How to Have Healthier Meals: Tips from Dietitians

Every month could be National Nutrition Month. But in March, it’s official.

This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” reminding us that each of us holds the tool to make healthier food choices.

To help you make smarter choices, we’ve put together some guidelines for what to eat more of… and what to eat less of.

Breakfast: Eat More Greek Yogurt, Less Pastry

Eat More

Greek yogurt in the morning will give you the sustainable energy you need to hold you until your next meal or mid-morning snack. With about the same number of calories as regular yogurt, Greek yogurt has twice as much protein with half as much sodium and carbohydrates.

Greek yogurt also contains probiotics that can help keep your digestive tract healthy and boost your immune system. 

Look for plain, low-fat or nonfat Greek yogurt without added sugars. Since Greek yogurt is a more concentrated form of yogurt, the whole-milk kind can have a lot of calories.

For sweetness and flavor, you can mix in your own fresh fruit like berries or banana slices, a small handful of nuts, flax or chia seeds, a drizzle of honey, or cocoa powder for more variety and deliciousness.

  • Bonus: Here’s a recipe for a green smoothie that packs some fruit and veggies in with your Greek yogurt

Eat Less

Bakery goods like donuts and pastries are loaded with sugar and fat, with hardly any of the protein that makes you feel full longer and gives you long-lasting energy. 

Commercially baked goods contain more trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils) than any other products. Trans fats are the worst kind of fat. It can raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides and lower your good cholesterol (HDL).

The sugar in many bakery goods spikes blood glucose levels and causes the body to pump out more insulin to counteract the blood glucose. This can cause a sugar crash that leaves you hungry and craving more sugar, which can result in a vicious cycle of overeating and weight gain over time.

Save the sweet fatty breakfast breads for a now-and-then treat. And read package labels to make sure your bakery products don’t have trans fats.

Lunch: Eat More Fish, Drink Less Sugar

Eat More

Fish and seafood can be an excellent source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids and potassium. You need these for cardiovascular and bone health. Adequate potassium in your diet also prevents fatigue, irritability and high blood pressure.

Try this! A 3 oz. serving of baked salmon contains 534 mg of potassium.

The American Heart Association recommends at least two servings of fish every week, so why not have some for lunch?

  • Going out? Order a salmon burger or a fish taco. Better yet, order broiled fish. Try ceviche (raw fish marinated in lime juice) or sushi.
  • Instead of chicken or cheese, add cold shrimp, salmon or tuna to salads.
  • Tuna sandwiches are a good-old standby. Aim for a serving size of 3.5 ounces, or about the size of the deck of cards. Most cans of tuna are 5 ounces. Use whole-grain bread for even more nutrition.
  • Bonus: Here’s a quick recipe for cod with avocado salsa from The World’s Healthiest Foods.

Eat Less

Sugar, such as what you’ll get lots of in sweet drinks. The sugar in those sweetened beverages is usually high fructose corn syrup or sucrose, which are highly processed forms of sugar.

If you drink two cans of soda a day (8-9 teaspoons of sugar each), you might be consuming nearly 20 teaspoons of sugar a day. That’s the American sugar consumptions average. Compare that with the top limit recommended by the American Heart Association. That’s about 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 teaspoons per day for men.

Instead of drinking a 12-oz soft drink at lunch, drink seltzer water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened hot or iced tea, low sodium vegetable juice, or low-fat or fat-free milk.

Dinner: Eat More Whole Grains, Less Solid Fat

Eat More

Whole grains are complex carbohydrates that are full of fiber and slow to digest. Whole grains also have vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting ingredients you don’t get with refined, white versions. The American Heart Association recommends at least four servings of whole grain a day from complex carbohydrates.

Make your pasta whole wheat, your bread and buns whole grain (including corn tortillas instead of flour) and your rice brown rice or wild. Whole grains may take longer to cook, but the pay-off is better flavor, more interesting texture and better nutrition.

To get more good ideas about whole grains, visit ChooseMyPlate.gov.

Eat Less

Marbled meats, poultry skin, bacon, sausage, butter and whole milk products like cheese. These foods are full of saturated fat. It’s still important to limit your fat intake, especially your saturated fat intake.

To give you an idea of a whole day’s supply of saturated fat, about 13 grams, it’s about 1 tablespoon of butter or one McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese or one slice of a Pizza Hut meat lover’s pizza.

Eating less fat and choosing healthier fats can help you maintain the right cholesterol levels and decrease your risk for heart disease and stroke.

Eating less fat and more whole grains can also help you lose weight, since fat has 9 calories per gram compared with 4 calories for carbohydrates (and protein).

For more information about what to eat more of — and what to eat less of, check the new Dietary Guidelines

Every month could be National Nutrition Month. But in March, it’s official.

This year’s theme is “Put Your Best Fork Forward,” reminding us that each of us holds the tool to make healthier food choices.

To help you make smarter choices, we’ve put together some guidelines for what to eat more of… and what to eat less of.

For more information about what to eat more of — and what to eat less of, check the new Dietary Guidelines

Meet the Author

Ali Stoffer, RD, is a registered dietitian at Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center in Milwaukee, WI 

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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