Brian Parr

Brian Parr

Eating a healthy diet is a goal for many people to help them treat or prevent disease, improve exercise performance or maintain a healthy body weight. If you pay attention to news about food and nutrition, you have probably noticed that there is a great deal of controversy about what constitutes a healthy diet. It’s easy to find lists of foods to avoid and things to eat every day. Unfortunately, lists from different sources may not be the same or, worse, a food that is on one “never eat” list is on another “always eat” list.

There is a different approach you could take to plan the foundation for a truly health way to eat. Instead of focusing on what is different, think about what recommendations are shared among most “healthy” diets. Here is some diet advice that almost everyone agrees on.

Eat your greens

Green leafy vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals and fiber and should be part of almost every meal. There is some debate about how to prepare these vegetables, whether they should be eaten raw or cooked and what to put on them. If you eat an abundance of vegetables, sometimes raw and sometimes cooked, sometimes with dressing and other times plain, you are on the right track.

Berry good

Fruit is a delicious way to get vitamins, minerals and fiber in your diet. However, some people believe that the naturally occurring sugar in some fruit makes it unhealthy, especially if you eat a lot of it. But almost everyone agrees that berries are a fruit you should eat. High in antioxidants, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are nutritious and delicious!

Go nuts!

Eating nuts can be a tasty way to make your diet healthier. Nuts are beneficial because they are rich in healthy unsaturated fats, fiber, natural plant sterols and essential vitamins and minerals. Although the specific nutrients vary among different nuts, all nuts are thought to be healthy. This includes tree nuts such as almonds, macadamia nuts, walnuts and pecans, which have the most research to support their health benefits. Look for plain nuts, as seasonings and coatings on many varieties also include added salt and sugar.

Eat less added sugar

Added sugar is probably the biggest problem most people face when it comes to the way they eat. Beyond the extra calories and the direct health effects of eating too much sugar, adding sugar to otherwise healthy food like fruit and grains serves to make it less healthy. This is the case for most processed food, which is almost always high in added sugar. Cutting as much added sugar from your diet is something everyone (except for the food industry) agrees is a smart move.

Drink water

Water should be your drink of choice at all times! Water provides hydration without added sugar and calories, something that is important for weight control. Ideally, this means plain water, but flavored water is better than sweetened beverages like soda, sweetened tea, sports drinks and many fruit drinks. It’s fine to have other drinks during the day, but water should be your primary source of hydration throughout the day.

These tips can go a long way to improving the quality of your diet and fit with recommendations that almost everyone agrees on. Keep in mind that a person touting the “best” diet to improve your health is likely doing more than just eating healthy; they are almost certainly exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and, maybe, taking medications to address specific health problems. To achieve optimal health, you will need to do these things, too.

Brian Parr, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the Department of Exercise and Sports Science at USC Aiken where he teaches courses in exercise physiology, nutrition and health behavior. You can learn more about this and other health and fitness topics at http://drparrsays.com or on Twitter @drparrsays.