Starting Right: Proper Nutrition Basics for Beginners

Key Points:

  • Eating well and engaging in physical activity are keys to good health.

  • Finding a sustainable diet plan for beginners is easier than you think.

  • Building a diet plan for beginners starts with whole, unprocessed foods packed with flavor and nutrition.

A well-balanced and nutritious diet is critical for maintaining good health. What you eat is intimately connected to how you feel and function each day. Incorporating clean, unprocessed foods provides your body with essential nutrients and energy to power through workouts and daily activities. A sustainable diet plan for beginners yields consistent results.

A healthy diet plan for beginners helps you maintain weight, reduces your risk of chronic diseases, and improves overall well-being. By prioritizing your nutrition and eating lean and clean, you set yourself up for success in the kitchen and gym.

Why Is Eating Clean So Hard?

Many people view committing to a clean diet as one of the most challenging aspects of the fitness journey. Why is it so hard to eat a healthy, balanced diet? 

Living in the Processed Jungle

The modern food environment is laden with convenient, calorie-dense foods dripping with salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. These highly processed foods are addictive by design and very difficult to resist, making it harder to choose healthy foods once you consume junk food.

Busy Schedules

Busy work schedules, extracurricular events, and stacked social calendars have people scrambling for food between life events. This frenetic pace increases reliance on fast food and other unhealthy convenient foods that wreak havoc on health.

Knowledge Is Power

Some people need more knowledge and resources to make healthy choices. Many Americans don’t know what constitutes a balanced, nutritious meal; others may have limited access to fresh, healthy foods in their area. Learning more about healthy eating habits benefits everyone.

Healthy, balanced meal

Emotional and Psychological Factors

For some, psychological and emotional factors contribute to unhealthy eating habits. Emotional turmoil, stress, and boredom cause people to turn to food for distraction and comfort, leading to poor choices and inevitable weight gain.

Changing your eating habits isn’t easy; it requires time, effort, and commitment. With the right mindset, additional support, and resources, you can make lasting changes and adopt a healthier, more balanced lifestyle.

Turning it Around

It’s time to begin the practice of eating right and feeling better. Forget those flash-in-the-pan diet trends that are only sustainable for a few weeks. 

Why does healthy eating matter? Food fuels your body’s many functions, delivering calories and nutrients you need for energy. Eating too much or too little results in an imbalance that causes your body to compensate for these changes. 

Caloric overload almost always results in weight gain, and overweight or obese people have a significantly increased risk of developing diseases such as:

  • Diabetes

  • Autoimmune and inflammatory conditions

  • Heart disease

  • High blood pressure

  • Cancer

  • Liver and kidney diseases

  • Sleep apnea

The quality of your diet directly impacts your risk of illness, longevity, and even your mental health. Diets rich in super-processed foods increase the risk of premature mortality and other life-threatening conditions. Poor nutrient absorption leads to an increase in depressive symptoms, especially for those who lead sedentary lifestyles. 

Benefits of Eating Lean and Clean

Following a healthy diet means different things for different people. Including nutrient-dense foods from all major food groups — proteins, grains, dairy, fruits, and veggies — ensures that you’re getting the most bang for your buck when absorbing vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from the food you eat.

What do you expect to gain from putting a rainbow of tastes, colors, and options on your plate?

A Healthier Heart

According to the Centers for Disease Control, heart disease remains a leading cause of death for adults in the United States. The American Heart Association claims that nearly half of Americans live with some stage of cardiovascular disease and decay.

High blood pressure — a symptom of cardiovascular stress — cases continues to grow at alarming rates, leading to heart attacks, congestive heart failure, and stroke. Dieticians report that it may be possible to prevent up to 80 percent of cardiovascular decline with simple lifestyle changes such as healthy eating and physical activity. 

Reduced Cancer Risk

Eating foods rich in antioxidants reduces your risk of developing cancer. Free radicals in the body cause cell damage over time. The phytochemicals commonly found in nuts, fruits, legumes, and vegetables reduce this damage and safeguard cell development.

Heathy foods

Improved Mood

Plenty of evidence suggests that food and mood are intimately connected. A 2016 study revealed that diets with a high glycemic load increased symptoms of depression and fatigue in participants.

Refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks, white bread, and sugar affect immunity and blood sugar levels. Refined carbs also alter your delicate microbiome, which is responsible for many other vital functions in the body.

Removing these toxic substances from your diet will begin to heal your tissues, significantly affecting the brain. As brain chemistry begins balancing itself, your moods soar to new heights with fewer incidents of depression and anxiety pushing their way to the surface.

Improved Gut Health

Eating a well-balanced diet promotes the development of a rich and diverse microbiome. Adding a variety of whole foods, fruits, veggies, and whole grains provides prebiotics, vital food sources for good gut bacteria. A diverse microbiome is a foundation for better, more robust health.

More Efficient Memory

A healthy diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods protects brain tissue from degeneration that leads to decline and memory impairment. Providing the brain with vital vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants helps support brain function and memory. 

Weight Loss and Weight Management

Practicing healthy eating habits — cooking at home, mindful eating, and consciously choosing foods that naturally “fuel” your body — results in weight management and loss. As you incorporate and practice healthful eating, you'll see and feel results that inspire you to keep improving your diet and fitness plan.

Making significant changes to your diet sometimes seems overwhelming, especially if you’re trying to change everything simultaneously. Instead of setting yourself up for failure, consider small, sustainable steps toward a better lifestyle. Every healthy choice builds confidence, ultimately sculpting a healthier body and life.

Slow Down!

The pace at which you choose to eat influences how much you consume and even how likely you are to gain weight. As it takes the brain at least 20 minutes to realize that you’re eating in the first place, slowing your pace will improve digestion and assimilation of vital nutrients, making your body more efficient at using what you consume.

Swap Out White Bread for Whole Grain

One easy change to make is to switch your regular white bread for a whole-grain option. Refined grains can cause a variety of health issues, including:

  • Inflammation

  • Arteriosclerosis

  • Obesity

Whole grains are an excellent source of B vitamins, fiber, and minerals such as magnesium, iron, zinc, and manganese; choose a multigrain product that fits your new nutrition requirements.

Always Shop With a List

There are two cardinal shopping rules to follow to eat healthier. Never shop hungry, and never enter the grocery store without a list. Failing to plan almost always results in impulse buying, leaving you with convenience foods you wouldn’t usually choose. Stick to the list, and you’ll save money and choose healthier foods to incorporate into your weekly menu.

Shopping for nutritious foods

Increase Your Protein Intake

Protein — the “king of nutrients” — sculpts muscle and keeps you full and satisfied. If you’re trying to maintain or even lose weight, plan to add a source of lean protein to each meal and snack. It satiates hunger and makes you less likely to overeat. Try these protein-packed options on for size:

  • Dairy products such as cheese or Greek yogurt

  • Nuts

  • Peanut butter

  • Eggs

  • Beans

  • Lean meat like chicken, fish, and turkey

Drink Water!

Drinking half your body weight — in ounces — each day increases weight loss and promotes more efficient weight maintenance, increasing the number of calories you burn daily. Water consumption also reduces your appetite and food intake, lowering your daily caloric intake. 

Try One New Healthy Recipe Per Week

Deciding what to have for dinner is a constant source of frustration, which is why many people repeatedly gravitate toward the same choices. Trying new, healthy recipes is a fun way to add more color and diversity to your diet. 

Spruce up your favorite dish by swapping out unhealthy fats and adding additional fiber, herbs, and spices without giving up your favorite flavors. This strategy will keep you on track while allowing you to enjoy your favorite foods.

Eat Your Greens

Eating more produce is one of the best ways to improve your daily vitamin and mineral intake. Greens are a rich source of vital nutrients that fill you up while providing proper building blocks for muscle growth. 

Eat Fruits Instead of Drinking Them

Fruits are jam-packed with water, fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Eating fruit reduces the risk of several health conditions like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. The fiber contained in fruit helps your body assimilate natural sugars and keep blood levels balanced. 

On the other hand, fruit juices quickly cause blood sugar spikes, creating a roller coaster of highs and lows with long-term health consequences like diabetes and weight gain. Chewing fruit is the best for gaining vital nutrients while regulating blood sugar levels. 

Nutritious meal

Simple Starting Point

Still trying to figure out how to create the perfect nutrition plan to lose weight and feel great? Use a calorie meal plan as a jumping-off point as you find food favorites and incorporate them into a healthy lifestyle.

Here are three full-day meal plans to try.

Breakfast Day One

  • 1 cup two percent plain Greek yogurt

  • ¼ cup low-sugar granola

  • ½ cup blueberries

Lunch Day One

  • English muffin, 2 Tbsp tomato sauce, 3 Tbsp shredded mozzarella

  • 12 baby carrots

Snack Day One

  • 1 medium apple

  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter

Dinner Day One

  • 2 cups cooked spaghetti squash

  • 3 oz chicken breast, baked

  • 2 Tbsp peanut sauce (peanut butter, soy sauce, maple syrup, red pepper, lime juice)

  • ½ sliced red bell pepper

  • ½ cup shredded carrots

Snack Day One

  • 2 Medjool dates

  • ¼ cup chocolate chips

Breakfast Day Two

  • 1 slice of whole-wheat toast

  • 1 Tbsp peanut butter

  • 1 banana, sliced

Oatmeal with banana and blueberries

Lunch Day Two

  • 3 oz sliced plain turkey, swiss cheese, lettuce, and 1 Tbsp mustard 

  • 1 whole wheat tortilla

Snack Day Two

  • 12 unsalted almonds

  • 10 cherries

Dinner Day Two

  • 3 oz grilled salmon

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice

  • ½ cup roasted broccoli florets in 1 Tbsp olive oil, salt, and pepper

Snack Day Two

  • 1 oz dark chocolate

Breakfast Day Three

  • 1 slice of whole-wheat bread

  • 1 poached egg

  • ½ avocado, mashed

Lunch Day Three

  • 2 cups chopped romaine

  • ½ cup cherry tomatoes

  • ½ cup cooked beets

  • 1 oz goat cheese

  • 1 oz walnuts

  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinaigrette

Snack Day Three

  • ¼ cup hummus

  • 10 baby carrots

Dinner Day Three

  • Turkey chili (3 oz ground turkey, 1 cup canned tomato, ½ cup black beans, ½ cup corn, cumin, chili powder)

Snack Day Three

  • 1 cup plain popcorn

  • 1 oz dark chocolate

Reach Your Goals

You may be a newbie in the gym and the kitchen, but that doesn’t mean you must keep putting off your fitness goals for lack of information. The best way to learn a new skill or habit is to jump in with both feet and acquire more practice as you build proficiency.

Girl prepping a nutritious meal

Be kind and patient with yourself — and the people around you — along the way, remembering that results don't happen overnight. Eating healthy is delicious and simple with the right strategies and some forethought in planning and execution.

Check out FitnessCorner for other tips on your wellness journey.

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