How to Eat for a Six Pack (YEAR ROUND!)
The Smart Way to Fill Your Plate
Eating your daily requirement of essential nutrients doesn’t just ward off disease — it also boosts your energy and mood, helping you feel your best every day. But what food groups and how much should you eat to be sure you're getting the nutrients you need? It all starts with your plate.
Plate at the Ready
In 2011, First Lady Michelle Obama and officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) introduced a new tool called MyPlate to help Americans eat a healthier diet. The compartmentalized plate icon that’s part of the initiative makes it easy to determine how much of each food group you should be eating.
Per the USDA guidelines, you should create a healthy foundation for every meal by filling half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Divide the remaining half between a serving of grains — preferably whole grains — and a serving of lean protein. A serving of low-fat or fat-free dairy rounds out each meal.
You don’t need a special plate to use the MyPlate method, says Karyn Duggan, CNC, a certified nutrition consultant with One Medical Group in San Francisco. A regular dinner plate is about 10 inches in diameter, which means your food should fill about 8 inches or so. Using a smaller plate may be helpful if you are trying to eat smaller portions. Of course, serving sizes vary based on gender, age, level of physical activity, and body type.
Fuel up With Healthy Choices
Here, Duggan suggests how to vary the foods you choose within each food group to get a wide range of essential nutrients in your diet:
- Vegetables.When choosing veggies, think of it as sampling the rainbow — different colors indicate different nutrients. Try leafy greens such as spinach and kale, vibrant reds like tomatoes and peppers, and every shade in between. Crunchy options such as carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, celery, and zucchini are great eaten raw. Fulfill a craving for starches with high-fiber options such as butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
- Fruits.If possible, pick a rainbow when choosing fruits too. Select yellow pineapple and bananas to the reds and blues of various types of berries to green apples and kiwi. Fruit also makes a great snack when you’re craving something sweet.
- Protein.When it comes to picking protein for your plate, options abound. Lean meat, seafood, skinless poultry, beans and peas, eggs, nuts, and soy products are all nutrient-rich protein sources. The USDA guidelines recommend eating at least two servings of seafood, a high-quality protein choice, each week.
- Grains.Bread, cereal, pasta, oats, rice, barley, and other grains fall into this category. Duggan recommends whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole-grain basmati rice, bulgur, and millet. Refined grains — white bread and pasta, as opposed to whole-wheat varieties — are processed to have a finer texture and longer shelf life, but a lot of the nutritional value is removed. The USDA recommends that at least half of your grains be whole grains.
- Dairy.Opt for low-fat or fat-free dairy selections (milk, cheese, yogurt) to get your dairy requirement. Choose lactose-free or soy options if you have sensitivities.
- Fats.Not technically a food group, healthy fats do provide essential nutrients and can come in lots of shapes and sizes, Duggan says. “They could be part of your protein — for example, wild salmon or mackerel — or part of your vegetable intake in the form of avocados, nuts, seeds, or olive oil (or another healthy, delicious oil, such as that of hazelnut or walnut).” On average, when it comes to oil, stick to no more than 6 teaspoons a day from all sources to limit fat intake, suggests the USDA.
Schedule Snack Time
Snacking is a good way to maintain your energy level throughout the day, plus healthy snacks help curb hunger and prevent overeating at mealtimes. Duggan encourages her clients to eat something every four to five hours.
You can also use snacks as a way to fill the gap when food groups are missing from your meals. Just avoid those filled with empty calories, which come from sugar and unhealthy fats.
Duggan’s go-to snacks include:
- Almond butter with an apple
- Peanut butter with celery
- Sunflower seeds with blueberries
- Greek yogurt with berries
- Hard-boiled egg
Step up to Supplements
More than half of the adults in the United States take dietary supplements to achieve better health, according to a report published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
While eating a healthy diet can help you get the essential nutrients you need, you may at times have nutritional gaps that may need to be filled by supplements. Also, if you have certain health conditions, such as food allergies or a weakened immune system, a supplement can help ensure you are getting all the nutrients you need, Duggan says. Just remember to talk to your doctor before taking any supplements on your own because some may negatively interact with medications you may be taking.
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