Eat Healthy

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Eating healthy means following a healthy eating pattern that includes a variety of nutritious foods and drinks. It also means getting the number of calories that’s right for you (not eating too much or too little).

Use your calories to eat a variety of healthy foods.
To eat healthy, be sure to choose:

  • Vegetables
  • Fruits
  • Whole grains
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • A variety of foods with protein, including seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and soy products

Limit certain ingredients.

Sodium (salt)
Sodium comes from table salt – but most of the sodium we eat comes from packaged food or food that is prepared in restaurants.

Added sugars
Added sugars include syrups and sweeteners that manufacturers add to products like sodas, yogurt, and cereals – as well as things you add, like sugar in your coffee.

Saturated fats
Saturated fats come from animal products like cheese, fatty meats and poultry, whole milk, butter, and many sweets and snack foods. Some plant products like palm and coconut oils also have saturated fats.

Refined grains and starches
Refined grains and starches 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 eating pattern can help keep you healthy.
Eating healthy is good for your overall health – and there are many ways to do it.

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, you can reduce your risk for:

  • Obesity
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Some types of cancer

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 - 2 MB] 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."

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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 make healthy choices:

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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!

Then, check out the calories. Calories tell you how much energy is in 1 serving of a food. In general:

  • 100 calories per serving is moderate
  • 400 calories per serving is high

To stay at a healthy weight, you need to balance the calories you eat and drink with the calories you burn. Learn more about watching your weight.

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

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

You can also use the DV to compare food products. Just be sure to check and see if the serving size is the same.

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

Nutrition Facts Label

To learn more about the Nutrition Facts label:

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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 snacks and meals.

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, baked, 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, ask your doctor for help. Your doctor may refer you to a registered dietitian. A registered dietitian is a health professional who helps people with healthy eating.

What about cost?
Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, most 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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