FORT SILL, Okla. (July 3, 2013) -- As a registered dietitian for Reynolds Army Community Hospital, people often ask what they should eat, even asking me to tell them exactly what their meals should be.

So they are often frustrated when my response to them is "it depends." By that I mean it depends on many different factors, because we all come from different walks of life, different ages and different health statuses

As a nutritionist, my role is to support patients in achieving their health goals, whether it be controlling blood sugar levels, preventing heart disease or just losing a couple extra pounds. There is not one approach to giving nutritional advice that fits everyone.

Although there is no one right way to eat, there are some basic dietary guidelines we can all follow when planning mealtimes, food shopping and any eating environment to help us all make good choices for a healthier lifestyle.

Every five years, the Department of Agriculture publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

They provide proven nutrition information and advice for people ages 2 and older. These guidelines serve as the basis for federal food and nutrition education programs.

Recently, the USDA replaced the old Food Guide Pyramid with the My Plate model to provide the public with user-friendly guidelines that can translate directly to foods people put on their plates. Here are some easy ways to start getting your plate in shape:

1. Fill half your plate with fruits and veggies.
-- Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients vital for health, such as potassium, dietary fiber, vitamin C, and folate (a water-soluble B vitamin naturally present in some foods). Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, sodium and calories.

-- Include fruit at any meal, as a topping for cereals and salads or as a snack between meals.

-- Cook fresh, frozen or canned vegetables in the microwave for a quick-and-easy dish to add to any meal.

2. Go lean with protein.
-- Choose lean or low fat cuts of meat (loins, greater than 90-percent lean ground meats, skinless poultry), deli meats (turkey, roast beef, ham), and other protein foods (beans, nuts, tofu).

-- Use lean meat preparation steps: trim or drain fat; remove poultry skin; broil, grill, roast or poach meats; and prepare meats without added sauces or gravies.

3. Get your calcium rich foods.
- Choose fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk and dairy products (yogurt, cheese, cottage cheese). They have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrient as full fat versions, but have fewer calories and less saturated fat (which can raise LDL cholesterol).

-- Pair your meal with a cup of fat-free or low-fat (1 percent) milk or yogurt.

4. Make at least half the grains you eat whole grains.
-- Read the ingredients list and choose products that name a whole grain ingredient first on the list.

Look for whole wheat, brown rice, bulgur, buckwheat, oatmeal, whole-grain cornmeal, whole oats, whole rye or wild rice.

-- Use the Nutrition Facts label to check the fiber content of whole-grain foods. Good sources of fiber contain at least 2.5 grams of dietary fiber, while excellent sources contain 5 grams or more.

-- Substitute a whole-grain product for a refined product, such as eating 100-percent whole wheat bread instead of white bread or brown rice instead of white rice.

Reaching nutrition and fitness goals cannot be achieved in a day. It will take time and patience.

However, these small steps can help people get started on the path toward healthier and more active lives. Start with one or two small changes that are realistic for you and your family and go from there. Let your kids pick out a new vegetable to try next time you are out shopping.

Another option is to knock out three of the recommendations by starting your day with a spinach, berry and milk, or yogurt, smoothie for breakfast.

So when people ask what should they eat the response is simple -- more whole fruits and vegetables; lean meats for protein; fat-free and low-fat dairy foods; and more whole grains.

These recommendations are more nutritious, less expensive and more filling with fewer calories than highly processed foods that dominate much of the space of a retail grocery store.

For more information, ideas and tips on healthier eating, visit