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9 Essential Pillars of Healthy Eating

Illustration for article titled 9 Essential Pillars of Healthy Eatingem/em

Do you want to get healthy? What does that mean for you? For some people, the goal is something as simple, yet extraordinarily meaningful as being able to perform daily tasks without feeling exhausted. Others want to improve athletic performance, and that’s important too. If you want to meet your fitness goals, no matter what they are, eating right is extremely important. In fact, it trumps exercise. If you don’t know where to begin, keep reading.


Buy Ingredients Not Ready Made Food

Don’t be fooled by the deceptively cheap prices and convenience of ready-made foods. First of all, when you consider price per calorie or price per ounce, these foods aren’t really that inexpensive. Then there’s the fact that they are usually full of sodium, and use subpar ingredients (mechanically separated chicken anybody?). If you know how to shop the right way and are willing to spend some time in preparation, you can make whole foods as convenient as frozen dinners, canned soups, and frozen burritos.


Here’s just one example. A can of chunky vegetable soup is around two dollars per can, full of sodium and preservatives, and produces two scant servings. Now, compare it to this budget friendly lentil vegetable soup that costs nearly half as much per serving.

Eat Plants

Do you remember those divided plates school cafeterias once used to portion foods? You might even have some of your own that you use for parties or cookouts. If you plate your food like most people, I’d be willing to bet that you reserve the largest portion of meat, and that the smaller portions are left for your starch and vegetables. It’s time to switch things around in the name of healthy eating. Fill the largest portion of your plate with vegetables and fruits, and then reserve the smaller portions for lean protein and carbs such as brown rice.


The same principle applies to soups, stews, casseroles, and other one pot or pan dishes. The more vegetables the better. In fact, here are some hacks for getting more vegetables into your foods.

  • Replace half of the rice in homemade fried rice with cauliflower rice
  • Add sweet potatoes or even pureed pumpkin to chili
  • Boil carrots with potatoes to make a healthier version of mashed potatoes
  • Double the vegetables in casseroles
  • Substitute red lentils for ½ the meat in pasta dishes
  • Soak and cook dried beans and freeze in portions to add to tacos and burritos

Shop The Perimeters of The Grocery Store

As long as your grocery store is designed like most others, you will find items such as produce, organic dairy, frozen fruits and vegetables, cage free eggs, organic meat, and other healthy items on the perimeter of the store. The aisles, on the other hand, tend to house the more processed ingredients. You should spend the majority of your time and money focusing on these parts of the store.


Does this mean you should never enter the middle section of your grocery store? Of course not! Here are some notable exceptions:

  • Dried Beans, Lentils, Whole Wheat Pastas
  • Organic Vegetable Stocks
  • Canned tomatoes and salsas
  • Spices
  • Whole Wheat or Alternative Flours

Remember The Dirty Dozen

The dirty dozen is a list of produce items that you should strongly consider only consuming in their organic versions.


If you cannot afford to purchase organic foods, invest in an all natural produce wash solution and peel them if you can. The foods that are on the dirty dozen list have been found to be higher in pesticide residue or other toxins than other fruits and vegetables.

Keep this list in mind the next time you are in the produce section:

  • Apples
  • Celery
  • Bell Peppers
  • Nectarines
  • Strawberries
  • Peaches
  • Spinach
  • Grapes
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Cherry Tomatoes
  • Cherries

Be aware that this list changes each year. So, be sure to keep up with the fruits and vegetables you need to be careful of.


Eat All of The Colors

You need to eat a variety of foods in order to stay healthy. With fruits and vegetables, different nutrients and health benefits can often be associated with the color of produce. Orange fruits such as sweet potatoes and carrots tend to be high in vitamin A. Leafy green vegetables tend to have folic acid and other nutrients. The same rules apply to fruit as well. What this means is that the more color you see on your plate and in your diet throughout the day, the better off you will be.


Think there’s no way you can get all of that into your diet in one day? It’s easier than you think if you apply the following tips.

  • Throw a handful of spinach into the pan about 15 seconds before adding your breakfast scrambled eggs to the pan
  • Cut some raw celery up into your tuna salad or add a few slices of tomato to your sandwich
  • Nuke a sweet potato and top with a bit of olive oil salt and pepper for an afternoon snack
  • Stir frozen blueberries into your midnight cup of froyo

Eat Something Raw at Least Once a Day

Vegetables and fruits contain a variety of nutrients and micronutrients. Some of these are better absorbed when cooked, some work best when combined with a fat, and others are best eaten raw. Unfortunately, many of us don’t get a serving or two of raw vegetables into our diets each day. This is a shame, because there are so many health benefits to eating raw benefits.


Here’s something else to consider. If you are trying to lose weight, it has been shown that replacing a higher calorie food with a few fruit or vegetable can help. One example of this would be replacing chips with crudite when serving hummus, bean dip, or salsa. Of course, salad is always an excellent option. It’s also a great way to eat all of the colors.

Don’t Fear Fat Sodium or Cholesterol

Repeat this to yourself over and over again. “Fat is not evil. We need fat to survive.” No food is evil. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should begin cooking everything in bacon grease. What it does mean is that you can free yourself from the idea that low fat and fat-free is synonymous with healthy. It isn’t. The key is to include healthy fats into your diet via foods such as salmon and mackerel, nuts, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado.


What about salt? There are some people who need to eat reduced or even salt free diets. These are people who have kidney issues and specific types of hypertension. Most of us are okay consuming sodium in moderation.It’s also important to remember one very important fact. Salt makes things taste better. If you are trying to get healthier foods into your diet, salt can make them more palatable.

Now, let’s move on to cholesterol. One of the most maligned foods in the world is the egg. Don’t eat eggs, they will raise your cholesterol is still a common bit of advice. The truth is, dietary cholesterol does not necessarily translate into the cholesterol that wreaks havoc in your arteries.


Plan Your Meals

Lack of good planning is the enemy of healthy eating. Lack of planning results in you eating a bowl of sugary cereal for breakfast or grabbing a donut. It sends you through the drive in at lunch time. It convinces you to order pizza for dinner yet again. If you plan your meals, you be sure to get healthy meals on the table each night. The trick is to plan according to your schedule. Here are a few ideas.

  • Make Healthy ‘Lunchables’ by combining fruit, cheese, nuts, and whole grain crackers for intense work days.
  • Cook several meals at once and then freeze into portions. Simply reheat on busy nights. This tip isn’t just for dinner. There are many breakfast burrito and egg muffin recipes that are perfect for breakfast
  • One part oats, two parts yogurt and milk, and a bit of fruit can be stored in the refrigerator for overnight oats.
  • Keep bagged salad mix, canned tuna, cooked beans, and other salad ingredients on hand for quick lunches and dinners.

Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand

Make it easy to eat healthy. Always have a bowl of fruit on hand. It’s a bit pricy, but those veggie trays at your local supermarket can provide you with several days worth of healthy raw vegetables. Just take it easy on the dip. Popcorn is another great snack. Forget about the microwaved stuff. Those bags are full of toxins, and it’s so expensive. Instead, throw a couple of tablespoons into a brown lunch sack. Toss in a bit of healthy oil and salt. Seal the top of the bag by folding it over a few times. Put it on a plate, seam side down, and run the microwave on high. Keep going until the popping slows down. Voila, a healthy, cheap, whole grain snack.


Yes, there are things that can make healthy eating a challenge. You might struggle with a busy schedule, an unhealthy relationship with food, lack of funds, and a lifetime of bad habits. In the end, almost anybody can learn and adopt healthy eating habits.

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