By this point, most of us know that the best medicine is not getting sick in the first place. One of the easiest ways to do that is to develop healthy eating habits. That can feel impossible, though, since what we’re told is “healthy” seems to change regularly. However, the basic guidelines have always been true. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, avoid fats and sugars, and don’t eat more calories than you burn off.
This article discusses what nearly every doctor agrees is a healthy diet. When we say “diet,” we mean your overall way of eating. It does not refer to a short-term attempt to lose weight.
The History of Changing Dietary Advice
The American government released its first food guide in 1916. Its goal was educating parents on selecting the right foods for young children. Over the following century, government dietary guidelines continued to evolve and change.
Interestingly, the guide from the 1940s is the one that most closely resembles that of today. It’s worth noting that WWII was one of America’s healthiest times, nutrition-wise. Scientists attribute most of these nutritional gains to wartime rationing. That led to eating less meat and dairy, which were previously considered dietary staples. The government also emphasized healthy eating to support the war effort. (This wartime short from 1943 is a great example of the importance the government used to place on healthy eating.)
What Should Go on Your Plate?
In 2011, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) released My Plate. For the first time, Americans got a no-nonsense idea of what their dinner plate should look like. It was a welcome change from food pyramids and pie charts, since it showed you exactly how much of each food group constituted a healthy meal.
As you can see by the graphic, half of your plate should be covered by fruits and vegetables. The other half should be split between whole grains and lean protein. A small serving of dairy finishes it off. In a moment, we’ll discuss what constitutes a serving size as well as the types of foods doctors recommend from each category.
Please note that all recommendations for daily and weekly servings are based on individuals who get fewer than 30 minutes of moderate exercise per day. If you are more active, ask your doctor about appropriate recommendations.
A New Way to Look at Vegetables
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, Americans eat the wrong kinds of foods and don’t understand what constitutes a serving. To combat that, the USDA released improved guidelines on each type of food and exactly how much of it your body needs.
Vegetables show the biggest change, as this food group is now broken down into five different categories. Each category contains different types of nutrients, which is why it’s so important to eat a wide variety of veggies every week.
Dark Green Vegetables
Typically, 1 cup equals a cup of cooked or raw vegetables. However, for leafy greens such as spinach and romaine, you need 2 cups of raw leaves to equal a 1-cup serving.
Red and Orange Vegetables
This includes winter squash, pumpkin, tomatoes, carrots – pretty much any vegetable that’s red or orange, including sweet potatoes!
Beans and Peas
One serving equals 1 cup of cooked beans or peas, whether whole or mashed.
When eating corn-on-the-cob, a 1-cup serving equals one large ear of corn measuring between 8″ and 9″ long. One medium white potato, around 2.5″ to 3″ in diameter, equals one serving.
A wide array of veggies fit into the “other” category. Find the full list, including recommended serving sizes, on the Choose My Plate Vegetable page.
How Much Fruit Do You Need Per Day?
Guidelines around fruit aren’t as detailed as those for vegetables. Basically, if you’re a woman over the age of 30, you need 1.5 cups of fruit per day. All adult men need 2 cups.
If you choose canned fruit, remember that 1 cup equals 8 ounces (4 ounces for half-a-cup), drained. You may also count 1 cup of fruit juice if it is 100 percent juice. If you like dried fruit, 1/2 cup of dried fruit equals 1 cup of fresh or frozen.
Whole fruit serving sizes include:
What Goes on the Rest of Your Plate?
For healthy eating, the rest of your meal should include whole grains, lean protein, and dairy. For whole grains, women over 50 should eat the equivalent of 5 ounces per day. Men are allowed 6 ounce-equivalents. Protein is similar, with 5 ounces for women and 5.5 for men. Finally, both men and women need 3 cups of dairy per day.
So, what do these portions look like in real life?
Protein is a bit easier, since an ounce is an ounce when it comes to meat, poultry, and seafood. But, it can be surprising how small an ounce really is, so we offer common portion sizes and how many “servings” they constitute.
Finally, 3 cups of dairy is fairly self-explanatory. The only difference is cheese. The following is the equivalent of 1 cup of dairy:
- 1.5 oz hard cheese (cheddar, Swiss, mozzarella, Parmesan, etc.)
- 1/3 cup shredded cheese
- 2 oz processed cheese (American)
- 1/2 cup ricotta
- 2 cups cottage
The USDA offers all of this information on its site:
Planning Healthy Meals
The USDA also helps you plan healthy meals with two-week sample menus and accompanying cook books – all at no cost to you.
Your Medicare Part B coverage includes a yearly wellness visit, which is the perfect time to talk to your doctor about diet and exercise. If you have any questions about your coverage, call us toll-free at 855-350-8101 to speak to a licensed agent.