Every food group provides some essential nutrients, and certain foods (cereals and milk, for example) are fortified with specific nutrients as well. Vitamin and mineral supplements from a bottle simply can't match all the biologically active compounds teeming in a well-stocked pantry.
By focusing on the big picture — eating a balanced diet that contains a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, dairy products, seafood, lean meats, and poultry — it's easy to get enough vitamins and minerals. Here are some tips.
Choose healthy fats. Fish, nuts, and vegetable oils contain healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Eat these foods regularly and in moderation. But do limit consumption of saturated fat and stay away from trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (often used in spreads, baked goods, and fast foods).
Don't forget fiber. Good sources include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and dark chocolate. Fiber from grains helps lower the risk of heart disease. Your daily fiber goal depends on your age and sex:
- Men ages 50 or younger: 38 grams
- Men over 50: 30 grams
- Women ages 50 or younger: 25 grams
- Women over 50: 21 grams
Balance energy intake and output. The energy you take in should equal the energy you use. That means, for example, that if you are sedentary and 5 feet 4 inches tall, you need far fewer calories to remain at your current weight than an active person who is 6 feet tall.
Set a goal. Start by eating one extra fruit or vegetable a day. When you're used to that, add another and keep going. For example, add fruit to your breakfast cereal every morning. Then try eating a piece of fruit for an after-lunch snack. Next, add at least one vegetable to your dinner plate.
Be creative. Adding finely grated carrots or zucchini to pasta sauce, meat loaf, chili, or a stew is one way to get an extra serving of vegetables. Dip vegetables into hummus or another bean spread, some spiced yogurt, or even a bit of ranch dressing. Slather peanut butter on a banana or slices of apple. Try mashed avocado as a dip with diced tomatoes and onions, or as a sandwich spread, topped with spinach leaves, tomatoes, and a slice of cheese.
Source: Harvard University, Harvard Health Publications.