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Eating for Optimal Health

You are what you eat, in more ways than one. Subsisting on fat-laden fries, sugar-filled drinks, and salt-packed convenience foods can leave you sluggish and weak. You drag all day, hit an afternoon slump and your body immediately demands more sugar for energy. Enjoying a variety of vitamin-, mineral-, and fiber-packed foods, on the other hand, builds a strong body and allows you to power effortlessly through the day. A well-balanced diet can also help you fight off colds, daily stressors and disease.

  • Nutrition Basics
  • Sample Menu
  • Putting Ideas into Action

Nutrition Basics

Don't Skip Meals
Missing meals on a regular basis is a bad idea no matter what your reason. No time? Make time. Trying to lose weight? This won't work. Skipping meals leads to overeating later in the day. In addition, the body becomes very efficient to prevent starvation. Translation: your metabolism slows down and stores more fat. Finally, without the continuous energy food supplies, you become run down and more susceptible to sickness. The solution: During the day try to eat every 3 to 4 hours. That means breakfast, perhaps a snack, lunch, a snack, and dinner.

Eat Breakfast
Certainly every meal is important, but the first meal after a long night's rest is crucial in many ways. It's the first shot of energy to rev you up and get your day started. It's a great opportunity to eat your first servings of calcium-rich dairy foods, fruits, and whole grains--common ingredients in morning meals. A good breakfast also helps you steer clear of high fat/sugar vending machine fillers.

Eat Protein With Your Carbs
No need to avoid carbs altogether, just don't over do it. Pairing protein-rich foods with your carbs makes this task easier. Carbohydrates provide much-needed energy to your body; however they are digested quickly leaving you feeling hungry soon after eating. Bagels and muffins for breakfast, candy bar snacks and large portions of pasta and rice at lunch and dinner become an unending cycle resulting in hunger pangs and the need for a pick-me-up. Proteins digest more slowly therefore you feel satisfied longer. The solution: Enjoy complex carbs in moderate amounts and along with low-fat protein. Instead of a bagel and cream cheese, try an English muffin with peanut butter. Instead of a candy bar, how about dried cranberries and almonds. Instead of a big bowl of pasta, dish out three-quarters a cup of pasta along with a grilled chicken breast.

Break Down Your Dish
Chances are your dinner (or lunch) plate looks a bit like this: a pile of meat, chicken, or fish and a pile of rice, potatoes, or pasta and on a good day maybe a smidgen of veggies or a salad on the side. Well its time to put your math skills to work. Divide your plate into three parts. One quarter is for the protein of the meal--meat, chicken, beans, etc.--three ounces or about the size of the palm of your hand. One quarter is for the starchy foods--rice, potato, corn, etc.--about a half cup. And the remaining half should be loaded up with fruits and veggies. With the exception of the starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes, veggies can be eaten as often as and as much as you want. They help fill you up but contribute few calories.
This menu is based on the needs of a 140-pound, lightly active woman.

One hard boiled egg, 2 slices 100% whole wheat toast with a teaspoon of tub margarine, a half cup of sliced strawberries, 6-ounces of low-fat yogurt, and a cup of tea

Two cups of salad (lettuce, tomato, cucumber, carrot, etc.) topped with 2 ounces of sliced turkey, 2 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese, and 3 tablespoons of low-fat balsamic vinaigrette dressing, with 6 whole wheat crackers (such as Triscuits), a plum and an 8-ounce glass of skim milk

4 ounces salmon sauteed in a tablespoon of olive oil and brushed with 2 tablespoons of teriyaki sauce, a cup of steamed broccoli, a half cup of quick-to-cook brown rice (such as Uncle Ben's Ready Rice), and an 8-ounce glass of skim milk


3 tablespoons of cashews mixed with 3 tablespoons of raisins
A fat-free chocolate pudding snack cup

Nutrition Information:
1784 calories, 60 grams of fat, 12 grams of saturated fat, 95 grams protein, 2800 milligrams of sodium, 237 grams of carbohydrates, 23 grams of fiber
Putting Ideas into Action
Not only is eating every meal important, snacks help prevent over-hunger which leads to over-eating. This sample day includes 2 snacks. When you eat them depends on your mealtimes. For example, if you have an early breakfast and late lunch, a mid-morning snack is for you. Not crazy about nuts and dried fruit? How about an apple with peanut butter or cheese and crackers. Both give you the needed protein/carb mix to satisfy you and tide you over until mealtime.

This day starts with a serving from almost every food group to fill you with fiber, vitamins and minerals. Not into breakfast foods? A turkey sandwich, an orange and a glass of milk gives you the same benefits as the more traditional breakfast fare.

Each of these meals provides a balanced mix of protein and carbs, as well as meats, starches and veggies/fruit. But there's many ways to achieve those goals. Try a slice of pizza and a salad on the side, with some yogurt mixed with a half cup of blueberries. Or, a cup of tuna noodle casserole with steamed carrots and a glass of milk.

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