Healthy Eating

By Lawrence Robinson and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D.

What is a healthy diet?

Eating a healthy diet is not about strict limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods
you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood.
Healthy eating doesn’t have to be overly complicated. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and
diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for
you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. The truth is that while some specific foods or nutrients have
been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it’s your overall dietary pattern that is most important. The
cornerstone of a healthy diet should be to replace processed food with real food whenever possible. Eating food
that is as close as possible to the way nature made it can make a huge difference to the way you think, look, and
By using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create—and stick to—a tasty,
varied, and nutritious diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.

The fundamentals of Healthy Eating

While some extreme diets may suggest otherwise, we all need a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber,
vitamins, and minerals in our diets to sustain a healthy body. You don’t need to eliminate certain categories of
food from your diet, but rather select the healthiest options from each category.
Protein gives you the energy to get up and go—and keep going—while also supporting mood and cognitive
function. Too much protein can be harmful to people with kidney disease, but the latest research suggests that
many of us need more high-quality protein, especially as we age. That doesn’t mean you have to eat more
animal products—a variety of plant-based sources of protein each day can ensure your body gets all the
essential protein it needs.
Fat. Not all fat is the same. While bad fats can wreck your diet and increase your risk of certain diseases, good
fats protect your brain and heart. In fact, healthy fats—such as omega-3s—are vital to your physical and even trim your waistline.
Fiber. Eating foods high in dietary fiber (grains, fruit, vegetables, nuts, and beans) can help you stay regular and
lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also improve your skin and even help you to lose
Calcium. As well as leading to osteoporosis, not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to
anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. Whatever your age or gender, it’s vital to include calcium-rich foods in
your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K to help calcium do
its job.
Carbohydrates are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from complex, unrefined
carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruit) rather than sugars and refined carbs. Cutting back on white bread,
pastries, starches, and sugar can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy, and a
build-up of fat, especially around your waistline.

Making the switch to a Healthy Diet

Switching to a healthy diet doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to be perfect, you
don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy, and you don’t have to change everything all at once—that
usually only leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan.
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keeping your goals modest can help you achieve
more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul. Think of planning a
healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day. As your small
changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.

Setting yourself up for success

To set yourself up for success, try to keep things simple. Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated.
Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, for example, think of your diet in terms of color,
variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients
whenever possible.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating
and better monitor exactly what goes into your food. You’ll eat fewer calories and avoid the chemical additives,
added sugar, and unhealthy fats of packaged and takeout foods that can leave you feeling tired, bloated, and
irritable, and exacerbate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with
healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled
salmon) will make a positive difference to your health. Switching animal fats for refined carbohydrates, though
(such as switching your breakfast bacon for a donut), won’t lower your risk for heart disease or improve your

Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food as manufacturers often hide large amounts of
sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The healthier the food
you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel
uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many of us go through
life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so
staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.

Moderation: Important to any Healthy Diet

What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel
satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. For many of us, moderation means eating less than we do now.
But it doesn’t mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could
be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner—but not if you follow it with a box of
donuts and a sausage pizza.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods
more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods
and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them
less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an
entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion
sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed
potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in
bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal,
add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.
Take your time. It’s important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to
gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain
to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly and stop eating before you feel full.
Eat with others whenever possible. Eating alone, especially in front of the TV or computer, often leads to
mindless overeating.
Limit snack foods in the home. Be careful about the foods you keep at hand. It’s more challenging to eat in
moderation if you have unhealthy snacks and treats at the ready. Instead, surround yourself with healthy
choices and when you’re ready to reward yourself with a special treat, go out and get it then.
Control emotional eating. We don’t always eat just to satisfy hunger. Many of us also turn to food to relieve
stress or cope with unpleasant emotions such as sadness, loneliness, or boredom. But by learning healthier
ways to manage stress and emotions, you can regain control over the food you eat and your feelings.

It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat

Eat breakfast, and eat smaller meals throughout the day. A healthy breakfast can jumpstart your metabolism,
while eating small, healthy meals keeps your energy up all day.
Avoid eating late at night. Try to eat dinner earlier and fast for 14-16 hours until breakfast the next morning.
Studies suggest that eating only when you’re most active and giving your digestive system a long break each
day may help to regulate weight.

Add more fruit and vegetables to your diet

Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins,
minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit
and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup
of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently
To increase your intake:
– Add antioxidant-rich berries to your favorite breakfast cereal
– Eat a medley of sweet fruit—oranges, mangos, pineapple, grapes—for dessert
– Swap your usual rice or pasta side dish for a colorful salad
– Instead of eating processed snack foods, snack on vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, or cherry
tomatoes along with a spicy hummus dip or peanut butter

How to make vegetables tasty

While plain salads and steamed veggies can quickly become bland, there are plenty of ways to add taste to your
vegetable dishes.
Add color. Not only do brighter, deeper colored vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals
and antioxidants, but they can vary the flavor and make meals more visually appealing. Add color using fresh or
sundried tomatoes, glazed carrots or beets, roasted red cabbage wedges, yellow squash, or sweet, colorful
Liven up salad greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, arugula, spinach, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese
cabbage are all packed with nutrients. To add flavor to your salad greens, try drizzling with olive oil, adding a
spicy dressing, or sprinkling with almond slices, chickpeas, a little bacon, parmesan, or goat cheese.
Satisfy your sweet tooth. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions,
bell peppers, and squash—add sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugar. Add them to
soups, stews, or pasta sauces for a satisfying sweet kick.
Cook green beans, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and asparagus in new ways. Instead of boiling or steaming these
healthy sides, try grilling, roasting, or pan frying them with chili flakes, garlic, shallots, mushrooms, or onion. Or
marinate in tangy lemon or lime before cooking.