Eat Your Way to Better Health

This information describes how you can you can make healthy food and exercise choices.

The foods you eat and the lifestyle choices you make play a major role in your health. Healthy choices can:

  • Reduce your risk for developing chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
  • Control symptoms of medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and high cholesterol.

Below, we outline 6 steps to improving your overall health, including how to manage your weight, control your food portions, understand food labels, increase your physical activity, and make healthy food choices. We also answer some frequently asked questions about living a healthy lifestyle. At the end of this resource, there are 3 sample menus that include healthy meals for you to try.

For more information about making healthy food choices, ask your nurse for the resource Eating Well During and After Your Cancer Treatment.

Step 1: Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Weight

Gaining or losing weight is related to diet and exercise. If you take in more calories than your body needs, you are likely to gain weight. If you are overweight, you must eat fewer calories than your body needs, increase your physical activity, or both to achieve a healthy weight.

There are many health benefits to maintaining a healthy weight, including lowering your risk for various chronic diseases. Obesity can increase your risk for:

  • Cancers of the colon, breast, prostate, and esophagus
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Other chronic diseases, such as asthma, arthritis, and gallbladder disease

If you are underweight, talk with your doctor about ways to gain weight safely.


Find out your body mass index (BMI)

BMI is a measurement of the amount of fat in your body based on your height and weight. It can help you learn if your weight is healthy or not. A healthy BMI for an adult is between 18.5 and 24.9.

Find your BMI on the table below. First, find your height in the left-hand column. Go across to the next column on the same line and find your weight.

Next, look at the corresponding BMI at the top of your column. This is your BMI.

Body Mass Index (BMI) Table

You can also calculate your BMI using this tool:

BMI Weight category
18.4 or lower Underweight
18.5 to 24.9 Normal
25 to 29.9 Overweight
30 or higher Obese

For example, if you are 65 inches (5 feet, 5 inches) tall and you weigh 168 pounds, then your BMI is 28. This means you are considered overweight. Your goal should be to achieve a BMI that puts you in the normal range.

If your BMI is above 25, look for the weights that correlate with a healthy BMI for your height. That should be your target weight.


Find out your caloric need

Finding out how many calories your body needs can help you to gain or lose weight. There are 3,500 calories in 1 pound of body weight. This means that if you eat an extra 500 calories a day from any type of food, you could gain 1 pound in a week.

Your age, muscle mass, amount and type of exercise you do, and overall health affect your caloric need. In general, the older you are, the fewer calories you need. However, if you have a lot of muscle or exercise a lot, you need more calories. Use this formula to calculate the number of calories you need each day:

Your body weight in pounds x 12 = your estimated daily caloric need

If you need to lose weight, subtract 500 calories from your estimated daily caloric need. If you need to gain weight, add 500 calories to your estimated daily caloric need.

For example, if you weigh 150 pounds:

  • 150 pounds x 12 = 1,800 calories (your estimated daily need)
  • For weight loss: 1,800 calories - 500 calories = 1,300 calories per day
  • For weight gain: 1,800 calories + 500 calories = 2,300 calories per day
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Step 2: Control Your Food Portions

Eating too many calories from any foods can result in weight gain. To avoid weight gain, it is important to control your food portions.

The following chart lists the amount of food that is equal to 1 serving size.

Food Group Food Amount of 1 Serving Size
Bread, cereal, rice, and pasta Bread 1 slice
Cereal (hot) ½ cup
Cereal (cold) 1 ounce (½ cup to 1 cup, depending on the cereal)
Pasta ½ cup
Rice ½ cup
Vegetables Cooked or raw, chopped ½ cup
Juice ¼ cup
Raw, leafy 1 cup
Fruits Chopped, cooked, or unsweetened canned fruit ½ cup
Dried fruit ¼ cup
Fruit juice ¾ cup
Whole fruit, medium, fresh 1 piece of fruit
Milk, yogurt, and cheese Milk or yogurt 1 cup
Natural cheeses (Mozzarella, Swiss, Muenster, Cheddar, Provolone, and Gouda) 1 ½ ounces
Processed or packaged cheeses (American and most cheese spreads) 2 ounces
Lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts Cooked beans ½ cup
Cooked meat, poultry, or fish 3 ounces
Eggs 1
Nuts ⅓ cup
Peanut butter 2 tablespoons

Use the following examples of everyday items to help determine your portion sizes.

Figure 1. Example portion sizes

Figure 1. Example portion sizes

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Step 3: Make Healthy Food Choices

Fats and oils

All fats have the same number of calories, but some fats are healthier than others. Cut back on the total amount of fat in your diet.

“Good” cholesterol” versus “bad” cholesterol

Cholesterol is a fat-like substance. It is found only in foods that come from an animal source, such as meat, eggs, and dairy. Cholesterol travels in the blood in packages called lipoproteins. There are 2 types of lipoproteins: “good” and “bad.”

  • Low-density lipoprotein (LDL) is “bad” cholesterol. It can clog your arteries and cause heart disease.
  • High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is “good” cholesterol. It takes cholesterol out of your body.

Types of fats

Limit the amount of saturated fat you eat can keep your heart healthy and make it easier to maintain your weight. Choose mostly monounsaturated fats. These fats are described below.

Monosaturated fats

Monounsaturated fats come from plant sources. They are mostly found in:

  • Olives
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Peanuts, peanut oil
  • Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans
  • Avocados

These fats can lower your total cholesterol and LDL levels. They will not affect your HDL level.

Polyunsaturated fats

Polyunsaturated fats also come from plant sources. They are found in:

  • Corn oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil
  • Soybean oil

These fats can lower your total cholesterol and do not raise LDL levels.

Saturated fats

Saturated fats are found in:

  • Meat and chicken fat
  • Whole milk and milk products
  • Butter
  • Lard
  • Coconut, palm, and palm kernel oils

Eating foods with too much saturated fat can raise your total cholesterol and LDL levels.

Trans fats

Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to oil. These are also called “partially hydrogenated” fats or oils. Trans fats are found in:

  • Many fried, baked, and processed foods
  • Margarine and butter-like products

Trans fats can raise your total cholesterol and LDL levels. They can also lower your HDL level. Choose foods that say “zero (0) trans fat” on the label. Try not to eat processed foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils, such as some crackers, cookies, peanut butter, and breaded frozen foods. Look at the ingredient list of a food to see if it has partially hydrogenated oils.

Omega-3 fatty acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are needed for good health, especially for heart health. They are found mainly in oily fish. It is recommended that you eat at least two 4-ounce servings of omega-3 rich fish per week. Fish that have omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Mackerel

Foods that contain smaller amounts of omega-3 fatty acids include:

  • Leafy green vegetables
  • Walnuts
  • Soybeans
  • Flax seeds
Omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids are also necessary for good health, since they can’t be made by your body. However, your body needs only small amounts of them. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in vegetable oils, margarine, baked goods, and processed foods.

How much fat should I eat?

Total fat

20% to 35% of the calories your diet can come from fat. There are 9 calories in each gram of fat. To find how many calories can come from fat each day, multiple your daily caloric need by 20% and 35%. Then, divide those numbers by 9 calories to get the number of fat grams you can eat each day. For example:

  • If you eat 1,200 calories a day, you can eat up to 27 to 47 grams of fat per day.
    • 1,200 calories X 20% = 240 calories
    • 1,200 calories X 35% = 420 calories
    • 240 calories/9 calories in each gram of fat = around 27 grams
    • 420 calories/9 calories in each gram of fat = around 47 grams
  • If you eat 2,000 calories a day, you can eat up to 44 to 78 grams of fat per day.

If you eat a different amount of calories each day, follow the steps above to figure out how many grams of fat you can eat per day.

Saturated fat

10% or less of the total calories in your diet can come from saturated fat. To find how many calories can come from fat each day, multiple your daily caloric need by 10%. Then, divide the number by 9 calories to get the maximum amount of saturated fat that you can every day. For example:

  • If you eat 1,200 calories per day, you can eat up to 13 grams of saturated fat per day.
    • 1,200 calories X 10%=120 calories
    • 120 calories/ 9 calories in each gram of fat = 13 grams of saturated fat
  • If you eat 2,000 calories per day, you can eat up to 22 grams of saturated fat per day.

If you eat a different amount of calories each day, follow the steps above to figure out how many grams of saturated fat you can eat per day.

Mono and polyunsaturated fats

Nutrition guidelines recommend that most of your fat intake come from mono and polyunsaturated fat sources.

Tips for trimming fat from your diet

  • Limit spreads that are high in fat. These include:
    • Butter
    • Margarine
    • Cream cheese
    • Mayonnaise
    • Salad dressings
  • Choose lean cuts of meat, such as skinless chicken or turkey and fish.
  • Eat no more than 18 ounces of red meat per week.
  • Remove the fat and skin from your meat before cooking it.
  • Bake, broil, grill, steam, or poach your foods.
  • Pan fry your foods with nonstick cooking spray instead of deep frying your foods.
  • Add more flavor to your foods with herbs and spices instead of butter or oil.
  • Use fruit or fruit juices in your marinades. Try kiwi, papaya, lemon, or lime juice.
  • Use vegetable stock or low-sodium tomato juice instead of butter or oil to cook your vegetables, meats, and seafood.
  • Refrigerate your soups and skim off the fat layer that forms on top.
  • Make scrambled eggs or omelets by using 1 yolk with 2 egg whites. Or use an egg substitute product.
  • Choose canned tuna or sardines that are packed in water rather than oil. Otherwise, drain oil-packed canned tuna or sardines to decrease the fat.
  • Cook with canola or olive oil. These oils have the least amount of saturated fat.

Fruits and vegetables

Eating many different kinds of fruits and vegetables can help protect you against chronic diseases. Fruits and vegetables are:

  • Rich in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals (good substances that are found only in plant foods).
  • Rich in fiber.
  • Low in calories, fat, and cholesterol.

Eat at least 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit per day. Include fruits and vegetables in most of your meals and snacks. Choose whole or cut-up fruits and vegetables rather than juices. Juices contain little or no fiber, which is important for healthy bowel function.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people eat more fruits and vegetables as part of a healthy eating plan. This includes choosing from a variety of fruits and vegetables. You can do this by selecting from different colors of fruits and vegetables, such as dark green, red, and orange. Also, legumes (beans, lentils) contain many essential vitamins and nutrients and should be incorporated into your diet.

The list below shows the best fruit and vegetable sources for vitamin A (carotenoids), vitamin C, folate, and potassium. These are important nutrients to have in your diet.

Nutrient Food Sources
Vitamin A
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables: spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, kale, mustard greens, romaine, green leaf lettuce
  • Orange fruits: mangoes, cantaloupes, apricots, red or pink grapefruits
  • Orange vegetables: carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin
  • Red vegetables: tomatoes, tomato products, sweet red peppers
Vitamin C
  • Broccoli, peppers, tomatoes, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, potatoes
  • Citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, strawberries, cantaloupe, guava
  • Leafy greens, such as romaine lettuce, turnip greens, spinach
  • Cooked beans and peas, peanuts
  • Dark green, leafy vegetables such as spinach, mustard greens, romaine lettuce
  • Green peas
  • Oranges and orange juice
  • Baked sweet potato, white potato, cooked greens, winter (orange) squashes
  • Bananas, plantains, dried fruits such as apricots and prunes, oranges and orange juice, cantaloupe, and honeydew melon
  • Cooked beans (such as baked beans), soybeans, and lentils
  • Tomatoes and tomato products

Source: Dietary Guidelines for Americans. United States Department of Agriculture, 2015.

Fiber and whole grains

Fiber is an important part of your diet because it:

  • Helps regulate bowel movements and prevent constipation.
  • Provides a feeling of fullness.
  • Helps with weight loss.
  • Can help reduce cholesterol.
  • Can lower the risk for diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.

Plant foods are the best sources of fiber. In addition to fruits and vegetables, eating a variety of whole grains, cereals, legumes, nuts, and seeds can provide the fiber you need.

Your fiber needs are based on the amount of calories you take in. Women usually need about 25 grams of fiber per day and men need about 35 grams of fiber per day.

To make sure you are getting enough fiber, eat whole grains. They contain more vitamins, minerals, and fiber than refined or processed grains. Read your ingredient labels carefully to find out if the foods you choose have whole grains. Food labels must have the word “whole” right before the name of the grain. For example, when choosing a wheat bread or pasta, the label must read “whole wheat,” not “enriched wheat flour.”

To get more fiber and whole grains in your diet:

  • Eat foods such as whole-wheat bread, brown rice, barley, whole oats, oatmeal, bran cereals, and popcorn.
  • Try pancakes, muffins, or bread mixes made with whole-wheat or buckwheat flour.
  • Choose a whole grain like barley and add a small amount of dried fruit or toasted nuts.
  • Add beans to rice, pasta, salad, and soups.
  • Choose fresh fruits and vegetables instead of juices.

Increase your fiber intake gradually and drink at least 8 (8-ounce glasses) of liquids each day.

Use this chart to choose foods that are good sources of fiber.

Amount of Fiber Food Serving Size
3 to 4 grams Broccoli or cauliflower ½ cup
Couscous, macaroni, or spaghetti (white) 1 cup cooked
Dried figs ¼ cup
Fresh pineapple 1 cup
Green beans ½ cup
Nectarine or peach 1 medium
Orange 1 medium
Pearled barley, cooked ½ cup
Potato baked, with skin 1 medium
Raw carrots 1 medium
Spinach or cabbage ½ cup
Stewed prunes ½ cup
Whole-grain bread 1 slice
Whole-wheat spaghetti ½ cup
4 to 5 grams Apples 1 medium
Avocado ½ cup
Blueberries 1 cup
Brown rice 1 cup
Bran flakes, wheat ½ cup
Bulgur ½ cup
Cooked beets 1 cup
Fresh cranberries 1 cup
Green peas ½ cup
Mangoes 1 medium
Mixed vegetables, cooked from frozen ½ cup
Oatmeal 1 cup cooked
6 to 9 grams Acorn squash, cooked 1 cup
All Bran® cereal ¾ cup
Brussels sprouts, cooked 1 cup
Cooked beans: kidney, lima, black, northern, pinto, white, navy ½ cup
Edemame (soybeans), frozen and cooked 1 cup
Flax seed 1 ounce
Fresh raspberries or blackberries 1 cup
Lentils, split peas ½ cup cooked
Shredded wheat cereal 1 cup
Whole-wheat pita bread 8-inch diameter

Salt and potassium

Our bodies need some salt, but too much salt can increase your risk for:

  • High blood pressure
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Kidney disease

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends that people eat no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. If you are in a high risk group, such as you are over 40 years old, are African American, or have hypertension or diabetes, you should have no more than 1,500 mg. Nutrition labels list the amount of sodium in a serving size, rather than the amount of salt (see “Step 4. Understand Food Labels”). Foods that are low in sodium (less than 140 mg or 5% of the Daily Value) are low in salt.

Salt that is found naturally in food makes up only about 10% of the salt we eat in a typical day. Adding salt to your food adds another 5% to 10%. The remaining 75% of salt in our diet comes from salt that is added during manufacturing. Fast foods and packaged and processed foods are high in salt and sodium. A fast-food cheeseburger and medium serving of French fries has about 1,370 mg of sodium.

To lower the amount of salt in your diet:

  • Do not add salt to your food at the table.
  • Avoid preparing and cooking food with salt.
  • Use fresh herbs and spices for flavoring.
  • Read labels on all packaged foods to find the amount of sodium per serving.
  • Buy foods that say “low sodium,” “very low sodium,” “salt free,” and “sodium free” on the labels. Low-sodium foods have less than 140 mg of sodium per serving.
  • Limit ketchup, soy sauce, and salad dressing, as these are usually high in sodium.
  • Limit pickled and cured foods (sauerkraut, pickles, hot dogs, bacon, and processed lunch meats).
  • When you are eating out, choose plain foods and avoid sauces and condiments. Ask the waiter to have no additional salt added to your food.

If your blood pressure is high, choose foods that are naturally low in sodium and rich in potassium. Potassium is a mineral that helps keep blood pressure within a normal range. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that adults should have at least 4,700 mg of potassium each day. Even if your blood pressure is normal, foods that are rich in potassium should still be part of your diet.

If you are concerned about your blood pressure, talk with your doctor or nurse.

Foods rich in potassium

Food Serving Size Amount of Potassium (mg)
Baked potato with flesh and skin 1 medium 941 mg
Prune juice, canned 1 cup 707 mg
Tomato paste, canned ½ cup 669 mg
Beet greens, fresh, cooked ½ cup 654 mg
White beans, canned ½ cup 595 mg
Yogurt, plain, nonfat 1 cup 579 mg
Sweet potato 1 medium 542 mg
Salmon, Atlantic, wild, cooked 3 ounces 534 mg
Orange juice 1 cup 496 mg
Swiss chard, cooked ½ cup 481 mg
Lima beans, cooked 1 cup 478 mg
Tuna, yellowfin, cooked 3 ounces 448 mg
Acorn squash, cooked ½ cup 448 mg
Banana 1 medium 420 mg
Spinach, cooked ½ cup 370 mg
Avocado ½ cup 364 mg


There are different kinds of sugars in your food. Natural sugars are those found in whole, unprocessed foods such as milk, fruit, vegetables, grains, and legumes. Added sugar is the sugar added to processed foods and drinks. Manufactures use added sugars to:

  • Give color and texture to baked goods
  • Help preserve food
  • Use as a bulking agent (adding volume to foods)

Added sugars add calories to foods, but do not provide any nutrients. Many of these sugars are usually found in foods that have little nutritional value such as cakes, cookies, regular soda, ice cream, sports drinks, and juices. They may also be found in pasta sauce, flavored yogurts and cereals, and condiments such as ketchup.

Eating or drinking foods and beverages with too much added sugars often results in eating less of healthier foods and beverages. This can result in health issues such as weight gain, which can contribute to increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart disease and some cancers.

The new food labels will break down the amount of added sugars in a packaged food. The ingredient list on the package also lists the type of added sugars. These may appear on a food or drink label under the following names:

  • Agave
  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sucrose
  • White sugar

The American Heart Association recommends women limit added sugars to 6 teaspoons (24 grams) per day and men limit added sugars to 9 teaspoons (36 grams per day).

You should get most of your sugar from fresh fruit, lowfat dairy and vegetables. You will get a variety of health benefits with much fewer calories to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Calcium and vitamin D

You need calcium in your diet every day to keep your bones and teeth strong and to maintain healthy muscle and nerve function. When you are not getting enough calcium from your diet, your body makes up for this by taking calcium from your bones. This can make your bones weak and brittle and cause a disease called osteoporosis. It puts you at greater risk for bone fractures.

Without vitamin D, your body can’t absorb the calcium in your diet. Vitamin D is found in fortified dairy products and some fatty fishes. However, most people get all the vitamin D they need from sunlight. If you don’t spend much time outside, you may need to take a vitamin D supplement. People who wear coverings for religious reasons may also need to get their vitamin D from supplements.

Most of your bone mass is made during childhood and early adulthood. However, you are never too old to improve your bone health. To do this, eat foods that are rich in calcium and vitamin D. To strengthen your bones, take part in daily weight-bearing activities, such as walking, jogging, lifting weights, or jumping rope.

Here are tips for getting more calcium in your diet:

  • Have at least 2 to 3 servings of skim or low-fat dairy every day. Include milk, yogurt, or cheese. If you have trouble tolerating lactose (a sugar found in milk products), try lactose-free products, such as Lactaid® milk or soy products.
  • Almonds, leafy greens, soybeans, canned sardines, and salmon are also good sources of calcium.
  • Foods such as cereals and orange juice usually have added calcium.
  • Many people, including women during menopause, need calcium supplements. Speak with your doctor or a dietitian to find out more about your calcium needs.

The table below lists the daily amount of calcium and vitamin D you need per day based on your age.

Daily recommended intake

Age Calcium (mg) Vitamin D (IU)
0 to 6 months 200 mg 400 IU
7 to 12 months 260 mg 400 IU
1 to 3 years 700 mg 600 IU
4 to 8 years 1,000 mg 600 IU
9 to 18 years 1,300 mg 600 IU
19 to 50 years 1,000 mg 600 IU
51 to 70 years 1,200 mg for women and 1,000 for men 600 IU
70 years and older 1,200 mg 800 IU

IU=International Units


Alcoholic beverages provide calories but contain few nutrients. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means having no more than 1 drink a day if you are a woman and no more than 2 drinks a day if you are a man. One drink equals:

  • 12 ounces of beer
  • 5 ounces of wine
  • 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor

Drinking too much alcohol can lead to:

  • Cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver
  • Cancer of the mouth
  • Cancer of the head and neck
  • Cancer of the esophagus
  • Breast cancer (evidence not as strong)
  • Colon cancer (evidence not as strong)

Some studies have shown that moderate drinking can decrease the risk for heart disease by increasing HDL levels (good cholesterol). However, it is still not a good idea to start drinking alcohol if you don’t already.

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Step 4: Understand Food Labels

Reading and understanding food labels can help you make smart food choices.

There are new food labels coming out on foods that will provide more information and be easier to read. These changes include:

  • Listing added sugars. The FDA recommends that most Americans limit added sugars to 50 grams per day.
  • The amount of vitamin D and potassium that is in a serving of the food.
  • The serving size for foods and beverages will be changed to reflect amounts that people actually eat.
  • The number of calories and the serving size will be in larger, bolder numbers, making them easier to read.
  • The percentage of daily value for nutrients such as sodium, fiber and vitamin D are being updated based on newer scientific evidence.

Here is an example of the current food label and the new food label.

Figure 2. Old food label (left) and new food label (right)

Figure 2. Old food label (left) and new food label (right)

How to read food labels

The label below lists the nutritional content of a serving of macaroni and cheese. The arrows point to the boxes on the right, which explain what each line means.

Figure 3. How to read food labels

Figure 3. How to read food labels

This food label shows that macaroni and cheese is high in total fat and saturated fat. Due to the high fat content, this food would not be considered a healthy choice.

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Step 5: Get Active

Physical activity is a necessary part of a healthy lifestyle. By doing at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise on most days of the week, you can stay fit. You can burn about 150 calories a day or about 1,000 calories a week by doing moderate exercise.

  • To stay at your current weight, do at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity on most days of the week.
  • If you need to lose weight, do at least 60 to 90 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day.

A gym is not the only place to exercise. Here are some activities that provide moderate to vigorous exercise:

  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Get off the bus or subway 1 stop early and walk the rest of the way.
  • Walk to work, class, or the store or walk your pets.
  • Take a 2-mile brisk walk in 30 minutes.
  • Increase your time spent on household tasks, such as vacuuming, mopping, dusting, and washing dishes (45 to 60 minutes).
  • Take “activity breaks” at work.
  • Swim laps for 20 minutes.
  • Take a 4-mile bike ride in 15 minutes.
  • Play volleyball for 45 minutes.
  • Play basketball for 15 to 20 minutes.
  • Dance for 30 minutes.
  • Rake leaves or do other yard work for 30 minutes.
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Step 6: Put Your Plan into Action

These are the basic guidelines for a healthier diet and lifestyle. It is best to make gradual changes, focusing on one change at a time. Set goals to achieve success. Once you have reached one goal, move on to the next. If you would like information about nutrition, call 212-639-7071 to set up an appointment with a dietitian. He or she can help you plan a healthy diet and lifestyle.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Should I take vitamin or mineral supplements?

A well-balanced diet with a variety of foods usually has the right amount of vitamins and minerals. However, people who may have different nutritional needs or don’t have a healthy diet may benefit from taking a vitamin or mineral supplement. Examples are:

  • People who are elderly
  • People whose immune systems do not function well
  • Women who are pregnant or may become pregnant
  • People on very low-calorie diets
  • Premenopausal women
  • Alcoholics
  • Vegans

Ask your doctor or dietitian if you need to take any vitamin or mineral supplements.

Should I buy only organic fruits and vegetables?

Organic foods are grown with little fertilizer and no pesticides. Some studies suggest organic foods may have higher amounts of phytochemicals (compounds found in plants that have a beneficial effect on health), but there is not currently enough research to support this claim. Whether or not you buy organic, it is best to wash all of your produce well.

There are certain fruits and vegetables that may contain higher amounts of pesticides, including:

  • Cherries
  • Spinach
  • Grapes
  • Pears
  • Strawberries
  • Apples
  • Nectarines
  • Potatoes
  • Celery
  • Bell peppers
  • Peaches
  • Raspberries

You may wish to buy these products organic.

Should I buy hormone-free meat and dairy products?

Many people are concerned about hormones added to foods. The USDA does not allow hormones to be given to pigs, chickens, turkeys, or other fowl. However, hormones can be given to cattle and sheep. The amount of hormones that come from sheep and cattle is very small compared with what the human body produces each day. If you are concerned, you can buy hormone-free meat and dairy products or you can choose a mostly plant-based diet. This means eating mostly fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds and reducing your meat intake.

Is a vegetarian diet healthier for me?

Not always. Many healthy diets include animal products.

However, a vegetarian diet can lower the risk of some diseases, such as heart disease, kidney stones, and gallstones. The benefits include a lower intake of saturated fat, cholesterol, and animal protein. Vegetarian diets also have more antioxidants, folate, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Try a diet that is mostly made up of plants. Talk with a dietitian to make sure that your vegetarian or mostly plant-based diet has all the nutrients you need.

Should I juice my fruits and vegetables?

Although the juice of fruits and vegetables provide water , vitamins and minerals, it is often missing the fiber that is only in whole fruit. Also, if you throw out the skin of fruits and vegetables, you will not be getting some vitamins, minerals and needed fiber. We recommend that you eat whole fruits and vegetables instead, which will provide more fiber.

Should I be on a gluten free diet?

Gluten is the name of the protein that is found in wheat, rye, and barley.

If you have celiac disease, yes, you need to be on a gluten free diet. Celiac is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the small intestine when gluten is eaten. You may also need to avoid gluten if you have gluten sensitivity. People with gluten sensitivity have gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea or have an allergic response after eating gluten.

If you do not have celiac disease or experience symptoms after eating gluten, there is little evidence to support that a gluten free diet is healthier for you or can lead to weight loss. In fact, by eating only gluten free “processed foods” you may gain weight since many of these products contain more fat and calories. The best approach is to include foods which are naturally gluten free: fruits, vegetables, legumes, lean protein and lowfat, unflavored dairy.

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Sample Menus

Use these sample menus to help you incorporate healthy foods into your diet and to inspire ideas for recipes of your own.

Meal Sample Menu #1 Sample Menu #2 Sample Menu #3
  • 1 cup of bran flakes with 2 tablespoons of raisins
  • ½ cup of skim milk
  • 1 sliced banana
  • Coffee or tea with skim milk
  • 8 ounces of low-fat vanilla or fruit yogurt
  • 1 cup of cooked whole oats with 2 teaspoons of mixed cinnamon and sugar
  • ½ cup of fresh or canned fruit (in its own juice)
  • Coffee or tea with skim milk
  • Vegetable frittata (1 egg, 2 egg whites, and 1 cup of julienned vegetables)
  • 1 cup of cantaloupe cubes
  • Coffee or tea with skim milk
  • Tuna salad (4 ounces of tuna packed in water and 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise)
  • 1 slice of multigrain bread
  • ½ cup of cold bean (canned, drained, and rinsed) and carrot salad
  • 1 cup of grapes
  • 16 ounces of sparkling water with a fresh lemon wedge
  • Turkey sandwich (3 ounces of roasted turkey breast on 2 slices of whole-grain bread, 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise or mustard, ¼ of a sliced avocado, lettuce, and tomato)
  • 1 medium apple
  • 8 ounces of chocolate skim milk
  • 1 ½ cups of black bean and corn soup*
  • Whole-grain roll with 1 slice of low-sodium cheese
  • 1 cup of mixed-greens salad
  • Salad dressing: 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 15 almonds
  • 1 orange
  • 2 cups of air-popped popcorn (no added butter)
  • ½ cup of 1% cottage cheese
  • ½ cup of fresh fruit
  • 4 ounces of whole-wheat pasta
  • ½ cup of tomato sauce with no added salt
  • 1 tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 4 ounces of grilled chicken breast
  • 6 steamed asparagus spears
  • 1 cup of mixed greens with tomato, red onion, and 4 black olives
  • 2 tablespoons of low-fat dressing
  • 2 cups of vegetarian chili
  • 2 slices of whole-wheat bread or 1 medium whole-wheat dinner roll
  • 1 cup of mixed-greens salad
  • Salad dressing: 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar
  • 2 slices of watermelon
  • 6 ounces of broiled salmon
  • 1 cup of spinach and mushrooms sautéed in 2 tablespoons of oil and garlic
  • 1 sweet potato, sliced and roasted in the oven
  • 1 cup of cooked mushrooms
  • 1 cup of brown rice
  • 1 fresh pear topped with 1 crumbled graham cracker and 2 tablespoons of low-fat yogurt
  • ½ cup of fruit sorbet topped with 1 cup of fresh or frozen strawberries or raspberries
  • 1 cup of sugar-free cocoa made with skim milk
  • 1 baked apple topped with cinnamon
Nutritional Content
  • 1,780 calories
  • 58 g fat
  • 10 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 12 g saturated fat
  • 30 g monounsaturated fat
  • 211 mg cholesterol
  • 37 g fiber
  • 933 mg calcium
  • 1,800 mg sodium
  • 3,370 mg potassium
  • 1,800 calories
  • 28 g fat
  • 5 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 8 g saturated fat
  • 9 g monounsaturated fat
  • 81 mg cholesterol
  • 47 g fiber
  • 1,300 mg calcium
  • 1,600 mg sodium
  • 4,200 mg potassium
  • 1,700 calories
  • 47 g fat
  • 6 g polyunsaturated fat
  • 13 g saturated fat
  • 20 g monounsaturated fat
  • 320 mg cholesterol
  • 44 g fiber
  • 1,050 mg calcium
  • 2,300 mg sodium
  • 3,300 mg potassium

*Recipe for Black Bean and Corn Soup

  • 28-ounce can of low-sodium crushed tomato and basil
  • 8 ounces of low-sodium tomato juice
  • 16-ounce can of rinsed black beans
  • 16-ounce can of rinsed white beans
  • 16-ounce can of rinsed kidney beans
  • 16-ounce can of sweet corn
  • 1 teaspoon of dry oregano
  • ½ teaspoon of rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon cracked red pepper flakes (optional)

Mix ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let simmer for 10 minutes. Serves 4.

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