While working out is crucial to having a fit body, there’s another piece to the healthy puzzle: nutrition. Eating the right foods most of the time (there’s always room for a few splurges now and then) not only helps fuel your body for workouts, but it also gives you the energy you need to study, play sports, and even just laugh on the phone with your friends. The right diet can help make your skin glow and keep your hair looking shiny and healthy. Good nutrition can even help prevent you from getting colds, the flu, and lots of other annoying illnesses.
What Is a Healthy Diet?
We know that there’s a ton of conflicting info out there when it comes to food. One day it’s raw food; the next day it’s the Zone Diet. It’s enough to drive a girl crazy. Basically, you’re in good shape if you eat foods that are fresh and natural, and that don’t have an ingredient list filled with stuff you can’t pronounce. If you can easily trace a food back to its original source—apples, for example, come from an orchard—it’s likely pretty good for you. If you can’t figure out where a food came from—what’s the natural habitat for a Twinkie?— then it’s probably a food you shouldn’t eat every day.
You probably already know that whole grains, lean meats, fruits, and veggies are better for you than burgers, fries, and milkshakes. One easy eating plan to follow is the USDA’s MyPlate guide. MyPlate divides meals into five major food groups: grains, vegetables, fruit, dairy, and protein. Here’s the basic idea: when you sit down to eat, your plate should be about half-full of fruits and veggies, a quarter filled with whole-grains (like wheat bread or brown rice), and another quarter filled with proteins like beans, meat, seafood, or nuts. Then, as either a drink, dessert, or side, you should have a serving of dairy, like frozen yogurt, low-fat milk, or cheese.
In addition to what you eat, you should also pay attention to how much you eat. No matter how healthy a food is, it’s important to read nutritional labels and stick to serving sizes. Instead of eating on an oversized dinner plate, try eating off a smaller dish for dinner (encourage your parents to do the same!) and sit down to eat without any distractions. You might think you’re being efficient by multitasking, but you may not realize when you’re full if you’re distracted. And when someone at the drive-through asks if you’d like that super-sized? Just say no!
Your body needs a steady supply of water to keep it functioning at its best. Your body just can’t flush waste, regulate its temperature, or, you know, live, for very long without it. Without H2O, you’ll start to get dehydrated—you’ll feel thirsty, hit the bathroom less, notice darker urine when you do go, and you may experience dry mouth and dizziness. You should always keep plenty of fluids on hand—but that’s especially important when it’s hot outside or when you’re being really active.
How much should you drink? You’ve probably heard it your whole life: Drink eight eight-ounce glasses of water every day. While you can use that as a general guideline, you don’t have to be a perfectionist and measure every ounce. It’s better to just keep a water bottle on hand at all times and chug often. Watch your urine output— it should be fairly frequent and the color should be light (think lemonade, not apple juice). If you can’t stomach that much water, you can also count other beverages toward your daily fluid intake. Have some juice or tea (they’re better than soda!), soup, or foods with high water content, like fruits and veggies.
To Eat Organic or Not to Eat Organic: That Is the Question
There’s a lot of hub-bub about organic foods these days, so you’re probably wondering if you should pony up the cash to get organic foods or ask your parents to do the same. The jury is still out on if organic produce has more nutrients than non organic produce; however, organic foods do have fewer pesticides and food additives, and are grown by more earth-friendly means. Plus, many people swear that organic foods just taste better.
While it’s great if you can eat organic foods, if you can’t afford it or don’t have access, you certainly shouldn’t use it as an excuse to not eat your fruits and veggies. After all, eating non organic fruits and veggies is certainly better than not eating any produce at all! Also, remember that just because something is labeled as “organic,” it doesn’t always mean that it’s healthy. Organic junk food is still junk food. So again, choose unprocessed foods as much as possible.
PERFECTION IS BORING!
In an ideal world, we’d all eat the most nutritious foods possible for every meal, and all of those goodfor- you foods would taste positively scrumptious. But let’s face it: Every vegetable isn’t going to be your favorite, and sometimes that piece of chocolate cake will be calling your name—and loudly. While we all want to be healthy, most of us can probably agree that a “perfect” diet is unrealistic and, frankly, no fun!
Have you ever had a server at a restaurant bring you a sizzling dish and tell you the plate was hot, and that sort of just made you want to touch it more? “Off limits” foods are kind of like that. The more you deny yourself a forbidden food, the more tempting it becomes. And when foods you love are off limits, you may go overboard and totally binge when you finally do let yourself have a taste. So have the best of both worlds. Eat nutritious, good-for-you foods most of the time—like 80 percent—and don’t beat yourself up for those splurges the rest of the time. That way you’ll have a healthy, balanced diet without feeling deprived.
In addition to becoming a smart consumer, listen to your body. People eat for so many reasons other than hunger—boredom, anger, sadness, frustration, fatigue, stress, or sheer habit. If you think you might hit the fridge and graze for reasons other than hunger, make it a point to listen to your body the next time you’re about to munch. If you’re really hungry, by all means, eat up! If it turns out you’re just tired or worried about that geography exam and want a distraction, deal with that instead. Take a study break, or have a friend over to hit the books with you. It’ll make you feel better than food will—and it’ll be more productive than eating that second bowl of ice cream.