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Eat Healthy

Eating healthy does not have to be hard! With Steps to Health youth and adult learn how to follow USDA’s MyPlate recommendations for a healthy eating pattern. What can you do to eat the MyPlate way?

1. Eat more FRUITS and VEGETABLES.

The evidence is clear that eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been linked to improved health and reduced risk of developing some chronic diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. In a 2,000-calorie diet, a person should eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 and a half cups of vegetables per day. Fruits and vegetables are low in calories, sodium, and contain no added sugar.

According to the USDA, half of our plate for each meal should be filled with fruits and vegetables. This is one way to ensure that you are eating enough fruits and vegetables.

Fresh, frozen, and canned, fruits and vegetables are filled with essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants that our bodies need to thrive and protect us against illness and chronic diseases, like cancer and heart disease.

Fruits and Vegetables contain:

  • Vitamin A, which can help keep our eyes healthy
  • Vitamin C, which can help with wound healing and maintaining healthy gums
  • Potassium, which can help reduce blood pressure and
  • Folate, which can improve memory and is very important for pregnant women.

2. Reduce your intake of added sugar.

Did you know that most of the added sugars that Americans consume come from beverages, such as soda, sweet tea, lemonade, sports or energy drinks, fruit drinks, coffee drinks and alcohol? When we take about added sugar, we mean extra sweeteners that are put into food that preserve food, entice our taste buds, and add extra sweetness. Natural sweetness in food can be enjoyed without adding more sugar or sweetners!.

Fruits and vegetables contain fructose, which is a natural form of sugar. Most foods that contain natural sugars are “nutrient dense” because they provide vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial nutrients that provide positive health effects with relatively few calories. Dairy products contain lactose, which is also a form of natural sugar.

Consuming added sugars can have negative health effects, potentially leading to weight gain, obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels), increased cardiovascular risk, increased Triglycerides, lower HDL’s, and increased risk of cavities in teeth.

One teaspoon of sugar has roughly 16 calories. While this may not seem a lot, it can add up quickly during the course of a day. The American Heart Association recommends the following limitations for added sugar:

  • women limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons a day, which is about 100 calories,
  • men limit added sugar to 9 teaspoons a day, which is about 150 calories.
  • children ages 2-18, than 6 teaspoons

Children and teens should limit their intake of sugar-sweetened drinks to no more than eight ounces, which is about one glass, weekly. The recommendations advise that children under the age of 2 years should not consume foods or beverages with added sugars, including sugar-sweetened drinks, such as juice.

3. Make half your grains whole grains.

Whole grains are an important part of a healthy diet. Whole grains add fiber to your diet which helps your body to work regularly and remove waste. The dietary fiber found in whole grains may reduce blood cholesterol and lower the risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Most whole grain products have about 80% more fiber than refined grains and many more vitamins and minerals. Choose whole grain products that have a 10-19% Daily Value per serving, an excellent source of fiber has 20% or more.

To add more whole grains into your meals and snacks:

  • Substitute whole-wheat toasts or whole-grain bagels for plain bagels
  • Swap out white-flour tortillas with whole-wheat versions
  • Replace white rice with quinoa, brown rice, wild rice, barley or bulgur
  • Choose whole-grain breakfast cereals, such as whole-wheat bran flakes, shredded wheat or oatmeal

4. Select low-fat dairy options and foods that provide similar nutrients as dairy products.

Calcium is the main mineral that makes up bones and dairy is the best source of calcium in the human diet. We also need to take in Vitamin D, which the body needs to absorb calcium and phosphorus.

Most people know that bones and teeth develop during childhood, but did you know that they continue to develop until around age 35? Over the course of a lifetime, calcium deficiency can lead to the breakdown and loss of bone tissue and increase the risk of developing the bone-thinning disease osteoporosis later in life.

Some people have a dairy intolerance or allergy, or do not eat dairy due to religious or dietary restrictions. Milk replacement products can be found in the dairy section of most food stores.

Almond milk has just as much calcium and vitamin D as cow's milk but only about ¼ as much protein. However, many milk substitute drinks have added sugar, so be sure to look for the unsweetened varieties.

One serving of dairy is equal to:

  • 1 cup of milk, yogurt, or soymilk
  • 1 ½ oz or 2 slices of natural cheese (cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss, Parmesan)
  • 2 oz or 3 slices of processed cheese (American)
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese
  • ½ cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups cottage cheese
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt

There are also non-dairy foods that are good source of calcium, phosphorus and Vitamin D. Some examples are:

  • canned salmon and sardines, with bones
  • soybeans and soy products such as tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, and tempeh
  • white beans
  • almonds
  • leafy green vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, bok choy, collard greens, kale, mustard greens, and turnip greens
  • 100% orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D


Sodium is needed in fairly small amounts in the body. Sodium helps with muscle contractions nerve function and the regulation of fluids in and out of cells. Getting enough salt is never a problem since it is found naturally in some foods.

In some people, sodium increases blood pressure by holding excess fluid in the body and creating an added burden to your heart. Blood pressure also tends to rise as we age. Getting too much sodium in your diet can lead to hypertension high blood pressure and lead to stroke.

Use these tips to lower your salt and sodium intake:

  • Draining and rinsing canned vegetables can reduce sodium content by 10-40%
  • Remove the salt shaker from the table.
  • Season food with herbs and spices such as tarragon, dill, basil, thyme, mint, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, vinegars, and fruit juices such as lime, lemon and orange. Check out our recipes for spice mixes in the recipe section!

6. Choose water first.

Getting enough water on a daily basis is important for good overall health. When you choose to drink water you will reap the health benefits of water as your beverage of choice.

Water quenches thirst and delivers nutrients to your cells. Water helps to regulate normal body temperature, prevents infections and kidney stone formation, lubricates and cushions joints, maintains blood pressure, boosts performance during exercise, and helps prevent constipation. The average adult loses about 10 cups of water a day and even faster when it’s really hot outside, when you are experiencing fever, diarrhea or vomiting and when you are physically active.

If you feel thirsty or have a dry mouth, that is an immediate sign that you need to drink more water. But instead of waiting until you are thirsty, drink water throughout the day.

Here are some tips to help you drink more water:

  • Carry a water bottle with you for easy access and when water is not accessible.
  • Add a wedge of lemon or lime to your water to help improve the taste
  • Consider adding spices and herbs to your water, such as mint
  • Each time you walk by a water fountain, take a water break
  • Choose water instead of sugar sweetened beverages
  • Add low-sodium soups to lunch and dinner
  • Choose water when eating out – it can save you money
  • Drink skim or low-fat milk or 100% juice as a snack
  • Drink carbonated water at social gatherings instead of sugary beverages

Visit our recipe section for some delicious and affordable menu items!


Learn about healthy eating and being active from Steph and Ned!