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If your eating habits are anything like those of most Americans and you're looking for the simplest advice, we would tell you to eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and less of just about everything else. However, if you're ready for just a bit more guidance, our 10 principles of healthy cooking will get you started:
1. Use smart fats. Not all fat is bad. Opt for unsaturated (e.g., olive oil) over saturated fats such as butter. But still use them in moderation because all fats are loaded with calories.
2. Go unrefined. Pick whole grains over refined grains. Whole grains like brown rice and bulgur have their bran intact and thus have more fiber, B vitamins, magnesium, zinc and other nutrients.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Most people don't get enough! Aim for 5 to 13 servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Pick produce in a variety of colors to get a range of antioxidants and vitamins. A serving size is 1D2 to 1 cup depending on the fruit or vegetable.
4. It's not all about the meat. Meat is a great source of protein but it's also a big source of saturated fat in many people's diets. So eat small amounts of lean meat, fish and poultry. Fill up the rest of your plate with healthy vegetables and whole grains.
5. Choose low-fat dairy. Dairy products like milk, sour cream and yogurt are a good source of calcium. Replacing whole-milk dairy products with low-fat or nonfat is an easy way to cut saturated fat in your diet.
6. Keep portions reasonable. Even though we would all like a magic bullet for weight control, it really boils down to calories. One of the easiest ways to manage calorie intake is by eating healthy portions.
7. Use sweeteners judiciously. Sugars of any kind, whether corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, honey or maple syrup, add significant calories without any nutritive value.
8. Keep an eye on sodium. Whether you have high blood pressure or not, it's wise to watch your sodium intake. The USDA's dietary guidelines for Americans recommend consuming less than 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon salt) daily.
9. Go for the flavor. Enhance food with bold flavors from healthy ingredients like fresh herbs, spices and citrus. When your food has great flavor, there's no reason to feel deprived.
10. Be mindful and enjoy. Make conscious food decisions rather than grabbing for what is most convenient. Make sure it is something delicious and savor it. When you enjoy what you eat, you feel satisfied.
(EatingWell is a magazine and website devoted to healthy eating as a way of life. Online at www.eatingwell.com.)