Importance of Good Nutrition
Your food choices affect your health… how you feel today, tomorrow and in the future.
Good nutrition is part of a healthy lifestyle. Combined with a physical activity, you diet can help you to reach a healthy weight, reduce your risk for chronic diseases (like heart disease and cancer), and promote your overall health.
The Impact of Nutrition on Your Health
Unhealthy eating habits have contributed to the obesity epidemic in the United States: about one-third of U.S. adults (33.8%) are obese and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. Even for people at a healthy weight, a poor diet is associated with major health risks that can cause illness and even death. These include heart disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, and certain types of cancer. By making smart food choices, you can help protect yourself from these health problems.
The risk factors for adult chronic diseases, like hypertension and type 2 diabetes, are increasingly seen in younger ages, often a result of unhealthy eating habits and increased weight gain. Dietary habits established in childhood often carry into adulthood, so teaching children how to eat healthy at a young age will help them stay healthy throughout their life.
The link between good nutrition and healthy weight, reduced chronic disease risk, and overall health is too important to ignore. By taking steps to eat healthy, you’ll be on your way to getting the nutrients your body needs to stay healthy, active, and strong. As with physical activity, making small changes in your diet can go a long way, and it’s easier than you think!
How to Eat Healthy
It’s easier than you think to start eating healthy! Take small steps each week to improve your nutrition and move toward a healthier you.
Eight Healthy Eating Goals
Small changes can make a big difference to your health. Try incorporating at least six of the eight goals below into your diet. Commit to incorporating one new healthy eating goal each week over the next six weeks.
Make half your plate fruits and vegetables: Choose red, orange, and dark-green vegetables like tomatoes, sweet potatoes, and broccoli, along with other vegetables for your meals. Add fruit to meals as part of main or side dishes or as dessert. The more colorful you make your plate, the more likely you are to get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to be healthy.
Make half the grains you eat whole grains: An easy way to eat more whole grains is to switch from a refined-grain food to a whole-grain food. For example, eat whole-wheat bread instead of white bread. Read the ingredients list and choose products that list a whole-grain ingredients first. Look for things like: “whole wheat,” “brown rice,” “bulgur,” “buckwheat,” “oatmeal,” “rolled oats,” quinoa,” or “wild rice.”
Switch to fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk: Both have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat.
Choose a variety of lean protein foods: Meat, poultry, seafood, dry beans or peas, eggs, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the protein foods group. Select leaner cuts of ground beef (where the label says 90% lean or higher), turkey breast, or chicken breast.
Compare sodium in foods: Use the Nutrition Facts label to choose lower sodium versions of foods like soup, bread, and frozen meals. Select canned foods labeled “low sodium,” “reduced sodium,” or “no salt added.”
Drink water instead of sugary drinks: Cut calories by drinking water or unsweetened beverages. Soda, energy drinks, and sports drinks are a major source of added sugar and calories in American diets. Try adding a slice of lemon, lime, or watermelon or a splash of 100% juice to your glass of water if you want some flavor.
Eat some seafood: Seafood includes fish (such as salmon, tuna, and trout) and shellfish (such as crab, mussels, and oysters). Seafood has protein, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids (heart-healthy fat). Adults should try to eat at least eight ounces a week of a variety of seafood. Children can eat smaller amounts of seafood, too.
Cut back on solid fats: Eat fewer foods that contain solid fats. The major sources for Americans are cakes, cookies, and other desserts (often made with butter, margarine, or shortening); pizza; processed and fatty meats (e.g., sausages, hot dogs, bacon, ribs); and ice cream.
Emphasis on Fruits & Veggies
- Mix vegetables into your go-to dishes. Try spinach with pasta or peppers in tacos.
- Use fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables. They all offer the same great nutrients. Just be sure to watch the sodium on canned vegetables and look for fruits packed in water or 100% juice (not syrup).
- Pack your child’s lunch bag with fruits and veggies: sliced apples, a banana, or carrot sticks are all healthy options.
- For a handy snack, keep cut-up fruits and vegetables like carrots, peppers, or orange slices in the refrigerator.
- Teach children the difference between everyday snacks, such as fruits and veggies, and occasional snacks, such as cookies or other sweets.
- Make water a staple of snack time. Try adding a slice of lemon, lime, or a splash of 100% juice to your water for a little flavor.
- Swap out your cookie jar for a basket filled with fresh fruit.
Ways to Reduce Fat, Salt, and Sugar
- Choose baked or grilled food instead of fried when you’re eating out and implement this at home, too.
- Make water and fat-free or low-fat milk your go-to drinks instead of soda or sweetened beverages.
- Serve fruits as everyday desserts-like baked apples and pears or a fruit salad.
- Read labels on packaged ingredients to find foods lower in sodium.
- Skip adding salt when cooking; instead use herbs and spices to add flavor.
Controlling Portion Size
- Use smaller plates to control portion sizes.
- Don’t clean your plate or bowl if you’re full, instead save leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
- Portion sizes depend on the age, gender, and activity level of the individual.
Healthy Eating in School
- Bring healthy snacks into your child’s classroom for birthday parties and celebrations, instead of providing sugary treats.
- Pack healthy lunches for your children including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
- Schools across the nation are making their lunch rooms healthier places. Learn more with the Chefs Move to Schools initiative-where chefs work with local schools to add flavorful, healthy meals to menus.
Tips for Balancing Calories to Manage Weight
Following the eight healthy eating goals above can help your body get the nutrients it needs. Here are some other tips to keep in mind if you also are trying to manage your weight.
- Balance calories: Find out how many calories you need for a day as a first step in managing your weight. Go to ChooseMyPlate.gov to find your calorie level. To help plan, analyze, and track your diet and physical activity, use the SuperTracker.
- Enjoy your food, but eat less: Take the time to fully enjoy your food as you eat it. Eating too fast or when your attention is elsewhere may lead to eating too many calories. Pay attention to hunger and fullness cues before, during, and after meals. Use them to recognize when to eat and when you’ve had enough.
- Watch your portion sizes: Check to see what the recommended portion sizes of foods you eat looks like in the bowls, plates, and glasses you use at home. When dining out avoid “supersizing” your meal or buying “combo” meal deals that often include large-size menu items. Choose small-size items instead or ask for a take home bag and wrap up half of your meal to take home before you even start to eat.
- Be physically active: Being physically active can help you manage your weight. Youth (6-17 years old) need to be active for at least 60 minutes a day (or 12,000 steps). Adults (18 and older) need to be active for at least 30 minutes (or 8,500 steps) a day. Learn more about being active.
When cooking, keep these tips in mind to keep your family safe from food poisoning.
- Clean: Wash hands, utensils, and cutting boards before and after contact with raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs.
- Separate: Keep raw meat and poultry apart from foods that won’t be cooked.
- Cook: Use a food thermometer. You can’t tell if food is cooked safely by how it looks.
- Chill: Chill leftovers and takeout foods within two hours and keep the refrigerator at 40°F or below.
- Rinse: Rinse fruits and vegetables (even those with skins or rinds that are not eaten) with tap water.
For more food safety tips, visit FoodSafety.gov.