empty “filler” to make it seem that you are getting more for your money.

How to Read a Nutrition Label

healthy eating guidelines label

When reading the nutrition label the first thing you should look at is the serving size. Be aware that what you consider a “serving size” and what the manufacturer does could be very different things. Portion distortion is increasingly common. For instance, a serving size of cereal is usually ¾ of a cup. I know very few people who eat only ¾ of a cup of cereal in the morning.

All the nutrition data that follows on the nutrition label is based on that serving size, so if you in fact eat closer to 1½ cups of cereal, you will need to double the nutrition data numbers to know how much of each item you are getting, such as calories, the amount of fat, sugar, fiber, and various vitamins and minerals.

The “% daily value” on the nutrition label tells you how much of the recommended daily nutritional values you are getting in one serving of the food, based on a 2,000 calorie per day diet. Some people require more or fewer daily calories based upon their age and level of activity, so be sure to take this into account.

Many processed foods are very high in sodium, which increases your risk of high blood pressure. However, a low salt diet is not necessarily the answer. Just look for unsalted foods and add your own salt to your food, if you like, in the form of natural sea salt that is more than pure sodium. Natural sea salt maintains its nutritional values as it has not had the important minerals stripped out in the manufacturing process, which allows the body to more easily make use of sodium.

To meet healthy eating guidelines, sodium should count for only 5% of a food's daily value.

As a general guideline, you can figure how much of each ingredient is included by the order in which they are listed on the nutrition label. Ingredients in the highest amounts are listed first, even if it's only water, and descend in percentage from there. For instance, many kids' breakfast cereals list sugar as the first ingredient, meaning that sugar is the primary ingredient above all else. No wonder so many children are considered hyperactive!

Healthy Eating Means Avoiding Refined Foods

Sugar is “disguised” under many names, as we discuss in Facts About Sugar, though some forms of it are worse than others. Be wary of any ingredients where the word ends in “ose” or “tol”. For example, among some different forms of sugar there are: dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, fruit juice concentrate, galactose, lactose, polydextrose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, maltodextrin and turbinado sugar. Unrefined sugars are the healthiest, such as organic sugar, maple syrup and honey.

healthy eating honey

In general, the less packaging a food has, the more real it is. Processing plant or animal foods usually removes nutrients and adds chemicals. The less processed food you eat, the better. The number and type of foods on the nutrition label will indicate how much the food is processed. One of the easiest healthy eating guidelines to follow is that if there is a long list of ingredients that you can't pronounce, put it down and buy something else.

Bread, for example, should be simple. The only ingredients should be flour (preferably whole grain), water, yeast and salt. That's it! However, many mass produced loaves of bread also include some or most of the following: mono and diglycerides, calcium proprionate, benzoyl peroxide, tricalcium phosphate, calcium sulfate, ammonium chloride, magnesium carbonate, calcium propionate, potassium bromate and partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats). These are included in mass manufactured breads to make them uniform in texture and color and extend shelf life. Unfortunately this is at the expense of your health.

By following these simple healthy eating guidelines you can easily make great strides in improving your general health and the health of your family and discover the benefits of healthy eating!

You may also be interested in:

Facts About Sugar

Foods to Avoid

Portion Distortion

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