Healthy Eating Habits: How to Get Them Right
We have all grown up to dicta like “leafy vegetables are good for you”, or “you need to eat legumes for enough protein and fiber”. They are also backed by science. Food, nutrition, and lifestyle researchers have come up with innumerable evidence on healthy eating habits leading to a healthy life.
A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine reported that following a healthy lifestyle may reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular diseases by 80%. Similarly, adopting a healthy diet may also help you prevent chronic diseases like cancer and diabetes.
It’s imperative therefore, to adopt the habit of a balanced diet as early as possible. Let’s check out how to build healthy eating habits.
7 ways to build healthy eating habits
Building healthy eating habits might seem tough until you actually begin to adopt them. Here are the most common healthy eating habits that you may incorporate in your day-to-day life:
1. Pick carbs that digest slowly
Carbohydrates exist in two major forms: simple and complex. The rate at which they release glucose into the bloodstream after digestion is termed glycemic index (GI). The higher the glycemic index, the faster the breakdown of the food in our body and also the release of glucose into the blood. This can lead to feeling hungry very quickly after eating a meal due to the blood sugar plummeting as quickly as it had risen.
Foods with a high glycemic index, i.e., processed and refined products such as junk food, fruit juices, table sugar, refined wheat flour, etc. increase blood sugar and insulin levels that may over time lead to excess consumption, leading to excess weight and thereby a host of metabolic disorders (like type-2 diabetes, PCOS) and infertility.
On the other hand, complex, slowly digested carbohydrates present in fresh fruits, whole grains, millets, etc. might improve your gut health, and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases and type-2 diabetes.
Check out this chart to find out about the GI of various foods to make a healthy choice.
|Dairy products||GI||Legumes||GI||Snack products||GI||Sugars||GI|
|Milk, full fat||39 ± 3||Chickpeas||28 ± 9||Chocolate||40 ± 3||Fructose||15 ± 4|
|Milk, skim||37 ± 4||Kidney beans||24 ± 4||Popcorn||65 ± 5||Sucrose||65 ± 4|
|Ice cream||51 ± 3||Lentils||32 ± 5||Potato crisps||56 ± 3||Glucose||103 ± 3|
|Yogurt, fruit||41 ± 2||Soya beans||16 ± 1||Soft drink/soda||59 ± 3||Honey||61 ± 3|
2. Consume lean sources of protein
Protein is the building block of your body. Ideally, a healthy adult requires 0.8g-1g protein/kg body weight to build adequate muscles and support body functions. Dietary protein sources vary from plant-based to animal-based and algal proteins (spirulina).
Lean protein sources like chicken, eggs, fish, tofu, and sprouts are healthier choices as compared to fatty sources like red meats (beef, lamb, pork, mutton, goat).
3. Choose healthy fats over unhealthy ones
The concept of all fats being unhealthy is a myth. Fats are an integral part of our hormones, cells, and various metabolic reactions. They are essential for the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K. Hence, fat consumption is important. But it is the type of fat you consume that makes the difference.
Consuming healthy fats like mono and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats through nuts, oil seeds, coconut, avocado, fatty fish, etc. is beneficial for your health. They may reduce your total blood cholesterol and elevate the levels of HDL (good) cholesterol.
Foods like deep fried foods, ultra processed packaged foods made with hydrogenated oil consist of trans fats. They may elevate the levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol, and increase your risk of developing gallstones, type-II diabetes. Hence, it is recommended to limit them or avoid them completely.
Also read: Dietary Fats: How to Choose Right and Eat Smart
4. Eat more fruits
Fruits are a complete package of essential vitamins and minerals along with dietary fibers and water. For instance, a single mango consists of 1.8g dietary fiber, i.e., 4.5% Daily Value (DV) (for 2,000kcal diet). Similarly, a cup of freshly diced papaya is packed with 43mg of vitamin C that makes up to 50%-52% DV for a healthy adult.
Consume 1-1.5 servings of fruits (80g-120g) per day to keep up with your nutrient intake. Prepare fruit salads, add them to your smoothies, or have them whole as your evening snack. You can include a variety of colorful, fresh, frozen, or dried fruits in your diet as part of your healthy eating habits. Make sure you include a lot of fruits in your grocery shopping list.
5. Consume more vegetables
Vegetables are a good source of dietary fibers, antioxidants, and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). An adult should consume 3-4 servings (300g-350g) of vegetables per day. You can prepare fresh salads, soups, stews, vegetable curries (sabzis), or add them to your wraps, mixed rice, and lentil preparations (khichdi), to meet your daily vegetable intake.
6. Stay hydrated
Our body requires water for almost every biochemical reaction. Lack of water in the body may lead to dehydration that affects almost every system of your body — right from the kidney, gastro intestinal and urinary tracts, to cognitive functions. WHO recommends an average daily intake of 2.2L water for females and 2.5L for males. Consume low-calorie beverages like water, black tea, herbal tea, buttermilk, etc. over sugar-sweetened or alcoholic beverages to maintain your fluid intake.
7. Watch your salt intake
Salt is considered an important ingredient when it comes to flavoring food. The sodium present in salt plays a major role in maintaining electrolyte balance in the body. The RDA of salt is 5g/day (i.e., 1 teaspoon). To avoid overconsumption of salt, you can check nutritional labels while opting for packaged or processed foods, avoiding foods with less than 100mg of sodium per 100gm . You can also use herbs and spices for flavoring your food to lower the use of table salt.
Tips to maintain healthy eating habits
Now that you know about healthy eating habits, here are some tips that will help you maintain them effectively.
1. Mindful eating
Mindful eating is a concept that refers to a state where you are non-judgmental and 100% aware of the food that you consume. Here are some simple tips you can follow under this practice:
a. Stay away from distractions like TV, social media, or any sort of entertainment while having your food. Turn off electronic devices during your meals, if possible
b. Focus on the feeling that the food gives you once you ingest it
c. Chew your food thoroughly (at least 30 times)
d. Eat slowly and stop eating as soon as you feel that your stomach is 3/4th full
2. Portion control
Portion control can help manage your overeating tendencies. You can use the following techniques:
a. Choose smaller plates and bowls
b. Divide your dinner plate to get a portion guide. Fill half of it with vegetables, one-fourth with grains, the remaining with legumes, pulses, meat, or eggs, and add a tablespoon of healthy fats (nuts, oilseeds, nut butter, etc.)
c. Ask for half portions when you are eating out, to maintain your portion control habit
Also read: Portion Control: Get Smart About How Much You Eat
3. Have 5-6 balanced meals a day
A balanced meal consists of three food groups — a quarter of carbohydrate-rich foods, a quarter of protein-rich foods, and half of the meal made up of vegetables and fruits. The amount of fats like oil, butter, nuts, oilseeds, etc. is not more than one tablespoon. Here are some examples of balanced meals:
|Egg toast||Egg, multigrain bread, vegetables (tomatoes, onions, coriander, capsicum, carrots, etc.)||1 large (50g), 1 slice (30g), ½ bowl (50g-60g) |
3-4 slices (40g-50g)
|Bean wrap||Baked beans, chopped vegetables, multigrain roti, coriander and mint chutney||1 bowl (30g), ¾ bowl (60g-70g), 1 medium-sized (30g), 2 tablespoons (10g)|
|Mixed rice and lentil preparation (khichdi)||Lentils (raw), rice (raw), vegetables||1/2 bowl (20g), 1/2 bowl (30g), 1 bowl (50g)|
4. Select smart snack options
Adopting smart snacking is essential if you wish to eat healthily. Consume low-calorie, high-fiber, or high-protein snacks that will make you feel satiated for longer. Here are some smart snack options for you:
a. A bowl of fresh fruit salad with a tablespoon of roasted flaxseeds
b. A bowl of sprout salad
c. A cup of carrot sticks with 1-2 tablespoons of hummus, a boiled egg with a cup of mixed vegetable salad, instant chickpea flour (besan) and vegetable pancakes, and so on.
5. Don’t weigh yourself daily
Our weight may fluctuate daily depending on water intake, sleep, stress, and many other factors. If you are on a weight loss journey or trying to maintain your weight, weighing yourself daily may get demotivating. You might weigh more on one day and less on another; this not necessarily a reflection of fat gain. But you might get stressed on days that you weigh more, which in turn can affect your healthy eating behaviors.
6. Join a like-minded community
A community can help you keep up with your motivation for healthy eating. You can find like-minded people, or join a virtual community on social media. Opting for a wellness membership can also help you meet like-minded people. Keep in touch with them on a regular basis, share your experience, and listen to theirs. This will help you stick to your healthy eating routine.
Healthy eating habits are simple but might seem hard to sustain. You might need different tricks to stick to these habits. It’s all about eating smart. Remember, every small step is a leap forward to achieving your fitness goals.
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