Plan your plate: Shifting to healthy eating style

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What’s the eating style that’s best for health? Is it a Mediterranean eating plan? Vegetarian? Low carb? With all the eating styles out there, it’s hard to know which one to follow.

Healthy eating is one of the best ways to prevent or delay health problems. Eating well, along with getting enough physical activity, can help you lower your risk of health problems like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and more. To reach your goals, experts advise making small, gradual changes.

“The best diet to follow is one that is science based, that allows you to meet your nutritional requirements, and that you can stick to in the long run,” says Dr. Holly Nicastro, an NIH nutrition research expert. “It’s not going to do you any good to follow a diet that has you eating things that you don’t like.”

The main source of science-based nutrition advice is the Dietary Guidelines for Americans(link is external). These guidelines describe which nutrients you need and how much. They also point out which ones to limit or avoid.

“Every five years, an expert panel reviews all available scientific evidence regarding nutrition and health and uses that to develop the dietary guidelines,” Nicastro explains.

The guidelines are regularly updated, because our scientific understanding of what’s healthy is continuously evolving. These changes can be confusing, but the key recommendations have been consistent over time. In general, healthy eating means getting a variety of foods, limiting certain kinds of carbs and fats, watching out for salt, and being aware of your portion sizes.

Added sugar is the extra sugar added to foods and drinks during preparation. Corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, and honey are examples of sweeteners added to foods and drinks, especially regular sodas.

“The sugars present normally in milk and fruit are not considered added sugar,” explains Dr. Kimber Stanhope, a nutrition researcher at the University of California, Davis.

Stanhope’s research focuses on the effects of added sugar on the development of disease. Her studies have shown that consuming too much high-fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of weight gain and heart disease.