The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommends a strong emphasis in reducing the calorie consumption and increasing physical activity due to the obesity epidemic we are currently experiencing.

In this era, where everyone is in a rush to do pretty much everything, consuming a balanced and healthy diet has become increasingly difficult. And the number of food and ingredient options available is not helping us eat healthier – sometimes it just ends up confusing us.

For this reason, it’s important to know how to read and understand the nutrition labels of the products we purchase and consume. Even more important is knowing which ingredients and foods we should limit, the healthier alternatives, the size of the portions we should be consuming and how to incorporate physical activity in our daily routines.

Here are tips on how to follow a balanced and healthy diet:

- The Dietary Guideline recommends filling half of your plate with colorful fruits and vegetables in each meal and snack. Remember, the more colorful the fruit or vegetable, the more nutrients it contains.

- Modify your grandmother’s recipes with a healthy twist – stick to wholesome ingredients and base your foods around 100 percent wheat tortillas, fruits, vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grain and beans.

- Maintain your Latin flavors while helping your family consume less saturated fat by baking, broiling or boiling instead of frying.

- Switch from full-calorie sodas or orange-flavored drinks, which may contain added sugars and fewer nutrients to 100 percent orange juice. Make sure the containers say “100% orange juice” in the front of the packaging.

- Substitute solid fats, like margarine, for healthy oils like olive oil.

- Limit your visits to fast food restaurants. Remember most of these establishments offer some healthy alternatives - look for the words “grilled” and “steamed.”

Introducing a bit of daily physical activity is easier than you think:

- When you go to the store, park as far away from the entrance as possible. This way you’ll enjoy a short walk. If you can walk to the store instead of driving, even better!

- If feasible, instead of taking the elevator, take the stairs.

- You have a treadmill at home, but don’t have time to use it? Hop on it while watching your favorite TV show.

- Take a 15-minute walk during your lunch break.

- Get off the bus a stop before you usually do in order to extend your walk to work or back home.

Watch your portions

Everything with moderation. The majority of us consume more calories than our bodies need in order to function. The key is in the balance and moderation. The first step is to pay attention to what we’re eating and how much of it we’re eating. An easy way to learn the size of a moderate portion is to compare the portion size to commonly used objects.

For example:

- A tennis ball – a cup of 100% orange juice

- A deck of cards – 3 ounces of lean meat

- Four dice – one ounce of low-fat cheese

Sylvia Meléndez Klinger, a registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, is founder of Hispanic Food Communications, a food communications and culinary consulting company based in Hinsdale, Ill. She is Hispanic and uses her in-depth culinary and cultural expertise to introduce new strategies for wellness to an increasingly health-conscious Hispanic population. For more on her, go to hispanicfoodcommunications.com.

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