Safe diet plans should include items from every food group and provide at least 1,200 calories per day. Diets that forbid entire sections of the food pyramid or suggest very low calorie intake are dangerous and unhealthy, and will not help with long-term weight loss. Avoid any diet plan that makes miraculous claims about fast results, or that includes diet pills or meal replacements. The safest diets include real, healthy foods and focus on portion control and healthy calorie intake.
According to a study done by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health, low-calorie heart-healthy diets can help you lose weight and maintain weight loss, regardless of the proportion of calories that come from fat, carbohydrates or protein. This means you don’t have to eliminate carbs or fat to eat a healthy diet, as long as you choose heart-healthy options and keep your total calories low. If you love pasta or beef, don’t deprive yourself of your favorite foods. Instead, choose whole grain pastas and small portions of lean beef like tenderloin. Use heart-healthy fats like olive oil to prepare your food, and balance any high-calorie items with low-calorie side dishes.
Instead of focusing your meal on a large steak or heaping serving of pasta, incorporate foods like vegetables, which provide a lot of food for a few calories. Fruits and vegetables have high water and fiber content, which means they fill you up for fewer calories and they keep you feeling full for longer. Fill at least one-third of your plate with fruit or vegetables at every meal, and choose oranges or green peppers for mid-afternoon snacks instead of processed snack foods.
The key to keeping calories in check is portion control. Until you are familiar with proper portion sizes, use measuring cups or specific dishes to help gauge your portions. The USDA defines one serving of pasta as ½ cup, or about one handful. A serving of meat is three oz., or about the size of a deck of cards. Most Americans consume three to four servings of meat and pasta without even realizing it, and those calories add up. Stick to one or two servings of protein and carbohydrates per meal, and fill the rest of your plate with steamed, grilled or fresh veggies.
The American Heart Association emphasizes the importance of dietary variety for both nutritional benefit and to keep your diet interesting. Include foods from every food group, and vary the items you choose. Include proteins like fish, chicken, beef, beans and lentils on a rotating basis, and include carbohydrates like pasta, potatoes, brown rice and quinoa. Eat fresh produce when it is ripe and in season, and try new fruits and vegetables; you may discover new healthy foods you didn’t even know about.