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Principles of Healthy Eating

Some people revel in the art of food preparation. For others, the microwave is a lifesaver. What matters is that you find a healthy way to cook and eat that works for you. If you love large, sit-down dinners, for example, ignore conventional wisdom that says it’s best to eat lots of small meals (just be sure not to snack all day if you plan to feast at night).

Knowing yourself also means planning for pitfalls. If, say, you often nosh while you work, keep food as far from your desk as possible or bring a healthy snack from home. If your downfall is salty junk food, don’t eat directly from a multi-serving package, take out a handful and put the rest away. Slight changes don’t feel like sacrifice, says Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and nutritional science at Cornell University, but they do make a difference. “Eating 200 fewer Calories a day can mean 20 pounds of weight lost in a year.”

Limit packaged foods and read labels. Many nutritionists recommend shopping the perimeter of a supermarket, where fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, are usually sold, and avoiding highly processed foods, which tend to be found in boxes in the center aisles. But you may find it hard to resist the core of the store, with its convenient treats and processed foods. Just be aware that three-quarters of the sodium and most of the trans fats and added sugar Americans ingest come from packaged foods.

Separate your fats. When it comes to fats, there is perhaps no other area of nutrition in which researchers have learned so much and confused so many consumers in the process. What you need to know is this: fat has more Calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein, so if you’re trying to maintain or lose weight, limit the amount of fat you eat. That said, not all fats affect the body equally. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the “good” fats; they’re found in nut and vegetable oils and oily fish, such as salmon, trout, and herring. They don’t raise blood cholesterol levels and may even reduce the risk of cardiovascular problems. According to the American Heart Association, eating seafood with omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines, twice a week may reduce the risk of certain forms of heart disease.

Saturated and trans fats, also known as the “bad” fats, are found in dairy and beef products and palm and coconut oils. The more of them you eat, the higher your risk of cardiovascular disease. Trans fats are also found in French fries and many commercially baked products such as cookies and crackers, but are becoming less common. After the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandated that companies list their trans fats on food labels, some restaurants, like Wendy’s and Red Lobster, reduced their use of them, and many manufacturers have reformulated products to get rid of trans fat altogether. Be aware, however, that many of those products now contain saturated fats instead.

Eat low glycemic carbs. Carbohydrates are classified in terms of their capacity to raise blood sugar. Stick to those with a low glycemic index. Common error with dieters: dry crackers, or worse, rice cakes for example, have a glycemic index about the same as table sugar. They cause insulin to go berserk and store, store, store the blubber. Remember that the glycemic value of food is affected by other foods it is consumed with. So, if you eat a high glycemic food with a food high in fat or fiber, the glycemic value will be significantly reduced.

Fiber up. Fiber absorbs food and slows the entry of sugar into the blood, so it helps stabilize insulin. It enables your body to better use food for fuel rather than for storage as body fat. As a bonus, it fills you up.

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Disclaimers: The results described are not typical and may vary based on a variety of factors.