U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Eat Healthy

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Eating healthy means getting enough vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients – and limiting unhealthy foods and drinks. Eating healthy also means getting the number of calories that's right for you (not eating too much or too little).

To eat healthy, be sure to get plenty of:

  • Vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, seeds, and nuts

It's also important to limit:

  • Sodium (salt)
  • Added sugars – like refined (regular) sugar, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, and honey
  • Saturated fats, which come from animal products like cheese, fatty meats, whole milk, and butter, and plant products like palm and coconut oils
  • Trans fats, which may be in foods including stick margarines, coffee creamers, and some desserts
  • Refined grains which are in foods like cookies, white bread, and some snack foods

Get a personalized Daily Food Plan to help you choose healthy foods.

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The Basics: Health Benefits

A healthy diet can help keep you healthy.
Eating healthy is good for your overall health. Making smart food choices can also help you manage your weight and lower your risk for certain chronic (long-term) diseases.

When you eat healthy foods – and limit unhealthy foods – you can reduce your risk for:

  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Some types of cancer
  • Osteoporosis (bone loss)

Learn more about why eating healthy is important.

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Take Action!

Take Action: Track Meals

Making small changes to your eating habits can make a big difference for your health over time. Here are some tips and tools you can use to get started.

Keep a food diary.
Knowing what you eat now will help you figure out what you want to change. Print this food diary [PDF - 36 KB] and write down:

  • When you eat
  • What and how much you eat
  • Where you are and who you are with when you eat
  • How you are feeling when you eat

For example, you might write something like:
"Tuesday 3:30 pm, 2 chocolate chip cookies, at work with Mary, feeling stressed."

Try this SuperTracker tool to plan and track your diet and physical activity.

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Take Action: Shop Smart

Shop smart at the grocery store.
The next time you go food shopping:

  • Make a shopping list ahead of time. Only buy what's on your list. 
  • Don't shop while you are hungry – eat something before you go to the store. 

Use these tips to buy healthy foods: 

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Take Action: Check the Label

Read the Nutrition Facts label.
Understanding the Nutrition Facts label on food packages can help you make healthy choices.

First, look at the serving size and the number of servings per package – there may be more than 1 serving!

Next, check out the percent Daily Value (% DV) column. The DV lets you know if a food is higher or lower in certain nutrients. Look for foods that are: 

  • Lower in sodium and saturated fat (5% DV or less)
  • Higher in fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamin D (20% DV or more)

The picture below shows an example of a Nutrition Facts label.

Nutrition Facts Label

To learn more about the Nutrition Facts label:

Read the ingredients list, too. 
To limit added sugars in your food, make sure that added sugars are not listed in the first few ingredients. Names for added sugars include: sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, honey, and maple syrup. 

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Take Action: Healthy Families

Be a healthy family.
Parents and caregivers are important role models for healthy eating. You can teach kids how to choose and prepare healthy foods.

If you have a family member who has a hard time eating healthy, use these tips to start a conversation about how you can help.

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Take Action: Eating Out

Eat healthy away from home.
You can make smart food choices wherever you are – at work, in your favorite restaurant, or out running errands. Try these tips for eating healthy even when you are away from home:

  • At lunch, have a sandwich on whole-grain bread instead of white bread. 
  • Skip the soda – drink water instead.
  • In a restaurant, choose dishes that are steamed, broiled, or grilled instead of fried.
  • On a long drive or shopping trip, pack healthy snacks like fruit, unsalted nuts, or low-fat string cheese sticks.

Get more tips for eating healthy when dining out.

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Take Action: See Your Doctor

If you are worried about your eating habits, talk to a doctor.
If you need help making healthier food choices, your doctor or a registered dietitian can help. A registered dietitian is a health professional who helps people with healthy eating. 

If you make an appointment to talk about your eating habits, be sure to take a food diary with you to help start the conversation.

What about cost?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, health plans must cover diet counseling for people at higher risk for chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get diet counseling at no cost to you. Check with your insurance company to find out what’s included in your plan.

For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Manage your high blood pressure or diabetes.
If you or a loved one has high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or heart disease, talk with your doctor or a registered dietitian about how to stay healthy. If you need to follow a special diet, check out these websites:

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