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Stick to basics to eat right

​​​Let's face it, figuring out what to eat isn't always straightforward.

father and son shoppingBut if you follow a few basic tips, it's fairly simple to eat better and avoid the bad stuff, said Chrisanne Urban​, a registered dietitian with Marshfield Clinic's Nutrition and Diabetes Services.

Drinking plenty of water is the most important thing you can do, because every part of our body needs it to function properly, Urban said. If water seems bland, add a piece of fruit for flavor.

"It's amazing how much better people feel when they drink enough water," she said. "Proper hydration can help reduce things like headaches, fatigue and constipation."

Most of us realize fruits and vegetables are important, and the reason is simple: They're packed with vitamins and nutrients we need.

Urban's favorite fruits are any kind of berries, because they're filled with antioxidants and minerals such as potassium, which plays a key role in functions such as blood pressure and the nervous system.

"We can't reproduce what's naturally found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and even meat. A vitamin and mineral supplement is no substitute," she said.

Urban recommends monounsaturated fats such as olive and canola oils. These are heart-healthy options and help reduce levels of artery-clogging cholesterol.

Don't forget fiber. Eat cereals, breads, pasta and crackers that contain whole grains. Fiber improves digestive and heart health and keeps us full longer, Urban said.

When figuring out what to avoid, Urban recommends targeting a few types of food, and to use moderation.

Soda remains a major culprit when it comes to obesity. One 12-ounce can contains 9-13 teaspoons of sugar, Urban said.

Eating trans fats increases the chance you'll develop heart disease. They're often found in processed foods, such as cookies and frozen pizzas. Look for "partially hydrogenated oils," in the ingredients list. These are trans fats and if food contains less than 0.5 grams it can legally be labeled as "0 grams."

Try to avoid foods containing nitrates. Nitrates are linked to cancer, and most often are found in processed meats like bacon and bratwursts.

"It comes down to moderation, and that's where we get off track," Urban said. "I enjoy bacon, but it comes down to how often and how much I eat it."