PUBLISHED: 4:37 PM on Wednesday, March 8, 2006
Confused about making healthy eating choices?
Fewer trans fats, more whole grains, five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables each: Good grief!

With so many dietary suggestions and changes to those suggestions, it's hard to know how to eat healthy. And that's after the initial difficulty of deciding to forgo the plethora of processed foods and renounce bad eating habits.

"Trying to decipher all of these messages is difficult," said Rachel Brandeis, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. "It's hard."

Still, Brandeis said, the health-conscious, or soon-to-be health-conscious person shouldn't give up. In truth, some basic knowledge can streamline the process to healthy eating habits.

"You just want to substitute unprocessed food for processed food. You also want to eliminate as many empty-calorie, processed foods as you can," she said.

When you are picking packaged products, "you really have to look at the ingredient list," she said.

Sounds good, but for those who still can't quite figure out, there's help.

"There are some really good Web sites out there,, that's the ADA's Web site, and others can help," Brandeis said.

"There's also a place where you can find a dietitian in your area. Any dietitian, any registered dietitian, can help a person personalize their meal plan, and that's what I'd encourage your readers to do," she said.

Here's a primer to get you on the right track. It won't substitute for a good talk with your doctor or dietitian but it should explain a few things.

What to eat

Whole Grains

It's recommended that half your grain intake (6 ounces, with 1 ounce being equal to a slice of bread of cup of rice, pasta, cereal) be whole grains, an important source of fiber and other nutrients. Whole grains, and the foods made from them, consist of the entire grain seed, called the kernel. The kernel is the bran, the germ and the endosperm.

NOTE: Whole grains cannot be identified by the color of the food; label-reading skills are needed. The first ingredient should be listed as "whole grain."

Fruits and vegetables

The daily recommendation is five to nine servings (children, five; women, teens and older children at seven; and men, nine)

In particular, select from all five vegetable subgroups (dark green, orange, legumes, starchy vegetables and other vegetables) and go for fruits that are good sources of vitamins A, C and potassium.

NOTE: A serving isn't as much as you think. It should fit within the palm of your hand. Usually, a typical portion is more than one serving; for example, a large salad can add up to two to three servings.

Milk and milk products

For those older than age 2, three cups of calcium-rich foods are suggested. Go for low-fat or fat-free varieties when you can.

NOTE: Though foods such as yogurt and cheese are included in this suggestion, foods made from milk that have little to no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream or butter, are not.

Meat and beans

For the 2,000-calorie diet, about 5 ounces of meat and beans are suggested. Most meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat and are best if baked, broiled or grilled.

NOTE: Vary your protein intake to include fish, peas, beans, nuts and seeds.

Common substitutions

• Instead of cooking with lard, butter, palm and coconut oils or shortening from these oils, cook only with corn, safflower, sunflower, soybean, cottonseed, olive, canola, peanut or shortenings made from these oils.

• Instead of one whole egg in recipes, use two egg whites.

• Instead of sour cream and mayonnaise, use plain low-fat yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese or low-fat or "light" sour cream and mayonnaise.

• Instead of sauces, butter and salt, season vegetables, including potatoes, with herbs and spices.

• Instead of salted potato chips and other snacks, choose low-fat, unsalted tortilla and potato chips and unsalted pretzels and popcorn.

• Instead of white bread, white rice and cereals, eat whole-grain cereals and breads and brown rice.

Source: U.S. Food and Drug Administration