Developing healthy eating habits isn’t difficult: It merely requires choosing foods that offer the best balance of nutrients for your body’s needs. Based on guidelines established by the National Academy of Sciences, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Heart Association, here are basic rules you should try to stick to in planning your daily diet.
- Keep your total fat intake at or below 30 percent of your total calories, and limit your intake of saturated fats-which contribute to high blood cholesterol levels-to no more than 10 percent of your total calories.
- Limit your intake of dietary cholesterol to no more than 300 milligrams per day.
- Get atleast 55 percent of your total daily calories from carbohydrates, preferably complex carbohydrates-the starches in grains, legumes, vegetables, and some fruits. These foods can also provide you with the 20 to 30 grams of dietary fiber that experts recomend you consume each day, as well as vitamins and minerals.
- Protein should make up only about 12 to 15 percent of your daily calories-and the protein should come from low-fat sources.
- Balance the calories you consume with the calories you expend in physical activity, to maintain a desirable body weight. The more active you are, the more you can eat to maintain the balance.
- Avoid too much sugar; it contributes to tooth decay, and many foods high in sugar are also high in fat.
- Limit your intake of sodium to no more than 2,400 milligrams per day, the equivalent of a little more than a teaspoon of salt.
- Maintain an adequate intake of vitamins and minerals-particularly of iron and calcium. And obtain your vitamins and minerals from food, not from supplements.
- If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation-no more than 1 ounce of pure alcohol a day. While some studies have linked moderate alcohol consumption with a lowered risk of heart disease, drinking alcohol beyond these limits can lead to health problems.
Given this prescribed balance of nutrients, that’s the best way to achieve it in your daily diet? As a fundamental ground rule, your diet will likely be very healthy if you avoid foods that are high in fat, refined sugar, and sodium, and eat mostly those that are high in complex carbohydrates.