The questions you were too afraid to ask about healthy eating

Healthy eating can be a tricky endeavor: not all healthy eats are intuitive, and with many diets focusing on excluding whole food groups from carbs to fat, it's tough to get a balanced perspective. Here are five questions that come up about healthy eating - and the honest answers.

What are good and bad fats?
Low-fat items receive a lot of publicity, but adults are actually supposed to get 20-35 percent of their calories from fat, according to current dietary guidelines. The key is to steer away from saturated fats and seek unsaturated and monosaturated fats, which are found in nuts; seeds; oils like corn, safflower and olive; and many kinds of fish and avocados. Here's how you can tell the difference when cooking : unsaturated fats remain liquid when at room temperature, while saturated fats are solid like butter. Avoid transfat, too. And any time the words hydrogenated or shortening appear on a label, it's best to think twice.

What about carbs? Carbohydrates give the body fuel, so cutting them out completely can tailspin into fatigue and a plateau in metabolism. According to, there are benefits to both simple carbohydrates - found in fruit, table sugar, honey and dairy products - and complex carbohydrates - starches found in certain vegetables as well as crackers, bread, pasta and rice. Limit your intake of refined sugars such as cookies, cake or anything with high-fructose corn syrup. Try to focus on getting more complex carbs, which take longer to break down and are a better source of energy for the body.

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Do I need to count calories to lose weight?
"Consuming 100 calories worth of cupcakes, soda or french fries is not the same as eating 100 calories of vegetables or brown rice," Keri Glassman, R.D. tells WomensHealth magazine. What's important is keeping an eye on where the calories are coming from. Pay attention to whether foods contain the nutrients your body needs rather than budgeting teeny servings of high-calorie, low-nutrition-value menu items. If calorie counting is a big part of portion control or meal planning, look for an app like MyFitnessPal that allows users to monitor vitamin and nutrient intake against suggested daily values, paying mind to age and weight.

Is switching to vinaigrette the only way to make my salads healthier? It's easy to overdo it on dressing, with some varieties clocking in at more than 300 calories and 30 grams of fat per serving. Look for dressings that have more vinegar than oil, and try using spices to flavor up salads as well. Fresh lemon is another great low-calorie, high-flavor addition to salads. But if the dressing is a non-negotiable, try cutting empty calories elsewhere by losing the cheese or croutons.

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But smoothies -- those are always healthy, right? Not necessarily. While the idea of mixing up a bunch of fresh fruit, juice and ice sounds healthy in theory, many fruits naturally contain large amounts of sugar — and that's before the big smoothie chains get their hands on them to smother them with additives. Blending the right things up at home (or keeping a close eye on ingredients when buying out) can cut the calories in half and make smoothies a great source of nutrients. Try to balance sugary fruits with ingredients rich in fiber (think berries, kale, avocado or certain plant-based protein powders) and protein (Greek yogurt, nuts, nut butter and soy milk) to keep hunger at bay for longer. And steer clear of sugary additions like honey or maple syrup, even if they try to sneak in on the labels of the yogurt or protein powders.

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