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5 Health food basics

Eating is crucial to sustaining life, so it’s no wonder that it takes up a lot of our time and effort. Choosing the right food for your family can be challenging. Before you start eliminating entire food groups, or trying the latest fad diet, consider the following ideas to help you ease into healthier eating.

1. Add more fruits and vegetables. Most people don’t eat enough fruits and vegetables daily, so adding more to your diet is an easy way to boost health and nutrition. The USDA notes that eating more fruits and veggies can protect you against cancer, heart disease, obesity and Type 2 diabetes.

Eating more fruits and vegetables can be as simple as grabbing an apple for an afternoon snack, adding some berries to your morning oatmeal, serving 2 vegetables at dinner or eating a salad with your regular lunch. For more nutritional value, try eating these foods in their raw or frozen state. Experiment with new varieties and ways of cooking, like roasting. Carrots and broccoli are both delicious when cooked this way.

2. Cut back on processed foods. Most processed foods have added sodium, fat and sugar. Some also have artificial colors, flavors, and other chemicals. They also have less core nutrition than whole foods and are best avoided or used only in moderation. Instead of packaged crackers, try making homemade granola bars or muffins. Replace a canned soup with one you make yourself, using lower sodium ingredients and fresh veggies.

3. Understand labels. Some foods claim to be “natural” when they are anything but. Be aware of the food labeling guidelines where you live. For example, in the United States, food must be made with 95% organic food and have the USDA organic seal to be labeled organic, and farms must go through a certification process. Taking the time to understand labels like free-range, grass-fed, natural and cage-free will help you make the choice that is best for you and your family. This information is readily available online.

You also want to be well-versed in reading nutrition labels. Take a look at the ingredient list. If you can’t find many words you recognize, you might want to consider another option. Check out how many grams of sugar and saturated fat per serving, and serving size. Also, look at the sodium content.

4. Get the family involved. Sit down with your family and discuss the benefits of healthy eating, and why you want to make changes. Get input on which foods and meals the family may be interested in trying, and have them help with shopping and cooking, if possible. When I introduce a new healthy dish at our house, I explain what it is, and ask everyone to try it.

5. Give your palate (and your family) time to adjust. When you are used to eating certain foods, particularly those high in sugar, salt, and fat, it will take time to enjoy new foods. Don’t throw out all the chips and cookies in favor of wheat berries and celery. Eliminate, or switch out foods gradually. It will take a few weeks to adjust, but you will be amazed how delicious foods taste when you eat them in their healthiest forms. My kids prefer the homemade version of most foods now, and dislike the taste of many processed foods.

Healthy eating will enrich every part of your life. Try making a few changes and notice how much better you feel. Soon you’ll be reaching for your favorite fruit instead of your favorite candy bar.

Amy M. Peterson currently lives in Oregon with her husband and four children. She can be reached at amypete@gmail.com