The basics of nutrition in 8 parts

January 22, 2013

Lisa G. Jing

Healthy eating habits are at the core of a healthy lifestyle. With so much information out there, deciding what to eat, how much to eat, and when to eat can be confusing. This First Shots blog will offer some simple guidelines to get you started on creating healthy eating habits that will serve you for a lifetime.

Let's begin with a working definition of nutrition: healthful eating emphasizing portion control and consumption of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, whole grains, and foods that are minimally processed and low in saturated fats. Let's break down this definition and briefly examine some of the components.

1 Food groups Foods can be grouped into three main categories: protein, fat, and carbohydrate. Many diet programs will emphasize one or more of these categories to the exclusion of the others. I'm a strong believer that a balanced approach is best for most people.

2 Keep it colorful  The natural colors of fruits and vegetables indicate the presence of various nutrients, so the more color the better. Choose from among the familiar options and try some new varieties at your local farmer's market or grocer as well.

3 Portion control is critical  Simply monitoring the amount of food you eat is one of the best ways to control your weight. A healthy portion is one cupped handful of fruits, vegetables, and grains, and a protein portion is about the size and thickness of the palm of your hand. This measurement is easy to remember and proportional to your size and gender.

4 Small meals and strategic snacking Eat three small meals every day. Imagine your plate as a peace sign with one portion of protein, two portions of fruits / vegetables, and two portions of whole grains at every meal. Include healthy, strategic snacking between meals so that you never go longer than three to four hours without eating. Healthy snacks are nuts, a piece of fruit, veggies, protein bars, a single serving tub of yogurt, etc. This kind of healthy snacking helps you maintain a constant supply of energy while boosting your metabolism to work more efficiently.

5 Healthy fats All fats are not created equal. Unsaturated fats and oils are actually necessary for optimal health, so feel free to consume in moderation without guilt. It's the saturated fats that you need to be careful of.

6 Stay close to nature Seek out organic produce, meats, grains, and dairy whenever possible. Avoid pesticides and anything artificial (flavoring, preservatives, colorings). These have no nutritive value and are risky at best for human consumption. Stay away from highly processed, manufactured, or genetically modified food! A basic rule of thumb is to refrain from eating foods that didn't exist when our grandparents were young.

7 Read labels Know what you're eating by getting in the habit of reading food labels on all packaged products. Compare the nutritive qualities of different brands and choose wisely.

8 Get personal Each person has unique needs based on age, gender, and health status. If you have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity, hypertension, or metabolic syndrome (a combination of the above), I encourage you to consult a certified nutritionist for a personalized program designed to meet your specific needs and health goals.

Lisa G. Jing is Founder/CEO of Synergy at Work, Inc., a consulting/training firm dedicated to transforming the workplace into an environment where people are their whole and best selves. She is a corporate health and wellness consultant with an M.A. in counseling psychology from Loyola Marymount University.

Originally published Jan 22, 2013 10:00:05 AM.