It seems that the only people who try and eat healthy are those looking to lose weight, and even then, most of the time it’s a temporary change. Regardless of your weight goals, having a healthy diet has countless benefits including feeling better, being more energetic and looking great.

1. Eat the right amount of food. Most Americans and people in industrialized countries eat way too much. If you’re not trying to gain weight, this can lead to serious health problems including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Eating too little can also pose problems such as inadequate nutrient intake and muscle wasting. Use a tool such as the calorie calculator to estimate your daily calorie needs. Remember that estimations are far from perfect. Monitor your weight and make the necessary adjustments to your intake (decrease calories if you’re gaining too much weight or increase calories if you’re losing too much weight).

2. Eat healthy fats. A common misconception is that eating fat will make you fat. Fat is a macronutrient your body needs to function properly. Certain types of fat (saturated) have been associated with an increased risk of heart disease. Saturated fats are found in meat, cheese, milk, eggs and most other animal products. There are also healthy (unsaturated) fats which can actually reverse and prevent heart disease. Unsaturated fats are found in fish, oils, vegetables and nuts. A third kind is called trans fat and is man made through a chemical process that involves rearranging an unsaturated fat molecule. This type of fat is included in products that contain partially or fully hydrogenated vegetables oils (check the nutrition label). Trans fats are so unhealthy that you should completely eliminate them from your intake. How much fat should I eat each day?

3. Eat healthy carbohydrates. Lately, carbs have gotten a bad reputation and if you’ve completely cut them out of your diet, you’ll be missing out on some very important health benefits. Carbs, like fat, can be separated into two categories: simple and complex. Simple carbs are the sugars and processed wheats (white flour). These are digested quickly, give you a sugar rush followed by a crash, can lead to type 2 diabetes and promote fat storage and weight gain. Simple carbs are found in soda, candy, most junk food, white bread and white pasta and your intake should be limited. Complex carbs have some very good health benefits. Since they’re digested slowly, they give you a slow energy release, promote weight loss (because you end up eating less) and since foods that are high in these carbs are also high in fiber, they can help lower your risk of heart disease by decreasing your cholesterol levels. Fiber has also been shown to reduce the risk of colon cancer. Foods that contain complex carbs include 100% whole wheat bread and pasta, brown rice, oats, vegetables and beans. How many carbs should I eat each day?

4. Find lean sources of protein. Complete sources of protein (proteins that your body can use to build muscle) almost always come from animal products which are high in saturated fat. If you try hard enough, you can find complete proteins in foods that are much lower in saturated fat and therefore a lot healthier: poultry, fish, low fat dairy, egg substitutes. You can also use non-animal products such as beans, nuts and even bread and rice. How much protein should I eat each day?

5. Eat healthy snacks. Snacking can account for a pretty big chunk of your daily calorie intake so you shouldn’t ignore these foods just because they seem too small to matter. An ideal snack should be low in sugar, saturated fat and trans fat. Examples of healthy snacks are seeds, nuts, some frozen yogurts, fruit, sandwiches and tuna. This isn’t a complete list so get creative and check out those nutrition labels.

6. Cook more. Cooking is one of the best ways to improve the nutrition of your meals. When you eat out or buy ready-to-eat foods, you have no idea what you’re getting. These products are heavily processed which means they’re low in nutrients such as vitamins and minerals and high in simple carbs, preservatives and sodium. Excess sodium can increase your blood pressure and lead to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) over time. When you cook your own meals, you decide what goes in. You can use fresh vegetables, meats low in saturated fat and as little salt as you want.

7. Eat smaller, more frequent meals. Most people are used to eating a few large meals throughout the day. A better way of handling your intake is to eat smaller but more frequent meals. You don’t have to adjust your calorie intake at all, just spread them out evenly over an entire day. You can accomplish this by making your portions smaller during your main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and eating more healthy snacks throughout the day.

8. Enjoy your food. A lot of people skip over this last step or don’t think it’s necessary. There’s a reason why a lot of foods taste good. The reason is so we’ll enjoy them. There’s nothing wrong with eating a slice of pizza, a cookie or a cone of chocolate ice cream. The problem arises when 90% of your diet is made up of those foods. When you become an adult, you get a job and realize that to play, you need to work hard and save money. You can’t play 90% of the time. The same thing is true about your diet. You can’t have junk food make up the majority of your diet. If you’re heating healthy most of the time, a few unhealthy foods won’t have a big impact on your health. Learning balance is key.

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