What is a Healthy Diet

A healthy diet is one that helps to maintain or improve overall health.
A healthy diet provides the body with essential nutrition. Fluid, adequate essential amino acids from protein, essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, and adequate calories. The requirements for a healthy diet can be met from a variety of plant-based and animal-based foods. A healthy diet supports energy needs and provides for human nutrition without exposure to toxicity or excessive weight gain from consuming excessive amounts.

Overall, the main recommendation is to follow a healthy eating pattern that incorporates a variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages.

The Guidelines recommend that you:

• Consume mostly nutrient-dense foods, which include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, lean meats, and seafood

• Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains. (The Advisory Committee behind the guidelines specifically recommends reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas.)
• Balance calories with physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Below are some general guidelines that apply to everyone and are important for good health.


• Know your healthy body weight range, and eat and live to maintain (or achieve) it.
• Combine healthy eating with physical activity.
• Use the dietary guidelines, including recommendations for alcohol consumption, as an outline to help steer you toward the right foods and day-to-day proportions of foods.

• Drink a significant amount of water (up to 2 quarts) per day.
• Pay attention to when, why, and where you eat. When you start to notice unhealthy patterns, you will be better able to change them.

Build a Healthy Eating Style

All food and beverage choices matter – focus on variety, amount, and nutrition.

• Focus on making healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups including fruits, vegetables, grains, protein foods, and dairy to get the nutrients you need.
• Eat the right amount of calories for you based on your age, sex, height, weight, and physical activity level.
• Building a healthier eating style can help you avoid overweight and obesity and reduce your risk of diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Choose an eating style low in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars.

• Use Nutrition Facts labels and ingredient lists to find amounts of saturated fat, sodium, and added sugars in the foods and beverages you choose.
• Look for food and drink choices that are lower in saturated fat, sodium, and added sugar.
Eating fewer calories from foods high in saturated fat and added sugars can help you manage your calories and prevent overweight and obesity. Most of us eat too many foods that are high in saturated fat and added sugar.
Eating foods with less sodium can reduce your risk of high blood pressure.

Make small changes to create a healthier eating style.

Start with a few of these small changes.
• Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
• Focus on whole fruits.
• Vary your veggies.
• Make half your grains whole grains.
• Move to low-fat and fat-free dairy.
• Vary your protein routine.
• Eat and drink the right amount for you.

How does diet influence the global burden of chronic disease

Chronic diseases are long-term diseases that are not contagious and largely preventable. They include diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, and dental diseases and present a growing burden for society.

As chronic diseases are largely preventable, a global strategy on diet, physical activity and health is needed. Changes in the diet that may be helpful in reducing the risk of chronic diseases include eating a diet that is low in fat and sugars and rich in fruits, vegetables and wholegrain foods.

How are chronic diseases linked to diet and nutrition

Diet, as well as other factors such as physical activity and tobacco use, can affect health throughout life.

• Growth delays in the womb and in early infancy can increase the risk of diet-related chronic diseases in later life.
• Breastfeeding may lower the risk of later developing obesity. In contrast, breast-milk substitutes (formula) may increase the risk of developing several chronic diseases.
• During childhood and adolescence, adopting habits such as unhealthy diets and low-levels of exercise increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and obesity.
• Most chronic diseases are expressed in adulthood. Therefore, it is a critical time for reducing risk factors such as tobacco use, excess weight gain and obesity, physical inactivity, cholesterol, high blood pressure and alcohol consumption.

As the risk of developing chronic disease can be reduced at any age, people of all ages are encouraged to eat healthily, maintain their weight, and exercise.

Use plant foods as the foundation of meals

Most of the calories in your diet should come from a variety of whole-grain products, vegetables, and fruits. Plant foods provide a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for health, and most are naturally low in fat.
The Guidelines recommend incorporating all the vegetable subgroups—dark green, red and orange, legumes (such as beans and peas), and starchy—into your eating patterns. (You can have some of each throughout the week, for example.)
Plant foods—such as whole-grain breads and cereals, vegetables, and fruits—provide fiber, which is important for proper bowel function and may lower the risk for heart disease and some cancers. Because there are different types of fiber in foods, choose a variety of foods daily. You want whole grains to make up at least half of your overall grain intake.

Get enough calcium-rich foods

Consume some low-fat or fat-free milk or an equivalent amount of calcium each day through other calcium rich foods or a dietary supplement. Soy beverages that are fortified with calcium (like soy milk) are considered equivalent to milk in nutritional and calcium content, but plant-based “milks” (almond, rice, coconut, hemp) are not.

Keep saturated and trans fats low (and total fat intake moderate)

Saturated fat and trans fatty acids raise blood cholesterol more than other forms of fat. Keep saturated fats to less than 10 percent of calories and keep trans fatty acids as low as possible. The fats from meat, milk, and milk products are the main sources of saturated fats in most diets, so select lean meats, poultry, fish, and low-fat milk products. (The Advisory Committee behind the guidelines specifically recommends reducing consumption of red and processed meats to help prevent chronic diseases.) Many bakery products are also sources of saturated fats and trans fatty acids, such as palm oil and partially hydrogenated oils.

The Dietary Guidelines recommend shifting from solid fats to oils in food preparation (for example, using vegetable oil instead of butter in cooking).

Restrict sugar and salt

The best way to avoid unwanted sugar, salt, and other additives is to prepare whole food from scratch as much as possible. This gives you total control not only over the flavor and quality of your food, but also over any unwanted ingredients hidden through processing. The naturally occurring sugars, salts, and fats in our food are important components of a healthy diet and are not to be mistaken for the multitude of artificial sugars, salts, and fats commonly added to foods.


Many studies in diverse populations have shown that a high sodium intake is associated with higher blood pressure. Most evidence suggests that many people at risk for high blood pressure reduce their chances of developing this condition by consuming less salt or sodium. The Dietary Guidelines recommend keeping sodium intake below 2,300 mg/day.

Use alcohol in moderation

Alcohol provides empty calories and is harmful when consumed in excess. Some people should not drink at all, such as children and adolescents, pregnant women, those with liver or other diseases, those taking certain medications that interact with alcohol, and those who can’t restrict their drinking. Moderation is defined as one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men. (One drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.)

Prepare Food for Health and Safety

Healthy eating also involves preparing food to preserve nutrients and prevent disease, as well as paying attention to food production issues.

Healthy cooking

When preparing food, aim to preserve the nutrient value of the food and utilize healthy fats, reasonable portions, and whole foods:

• Use healthy cooking methods such as steaming, broiling, grilling and roasting often. Frying requires adding fat to achieve the desired results and deep-fried foods add considerable fat to the American diet.
• Cook foods in as little water and for as short a period of time as possible to preserve all water soluble vitamins (B Group and C).
• Use a variety of herbs and spices for additional flavor rather than relying on salt alone.
• Recognize that any packaged or processed foods are likely to contain added salt, sugar and fats, and that consuming these foods increases your intake of these foods considerably. As we eat more and more processed foods, we eat less of the phytochemicals and nutrients our bodies need.

Food As Medicine

Americans are bombarded with information about “healthy eating,” but we suffer from higher rates of obesity and chronic disease than ever before.

As a nation, we are increasingly eating more processed foods. Our supermarkets are full of convenient packaged foods that appeal to our taste buds, but compromise our nutrition. Because most of these foods’ natural nutrients are removed in the refining process, we need to get them elsewhere.

In addition, we are eating less variety of foods. Ironically, while 17,000 new products are introduced each year, two-thirds of our calories come from just four foods: corn, soy, wheat, and rice.

It is easy to fall into the pattern of eating fast, convenient, prepared food, especially in our often frenetic lives. But we are not nurturing ourselves by doing so. Our Standard American Diet lacks nutrients and relies heavily on processed foods that include artificial color, additives, flavorings, and chemically-altered fats and sweeteners.

In many medical systems, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurvedic Medicine, or Native American, food has always been an important way to treat illness and maintain health. Little by little more ‘traditional’ medical institutions and environments are recognizing the legitimacy and importance of these approaches. An increasing number of studies provide evidence for the preventive or curative properties of certain foods, as well as the effects of utilizing food and diet as part of a comprehensive approach to health.

The nutrients in food enable the cells in our bodies to perform their necessary functions.

“Nutrients are the nourishing substances in food that are essential for the growth, development and maintenance of body functions. Essential meaning that if a nutrient is not present, aspects of function and therefore human health decline. When nutrient intake does not regularly meet the nutrient needs dictated by the cell activity. The metabolic processes slow down or even stop.”

The Functional Medicine Perspective

One component of Functional Medicine focuses on how diet impacts health and function. When Functional Medicine practitioners examine the role of nutrition in chronic disease, they look at multiple systems, such as the digestive system, the immune system, and the detoxification system, because of the interconnections between those systems.

One of the ways Functional Medicine seeks to address declining health is to provide the foods and nutrients needed to restore function. This is a cost effective, non-invasive intervention that aims to stop the progression into disease.

In The China Study, T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell present a clear and concise message: if you want to be healthy, change your diet. The China Study describes the most comprehensive research ever undertaken (including more than 2,400 counties in China) to show the relationship between diet and the risk of developing diseases.

Eight Principles of Food and Health:

1. Nutrition represents the combined activities of countless food substances. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Solely taking vitamin supplements is not the way to good health.
3. There are virtually no nutrients in animal-based foods that are not better provided by plants.
4. Genes do not determine diseases on their own. Genes function only by being activated or expressed, and nutrition plays a critical role in determining which genes, good and bad, are expressed.
5. Nutrition can substantially control the adverse effects of noxious chemicals.
6. The same nutrition that prevents disease in its early stages (before diagnosis) can also halt or reverse disease in later stages (after diagnosis).
7. Nutrition that is truly beneficial for one chronic disease.
8. Good nutrition creates health in all areas of our existence.

No specific dietary intakes are recommended for the prevention of chronic diseases. There is, however, a “safe range” of dietary intakes that is considered to be consistent with the maintenance of health of a population.

A balanced diet can help prevent chronic diseases. The Joint WHO/FAO Expert Consultation proposes guidelines for the contribution of different food groups towards a typical balanced diet.

• Total fat intake should represent 15 to 30% of total dietary energy intake.
• Intake of free sugars, such as those found in soft drinks and many processed foods.
• An intake of at least 400g of fruits and vegetables per day is recommended. Combined with a consumption of wholegrain cereals this intake is likely to provide an adequate amount of fibre.
• The WHO also makes recommendations about body weight – in terms of Body Mass Index (BMI) – and physical activity.

Final recommendations

World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) makes the following 5 recommendations with respect to both populations and individuals:

• Eat roughly the same amount of calories that your body is using. A healthy weight is a balance between energy consumed and energy that is “burnt off”.
• Limit intake of fats, and prefer unsaturated fats to saturated fats and trans fats.
• Increase consumption of plant foods, particularly fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts.
• Limit the intake of sugar. A 2003 report recommends less than 10% of calorie intake from simple sugars.
• Limit salt / sodium consumption from all sources and ensure that salt is iodized.

Other recommendations include:

• Essential micronutrients such as vitamins and certain minerals.
• Avoiding directly poisonous (e.g. heavy metals) and carcinogenic (e.g. benzene) substances.
• Avoiding foods contaminated by human pathogens (e.g. E. coli, tapeworm eggs).

The American Heart Association, World Cancer Research Fund, and American Institute for Cancer Research recommends a diet that consists mostly of unprocessed plant foods, with emphasis a wide range of whole grains, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables and fruits. This healthy diet is full of a wide range of various non-starchy vegetables and fruits, that provide different colors including red, green, yellow, white, purple, and orange. They note that tomato cooked with oil, allium vegetables like garlic, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, provide some protection against cancer. This healthy diet is low in energy density, which may protect against weight gain and associated diseases. Finally, limiting consumption of sugary drinks, limiting energy rich foods, including “fast foods” and red meat. Avoiding processed meats improves health and longevity. Overall, researchers and medical policy conclude that this healthy diet can reduce the risk of chronic disease and cancer.

In children less than 25 gms of added sugar (100 calories) is recommended per day. Other recommendations include no extra sugars in those under 2 years old and less than one soft drink per week.