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How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet Pattern?

How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet Pattern?

The American Heart Association recommends a healthy eating pattern that emphasizes vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It includes skinless poultry, fish and legumes (beans, peas and lentils); nontropical vegetable oils; and nuts and seeds. Limit your intake of sodium, sweets, sugars-weetened beverages and red and processed meats. Everything you eat and drink is part of your diet pattern. Make healthy choices today and they’ll add up to healthier tomorrows for you!


• Eat a variety of colors and types, especially deeply colored vegetables, such as spinach, carrots and broccoli.

• All vegetables count, including fresh, frozen, canned or dried. Look for vegetables canned in water. For frozen vegetables, choose those without high-calorie sauces or added sodium or sugars.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: 2 cups raw leafy greens; 1 cup cut-up raw or cooked vegetables (about the size of a fist); or 1 cup 100% vegetable juice (no salt added).


• Unsweetened fruits are best. Eat a variety of colors and types, especially deeply colored fruits, such as peaches and berries.

• Eat whole fruits to get all the nutrients (such as dietary fiber) that can be missing in some juices.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: 1 medium fruit (about the size of a baseball); ¼ cup unsweetened dried fruit; ½ cup fresh, frozen or canned fruit (unsweetened frozen or canned in its own juice or water); or ½ cup 100% fruit juice.

• For beverages, look for 100% fruit juice. Avoid sugarsweetened beverages. They’re high in calories and low in nutrients.

Whole grains

• At least half of your servings should be high-fiber whole grains. Select items like whole-wheat bread, wholegrain crackers and brown rice. Look at the ingredients list to see that the first ingredient is a whole grain.

• Aim for about 25 grams of fiber from foods each day. Check the Nutrition Facts label for dietary fiber content.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: 1 slice bread; ½ cup hot cereal; 1 cup cereal flakes; or ½ cup cooked rice or pasta (about the size of a baseball).

Protein foods

• Mix up your protein sources. Beyond fish, poultry and lean or extra-lean meats, try eggs and soy products, such as tofu.

• Eat at least 8 ounces of non-fried fish (particularly fatty fish) each week. Fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, herring, lake trout, sardines and albacore tuna, are high in omega-3 fatty acids.

• Remove skin from poultry before eating.

• Trim all visible fat from meats before cooking.

• Limit processed red meats, such as bacon, salami, ham, hot dogs and sausage.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: 2 egg whites; ¾ cup cooked, flaked fish; or half a chicken breast. A 3-ounce portion is about the size of a deck of playing cards.

Nuts, seeds and legumes

• Add many different types of beans (black, kidney, pinto, cannellini and navy, for examples) to your soups, salads and pasta dishes.

• Try sprinkling unsalted, dry-roasted nuts over your salads. Use nuts in stir-fries. Stir them into yogurt.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: ½ ounce unsalted nuts; ½ ounce unsalted seeds; ½ cup cooked legumes (beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils); or 1 tablespoon low-sodium or no-salt-added peanut butter

Low-fat or fat-free dairy products

• Use low-fat (1%) and fat-free milk. 2% milk is not low fat.

• Choose low-fat or fat-free yogurt with no added sugars.

• Choose low-fat or fat-free cottage cheese. Look for the lowest sodium product you can find.

• Cheeses (low-fat or fat-free) should have no more than 3 grams of fat per ounce and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per ounce.

• Examples of a portion per serving are: 1 cup milk or yogurt or 1½ ounces fat-free or low-fat cheese (about the size of 3 stacked dice).

How Do I Understand The "Nutrition Facts" Label?

Most foods in the grocery store have a Nutrition Facts label and ingredient list. When you go grocery shopping, take time to read the Nutrition Facts labels on the foods you purchase. Compare the nutrients and calories in one food to those in another. The information may surprise you. Make sure you aren’t buying foods high in calories, saturated fat, trans fat, sodium and added sugars!

What information is on the Nutrition Facts label?

The Nutrition Facts label contains this information:

• Serving size — tells you how much of the food is considered a “serving.” A package may contain multiple servings. Servings per container will tell you the total number of servings in a package or container. If you eat more or less than the serving size listed, you need to do the math to figure out the amount of nutrients and number of calories you’ve eaten.

• Calories — tell you how much energy is in the food. It’s important to pay attention to calories if you’re trying to lose weight or manage your weight.

• Total Fat — is the amount of fat found in one serving of the food. Total fat includes the amount of “bad fats” (saturated and trans) and “good fats” (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated). Fat is higher in calories than protein or carbohydrates. So, cutting back on your fat intake will help you reduce the number of calories you eat.

• Saturated Fat — is considered a “bad” fat. Eating too much can raise your cholesterol level (and LDL or bad cholesterol) and your risk of heart disease and stroke. Limit your saturated fat intake to less than 5 to 6% of your total calories. For a person who needs 2,000 calories a day, this is 120 calories or less, or about 13 grams of saturated fat.

•Trans Fat – is also considered a “bad fat” because it can raise your LDL cholesterol and your risk of heart disease. Choose foods with “0” grams of trans fat. Read the ingredient list to avoid foods that contain “partially hydrogenated” oils. Everyone can benefit from limiting trans fat.

• Cholesterol — is found in foods that come from animals, such as meats, poultry, seafood, eggs and full-fat dairy products. The FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend eating as little dietary cholesterol as possible within a healthy diet pattern.

• Sodium — is in food products as both naturally occurring and added sodium. Salt is sodium chloride. Most people should take in less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day. That’s equal to a little more than ½ teaspoon of salt.

• Total Carbohydrates — are digested and converted into glucose, or sugar, to provide the body’s cells with energy. Choose carbohydrate-based foods with high amounts of nutrients. These include vegetables, fruits and whole-grain breads, cereals and pasta.

• Dietary Fiber — describes several materials that make up the parts of plants your body can’t digest. As part of a healthy diet, soluble fiber can help decrease your risk of heart disease and some types of cancer. Whole grains and fruits and vegetables include dietary fiber. Most refined (processed) grains contain little fiber.

• Total Sugars — include both sugars that occur naturally in foods, such as fruit and milk, and sugars that are added to foods and beverages, such as those in desserts, candies and soft drinks.

• Added Sugars — is a newer category on the label. The FDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that less than 10% of your total daily calories come from added sugar. There are lots of different names for “added sugars,” such as sucrose, fructose, glucose, maltose, dextrose, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, concentrated fruit juice and honey. Look at the ingredient list and buy foods and beverages that don’t have a lot of added sugars.

• Protein — is one of the components in food that provides us with energy. Animal protein contains saturated fat. Choose fish and skinless poultry. Limit your intake of red and processed meats. Use low-fat or fat-free dairy products. Try other sources of protein, such as beans, nuts, seeds, tofu and other soy-based products.

• Vitamins and Minerals — are important parts of your diet. Eating a variety of foods will help you reach your daily goal of 100% of essential vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, calcium, iron and potassium.

• % Daily Value — tells you what percentage of each nutrient is in a single serving based on the recommended daily amount. To consume less of a nutrient, choose foods with 5% DV or less. To consume more, choose foods with 20% DV or more.

Lower Your Blood Pressure by Eating Right

What you eat affects your chances of getting high blood pressure. A healthy eating plan can both reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure and lower a blood pressure that is already too high.


For an overall eating plan, consider DASH, which stands for “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.” You can reduce your blood pressure by eating foods that are low in saturated fat, total fat, and cholesterol, and high in fruits, vegetables, and lowfat dairy foods. The DASH eating plan includes whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts, and has low amounts of fats, red meats, sweets, and sugared beverages. It is also high in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, as well as protein and fiber. Eating foods lower in salt and sodium also can reduce blood pressure.


Box 6 gives the servings and food groups for the DASH eating plan.


The number of servings that is right for you may vary, depending on your caloric need. The DASH eating plan has more daily servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains than you may be used to eating. Those foods are high in fiber, and eating more of them may temporarily cause bloating and diarrhea. To get used to the DASH eating plan, gradually increase your servings of fruits, vegetables, and grains. Box 7 offers some tips on how to adopt the DASH eating plan.


A good way to change to the DASH eating plan is to keep a diary of your current eating habits. Write down what you eat, how much, when, and why. Note whether you snack on high-fat foods while watching television or if you skip breakfast and eat a big lunch. Do this for several days. You’ll be able to see where you can start making changes.


If you’re trying to lose weight, you should choose an eating plan that is lower in calories. You can still use the DASH eating plan, but follow it at a lower calorie level. (See box 8.) Again, a food diary can be helpful. It can tell you if there are certain times that you eat but aren’t really hungry or when you can substitute low-calorie foods for high-calorie foods

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Spice it up and Use Less Sodium

Use More Spices and Less Salt

An important part of healthy eating is choosing foods that are low in salt (sodium chloride) and other forms of sodium. Using less sodium is key to keeping blood pressure at a healthy level.


Most Americans use more salt and sodium than they need. Some people, such as African Americans and the elderly, are especially sensitive to salt and sodium and should be particularly careful about how much they consume.


Most Americans should consume no more than 2.4 grams (2,400 milligrams) of sodium a day. That equals 6 grams (about 1 teaspoon) of table salt a day. For someone with high blood pressure, the doctor may advise less. The 6 grams includes all salt and sodium consumed, including that used in cooking and at the table.


Before trying salt substitutes, you should check with your doctor, especially if you have high blood pressure. These contain potassium chloride and may be harmful for those with certain medical conditions.


Box 9 offers some tips on how to choose and prepare foods that are low in salt and sodium.


With herbs, spices, garlic, and onions, you can make your food spicy without salt and sodium. There’s no reason why eating less sodium should make your food any less delicious! See box 10 for some great ideas on using spices.

Experiment with these and other herbs and spices. To start, use small amounts to find out if you like them

Shopping for Foods That Will Help You Lower Your Blood Pressure

By paying close attention to food labels when you shop, you can consume less sodium. Sodium is found naturally in many foods. But processed foods account for most of the salt and sodium that Americans consume. Processed foods that are high in salt include regular canned vegetables and soups, frozen dinners, lunchmeats, instant and ready-to-eat cereals, and salty chips and other snacks.


Use food labels to help you choose products that are low in sodium. Box 11 shows you how to read and compare food labels.


As you read food labels, you may be surprised that many foods contain sodium, including baking soda, soy sauce, monosodium glutamate (MSG), seasoned salts, and some antacids.

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Why Should I Limit Sodium?

You may have been told by your healthcare provider to reduce the salt in your diet. Table salt is sodium chloride. One teaspoon of salt contains about 2,300 mg of sodium. Sodium is a mineral that’s essential for life. It’s regulated in the body by your kidneys, and it helps control your body’s fluid balance. It also helps send nerve impulses and affects muscle function.

How does sodium affect my heart health?

When there’s extra sodium in your bloodstream, it pulls water into your blood vessels, increasing the total amount (volume) of blood inside your blood vessels. With more blood flowing through your blood vessels, blood pressure increases. This puts an extra burden on your heart and blood vessels. In some people, this may lead to or raise high blood pressure.


Having less sodium in your diet may help you lower or avoid high blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

How much sodium do I need?

Most people eat too much sodium, often without knowing it. The average American eats about 3,400 mg of sodium a day.

• The American Heart Association recommends no more than 2,300 milligrams (mgs) a day and an ideal limit of less than 1,500 mg per day for most adults, especially for those with high blood pressure.

• Even cutting back by 1,000 mg a day can improve blood pressure and heart health.

What are sources of sodium?

Most of the sodium in our diets comes from adding it when food is being prepared. Pay attention to food labels, because they tell how much sodium is in food products. For example: foods with 140 mg or less sodium per serving are considered low in sodium. Here’s a list of sodium-containing compounds to limit in your diet:

• Salt (sodium chloride or NaCl)

• Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

• Baking soda and baking powder

• Disodium phosphate

• Any compound that has “sodium” or “Na” in its name Some over-the-counter and prescription medicines also contain lots of sodium. Talk to your health care provider and make it a habit of reading the labels of all over-the-counter drugs, too.

What foods should I limit?

The best way to reduce sodium is to avoid prepackaged, processed and prepared foods, which tend to be high in sodium. Watch out for the “Salty 6” — the top six common foods that add the most salt to your diet. Read food labels and chose the lowest level of sodium you can find for these items:

• Breads and rolls

• Cold cuts and cured meats

• Pizza

• Poultry

• Soup

• Sandwiches

These are some other foods can also be sources of “hidden” sodium:

• Cheeses and buttermilk

• Salted snacks, nuts and seeds

• Frozen dinners and snack foods

• Condiments (ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise)

• Pickles and olives

• Seasoned salts, such as onion, garlic and celery salts

• Sauces, such as barbeque, soy, steak, and Worcestershire

How can I cook with less salt and more flavor?

• Avoid adding table salt to foods.

• Flavor foods with herbs, spices, lemon, lime, vinegar, or salt-free seasoning blends.

• Use fresh poultry, fish, and lean meat, rather than canned, smoked, or processed types.

• Choose unsalted nuts and low-sodium canned foods. Cook dried peas and beans.

• Use products made without added salt. Try low-sodium bouillon and soups and unsalted broth.

• Rinse canned vegetables and beans to reduce sodium.

What about eating out?

Controlling your sodium intake doesn’t mean spoiling the pleasure of eating out. But order carefully. Consider these tips for meals away from home:

• Select fresh greens and fruits when available. Ask for oil and vinegar to top your salad or ask for the dressing on the side.

• Be specific about what you want and how you want your food prepared. Request that your dish be prepared without added salt.

• Remember portion control. You can always bring home a to-go box!

Lower Your Blood Pressure by Eating Right
How Do I Understand The "Nutrition Facts" Label?
Spice it up and Use Less Sodium
Why Shold I Limit Sodium?
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