Did you know?
Just one super-sized fast food meal can have more calories than you should eat in an entire day. And when people are served more food, they eat more food—even if they don't need it. This may lead to weight gain. When eating fast food, choose small portions or healthy fast food like a veggie wrap or salad.
Take the Portion Distortion Quiz to find out how portion sizes have changed over the last 20 years. See the Resources section for more info.
Healthy eating involves taking control of how much and what types of food you eat. This section has information to help you . . .
- Control your food portions.
- Charge your battery with high-energy foods.
- Avoid pizza, candy, and fast food.
- Stay powered up all day.
Control your food portions
A portion is the amount of one food you eat at one time. Many people eat larger portions than they need, especially when eating away from home. Ready-to-eat meals (from a restaurant, grocery store, or school event) may have larger portions than you need. Follow the tips below to control portions.
When eating away from home,
- Order something small. Try a half-portion or healthy appetizer, like hummus (chickpea spread) with whole-wheat pitas or grilled chicken. If you order a large meal, take half of it home or split it with someone else at the table.
- Limit the amount of fast food you eat. When you do get fast food, say "no thanks" to super-sized or value-sized options, like those that come with fries and soda.
- Choose salad with low-fat dressing, a sandwich with mustard instead of mayo, or other meals that have fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
- Choose grilled options, like chicken, or remove breading from fried items. Avoid meals that use the words creamy, breaded, battered, or buttered.
Did you know?
Many teens need more of these nutrients:
Calcium builds strong bones and teeth.
Vitamin D supports bone health.
Potassium helps lower blood pressure.
Dietary fiber may help you to digest your food better and feel full.
Protein helps you grow strong and powers you up.
Iron supports your growth.
When eating at home,
- Take one serving out of a package and eat it off a plate instead of eating straight out of a box or bag. "What do all these numbers mean?" explains where you can find serving sizes.
- Avoid eating in front of the TV or while you are busy with other activities. It is easy to lose track of how much you are eating if you eat while doing other things.
- Eat slowly so your brain can get the message that your stomach is full. Your brain needs about 20 minutes before it gets the message.
Charge your battery with high-energy foods
Eating healthy is not just about the amount of food you eat. You need to make sure you're eating the types of food that charge you up. Strive to eat meals that include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat protein, and dairy. More information is below, and you can check out the meal planning tool at the end of this guide.
Fruits and Vegetables
Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables. Dark green, red, and orange vegetables, in particular, have high levels of the nutrients you need, such as vitamin C, calcium, and fiber. Adding spinach or romaine lettuce and tomato to your sandwich is an easy way to get more veggies in your meal.
Maintain a healthy weight
- Try to eat less of foods like cookies and candy. If you do eat dessert, try low-fat frozen yogurt.
- Avoid adding sugar to your food and drinks.
- Drink water, low-fat milk, or fat-free milk, and avoid high-sugar drinks. Soda, energy drinks, and some juices are the main sources of added sugars in our diets.
Choose whole grains, like whole-wheat bread, brown rice, and oatmeal.
Power up with lean meats, like turkey on a sandwich, or chicken, seafood, eggs, beans, nuts, tofu, and other protein-rich foods.
Build strong bones with fat-free or low-fat milk products. If you cannot digest lactose (the sugar in milk that causes some people stomach pain), choose soy or rice milk and low-fat yogurt.
Avoid pizza, candy, and fast food
You don't have to stop eating these items, but eating less of them may help you maintain a healthy weight. Pizza, candy, fast food, and sodas have lots of added sugar, solid fats, and sodium. A healthy eating plan is low in these items.
Many foods, especially fruits, are naturally sweet. Other foods, like cookies, snack cakes, and brownies, have added sugars to make them taste better. These sugars add calories but not nutrients.
Did you know?
Not all fats are unhealthy! Unsaturated fats can be healthy—as long as you don't eat too much of them. Try eating moderate amounts of these foods, which have unsaturated fats:
- olive, canola, safflower, sunflower, corn, and soybean oils
- nuts like walnuts, almonds, peanuts, and pecans
- fish like tuna, salmon, and trout
Fat is important. It helps your body grow and develop; it is a source of energy; and it even keeps your skin and hair healthy. But some fats are better for you than others.
Solid fats are fats that are solid at room temperature, like butter, stick margarine, shortening, and lard. These fats often contain saturated and trans fats, which are high in calories and not heart healthy. Take it easy on foods like cakes, cookies, pizza, and fries, which often have a lot of solid fat.
Your body needs a small amount of sodium (mostly found in salt). But eating too much sodium can raise your blood pressure, which is unhealthy for your heart and your body in general.
Processed foods, like those that are canned, frozen, or packaged, often have a lot of sodium. Fresh foods do not, but often cost more. If you can afford to, eat fresh foods and prepare your own low-salt meals. If you use packaged foods, check the amount of sodium listed on the Nutrition Facts label. (Read "What do all these numbers mean?".) Rinse canned vegetables to remove excess salt.
Try to eat fewer than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. This equals about one teaspoon and includes salt that is already in prepared food, as well as salt you add when cooking or eating your food.
Your doctor knows more about your specific needs, so don't be afraid to ask her or him how much sodium you should be eating.
What do all these numbers mean?
When you read a food label, pay special attention to:
Serving Size. Check the amount of food in a serving. Do you eat more or less? The "servings per container" line tells you the number of servings in the food package.
Calories and Other Nutrients. Remember, the number of calories and other listed nutrients is for one serving only. Food packages often contain more than one serving.
Percent Daily Value. Look at how much of the recommended daily amount of a nutrient (% DV) is in one serving of food. In most cases, 5% DV or less is low and 20% DV or more is high. For example, this label shows that the food has 20% of the calcium you need to eat in one day. We can consider this food high in calcium. Notice, though, that it is also high in sodium (20%).
Graphic adapted from http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/LabelingNutrition/ucm274593.htm.
- fresh apples, berries, or grapes
- a handful of walnuts or almonds
- a small bag of baby carrots
- low-fat or fat-free yogurt
- string cheese
- peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers
Be media smart.
Advertisements, TV shows, the Internet, and other media can affect how you choose to eat and spend your time. Many ads try to persuade you to eat high-fat foods and sugary drinks. Others may try to sell you products, like video games. Be aware of some of the tricks ads use to pressure you:
- An ad may show a group of teens eating a food or using a product to make you think all teens are or should be doing the same. The ad may even use phrases such as "all teens need" or "all teens are."
- Advertisers sometimes show famous athletes using or recommending a product because they think you will want to buy products that your favorite stars use.
- Ads often use cartoon figures to make a food or activity look exciting and teen-friendly.
Did you know?
Teens who eat breakfast may do better in school and sports—and have healthier weights. By eating breakfast, you can increase your memory, stay focused, and feel less grouchy and restless.
Stay charged up all day
Skipping meals can lead to weight gain. Follow these tips to maintain a healthy weight:
- Eat breakfast every day. It gets your body going. You can even grab something on the go, like a piece of fruit and a slice of whole-grain bread.
- Pack your lunch on school days. If you pack your lunch, you can control the portions and make sure your meal is healthy.
- Eat healthy snacks, and try not to skip meals. See the "Snack smart" ideas above.
- Eat dinner with your family. When you eat with your family, you are more likely to eat a healthy meal, and you can take the time to catch up with each other.
- Be involved in grocery shopping and meal planning at home. If you're involved, you can make sure meals are healthy and taste good.