7 Principles of Healthy Eating

The remedy for eating better isn’t deprivation, blandness, or a rigid diet―it’s incorporating good habits into your life.

By Sally Solo
Pita bread with bean sprouts, onion, and can of tunafishCon Poulos


5. Watch those portions. Even as you try to eat foods that are loaded with nutrients, pay attention to the overall amount you consume. Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, explains that people have three measures of satiety: starving, could eat more, and full. "Most of the time, we're in the middle," he says. "We're neither hungry nor full, but if something is put in front of us, we'll eat it." He suggests announcing out loud, "I'm not really hungry, but I'm going to eat this anyway." This could be enough to deter you, or to inspire you to eat less.

Restaurants bring challenges, because portions are huge and tend to be high in fat and sodium. "Eating out has become a big part of our diet, about a third of our calories," says Wootan. "When eating out, we should apply the same strategies we do at home―not on your birthday, but on a Tuesday night when there's no time to cook." One strategy: Share an entrée. You'll eat a healthier portion size and also save money.

6. Eat, don't drink, your calories. Beverages don't fill you up in the same way that foods do: Studies have shown that people eat the same amount whether or not they wash down their food with a 150-calorie drink. And most beverages don't contribute many nutrients.

In fact, all you really need is water, says Barry Popkin, head of the division of nutrition epidemiology at the School of Public Health at the University of North Carolina, in Chapel Hill. "In a historical context," says Popkin, aside from breast milk, "we drank only water in the first 190,000 years of our existence.

7. Limit packaged foods and read labels. Many nutritionists recommend shopping the perimeter of a supermarket, where fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are usually sold, and avoiding highly processed foods, which tend to be found in boxes in the center aisles. But you may find it hard to resist the core of the store, with its convenient treats and processed foods. Just be aware that three-quarters of the sodium and most of the trans fats and added sugar Americans ingest come from packaged foods.

The trick is to turn a blind eye to all the enticing claims on the fronts of packages―low-fat, low-net-carbs, zero trans fats!―as some are empty, some are unregulated, and some are misleading. Instead, cast a critical eye over the nutrition-facts box. Look first at calories, saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium. Saturated fat and sodium are presented in grams and milligrams, respectively, and as a percentage of the recommended limit of what we should eat in a day; calories and trans fats are listed simply as amounts. If the numbers seem high, check out a few competing products to see if you can do better. Note that you may need to multiply if there's more than one serving in a package and you realistically expect to eat two or three servings. Also read the figures for fiber, magnesium, potassium, calcium, and vitamins A, C, and E. These are the nutrients you need to be eating more of every day.

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