Although every member of the human race requires pretty much the same basic set of nutrients, no two people really eat the exact same foods every day. There are just too many factors influencing what we choose to eat. So instead of trying to mimic someone else's plate, individualize your meal plan so you can get the nutrients you need to maintain your best health and well-being. Although it sounds complicated, creating such a plan can be simpler than you think.
First, consider the factors that influence what you buy at the market and what you put in your mouth at each meal:
Flavor. How food tastes, smells, looks, feels and even sounds when you chew it can influence whether or not you're likely to eat it. Consider okra: Some people hate it because they feel the texture is too slimy, while others absolutely love it.
Convenience. Some markets around the country do not carry certain foods, especially specialty foods that may not be in high demand (think matcha powder or chia seeds).
Nutritional content. You may check the nutrition label to determine if the foods' ingredients or nutritional content meets your standards.
Culture. Where you live and where your family's from can influence how often you eat a food, which foods are considered delicacies versus scraps, when you eat certain foods and what you enjoy for special occasions. Think about a child's birthday party: Which foods are typically consumed in the U.S.? What about at the movies? Or at a baseball game? Believe it or not, the answers aren't the same in every culture around the world.
Demographics. Age, educational level and income also influence food selection. Some older adults may not be as open to trying new foods as some of the younger generations. Some folks may have $500 to spend on a fancy jar of caviar, but most people do not.
Health. If you are allergic to peanuts, you won't be buying jars of peanut butter for a PB&J sandwich. And, if you have heart disease, experts recommend a diet is that is calorie-controlled and low in total and saturated fat.
Social influence. How children and young adults eat can be especially influenced by peer pressure. My adolescent son loves a certain "wrap and go" place in our neighborhood because all of his friends eat there. Teenage girls may choose to eat salads every day because they think salads are the healthiest choice.
Emotions. Think what you eat when you're sad, happy, stressed or bored. How you feel can impact what you eat.
The media.News reports can scare you or make you feel like you should (or shouldn't) be eating a certain food. This past week, the media hyped up a report that red meat causes cancer, scaring the public and perhaps even turning some people off from eating their beloved bacon or other red meat. However, there is no one food that is the cause or cure of a disease.
These factors influence people in different ways. As such, all of our meal plans should be individualized so we can take in essential nutrients from each food group, including lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, dairy and healthy fat.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Dietary Guidelines for Americans is a long list of recommendations that is updated every five years. These guidelines are a guide to help you maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. However, translating these guidelines into what you should have on your plate is not that easy. That's where "MyPlate" comes in. It's a simple picture that shows how your plate should look – no matter which foods you choose to eat. One-quarter of your plate should be lean protein, one-quarter should be filled with whole grains and the remaining half should include fruits and vegetables. Luckily, there are a wide variety of foods that fit into each area of your plate. As such, no matter what type of foods you like, or must avoid, you can achieve a healthy diet.
Still need guidance? No problem! Log onto ChooseMyPlate.gov, a free website that has many tools to help you eat a well-balanced diet. If you still need more assistance, a registered dietitian nutritionist can help. He or she will look at your medical history, likes and dislikes, lifestyle and other factors to help you develop an individualized meal plan that's right for you. To find a dietitian in your area, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics' website.
Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report
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