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Nutrition: You are what you eat

The Healthy Eating Plate created by nutrition experts

The Healthy Eating Plate created by nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health, in conjunction with Harvard Health Publications. (Credit: Harvard School of Public Health)

What's in your kitchen? If the answer is a bunch of snack foods, sugary sweets and soda, you may literally be digging your own grave.

Six of the 10 leading causes of death in the U.S. are linked to poor diets, according to the New York State Department of Health Division of Nutrition.

What many fail to realize is how dramatically our healthy and not-so-healthy choices in nutrition impact our lifestyles and life spans.

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According to the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) there are five food groups everyone's kitchens should be stocked with.

1) Produce

If there’s one food group you should have readily available to cook with, it’s undoubtedly produce.

Some of the best produce to have on hand are garlic, dark salad greens like spinach and romaine, onions, carrots and apples. For fresh, local-grown produce, be sure to check out a farmers market near you. Regardless of where you shop you'll want to look for what seems the most fresh.

Still, fruits and vegetables aren't everything.

2) Grains

Whole grains, like brown rice, barley, quinoa, and whole wheat pasta have surged in popularity in recent years and provide another cooking option. These blends not only serve as great health alternatives to refined grains, but also create some delicious recipes.

3) Protein

What was once the traditional centerpiece of any meal has transformed into more of a complement to the whole plate/pyramid. Poultry, fish, beans are more of the staple go-to proteins, but the key is to balance it with the rest of the food components on your plate.

HSPH recommends that only a quarter of your plate be reserved for meat, while veggies should get half.

4) Fats and oils

You'd think we’ve come a long way from just slathering butter on or deep-frying everything, but you can never be too sure.

Make liquid vegetable oil your best friend and your “healthy fat." Canola, corn and olive oil are my personal staples to cook with, but there are others like soybean and sunflower that will get the job done as well.

5) Other essentials

Everyone has his or her own customized spice rack or “pizzazz” shelf. The key is to stock it with the highest quality of ingredients.

My personal favorites are fresh and dried herbs, crushed red pepper and Parmesan cheese. Yours can include anything from unsalted nuts to tomato sauce.

While it may be tempting to stock your shelves with the typical go-to comfort foods that you reach for to satisfy short-lived cravings, the long term effects can take a huge toll on your overall well-being.

When it comes down to it, if you want to be healthy, you have to eat healthy. Share with us in the comments below any substitute ingredients you use to stay healthy.

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