The U.S. Department of Agriculture developed nutrition recommendations called The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010. These guidelines provide a basic structure of what you should focus on eating and what you should limit. They focus on encouraging fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Talk with your physician or registered dietitian for a specific nutrition plan.
Make Half of Your Grains Whole Grains
Choose whole-grain products such as whole-wheat bread, pasta, crackers and tortillas. Whole grains are higher in fiber and vitamins than simple carbohydrates, making them a smarter choice.
Make Half of Your Plate Fruits and Vegetables
Two cups of fruits and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables are recommended per day. Many Americans do not meet these recommendations. Focus on dark green, orange and red produce as they are packed with the most nutrients.
Avoid Large Portions
Focus on portion sizes to help avoid overeating and weight gain. A serving of meat is 3 ounces, or about the size of a deck of cards. One cup of cooked pasta or rice is one serving. By being aware of portion sizes, you can balance calories and maintain your weight.
Switch to Fat-free Milk
Milk is a nutritious option, but whole milk contains a lot of calories and fat. Choose fat-free milk, which contains only 80 calories per serving to save calories. Focus on other low-fat and fat-free dairy products, as they are rich in calcium and vitamin D.
Don't Drink Your Calories
Many people get way too many of their calories from beverages. Beverages generally are not filling and do not contain many nutrients. Focus on drinking mainly water, unsweetened tea and coffee. Avoid pop, juices, high-calorie coffee beverages and other high-calorie drinks.
Watch Your Sodium
It is recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to reduce your sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day. Look for low-sodium varieties of soups, frozen meals, breads and other high-sodium foods. Skip adding sodium to your food and focus on sodium-free spices and seasonings instead.
Limit Saturated Fat
Consume less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fats. Saturated fats are found in foods such as meat, cheese, milk and butter. Choose healthy fats such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats which are found in foods such as nuts, vegetable oils and avocados.
Limit cholesterol intake to less than 300 milligrams per day. Cholesterol is mainly found in animal products and can have an effect on your blood cholesterol. Make at least one night a week vegetarian night to help reduce cholesterol intake.
Eat Less Sugar
A major contributor to weight gain and obesity, sugar is hidden in many different products that you wouldn't expect, such as pasta sauce, breads and ketchup. Check the label to see if sugar is in a product before buying it.
Choose a Variety of Proteins
Many foods contain protein including fish, eggs, nuts, beans, cheese, milk and meat. Vary your sources of protein to include a variety of nutrients. Include fish a couple times a week to get heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
Amanda Hernandez is a registered dietitian who holds a Master of Arts degree in family and consumer sciences with an emphasis in dietetics from Western Michigan University. Her work has been featured in "Women's World" and "Women's Day" magazines. She writes for nutritionistreviews.com and has been a nutrition writer since 2010.