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Create a healthy eating plan

February 15, 2011|Lynn Little

Build a healthy eating plan by selecting and enjoying healthful foods, controlling portion sizes and cutting back on calories.

 Read food labels to get information to help you select healthful foods. Begin by looking at the serving size, calories per serving and the number of servings per container. The serving size may be less than what you think, so compare that amount to the amount you are eating. If you are eating an entire container of a particular food and the servings per container number is two, you must double all the information on the food label.

For fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium, you should aim for food choices that provide 5 percent or less of the Daily Value for these nutrients. For fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium and iron, you should aim for food choices providing 20 percent of the Daily Value. Try to keep trans fat to zero or as close to zero as possible.

 Try to choose foods that are lower in fat, calories and sodium, but high in fiber and nutrients.

  •  Vegetables: plain fresh or plain frozen vegetables (no added sodium or sauces), low-sodium canned vegetables (you can also wash canned vegetables to eliminate a little more salt)
  •  Fruits: plain fresh or plain frozen fruits (no added sugar or sauces), low-sugar, light syrup or no-sugar canned fruits, raisins (you can also wash your canned fruit to eliminate a little more sugar)
  •  Meats/beans/nuts: lean meat like chicken, turkey, fish, lean beef or pork, beans, tuna in water, lentils, dried peas, egg whites, nuts and nut butters (peanut butter). You should also take the skin off poultry and cook meats using a healthy cooking technique, like sautéing, broiling, grilling, or baking rather than frying.
  •  Grains: oatmeal, shredded wheat, whole-grain cereal (with less than 10 grams of sugar and at least 3 grams of fiber), brown rice, whole-wheat pasta, corn tortillas, whole-grain low-fat crackers and whole-wheat pitas
  •  Milk/dairy: skim or 1 percent milk, fat-free or light yogurt or low-fat cheese
  •  Condiments: nonfat sour cream, light margarine, ketchup, mustard, low-fat salad dressing, light jam, low-fat mayo.

 Stock up on healthful foods at the grocery store and cook more foods at home, rather than eating out. Calories and fat can add up fast when eating away from home.  

 Eat breakfast every day and include at least two of the food groups. Choose a food with fiber and a food with protein to keep you full longer. Eating breakfast helps give you fuel that you need for the day, keeps blood sugar levels even and helps you eat fewer calories throughout the day.

Snack only when hungry and enjoy more unprocessed foods, rather than foods from a bag. Try fruits, vegetables, yogurt, low-fat cheese and whole-grain crackers for an easy, quick snack.

 Just a few small changes at a time can add up to big results. Choose one or two simple things at a time to build a healthy eating plan.

Visit for information about food groups and healthy eating tips and to build a personalized healthy eating plan.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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