Eating a balanced diet is crucial for maintaining good health and preventing chronic diseases. However, with so much conflicting nutrition advice out there, it can be confusing to know what we should be eating on a daily basis. This article will provide quick answers to common questions about everyday nutrition and outline the key foods and nutrients you need to focus on for optimal health.
What are the main food groups I should eat from?
According to the USDA’s MyPlate guidelines, a balanced diet should include all 5 major food groups:
- Protein Foods
Aim to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables which provide essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. The other half should contain equal parts lean protein foods and whole grains which provide energy and important nutrients. Low-fat or fat-free dairy foods are also recommended daily for calcium.
How many servings of each food group are recommended?
The recommended number of daily servings from each food group are:
- Fruits – 1 1⁄2 to 2 cups per day
- Vegetables – 2 to 3 cups per day
- Grains – 5 to 8 ounces per day
- Protein Foods – 5 to 7 ounces per day
- Dairy – 3 cups per day
One serving equals:
- 1 medium piece of fruit
- 1 cup raw leafy vegetables
- 1⁄2 cup cooked vegetables or chopped fruit
- 1 ounce lean meat, poultry or fish
- 1⁄4 cup cooked beans or peas
- 1 egg
- 1⁄2 cup cooked grains like rice or pasta
- 1 slice of bread
- 1 cup milk or yogurt
- 1 1⁄2 ounces natural cheese
What are the healthiest fruits and vegetables to eat daily?
All fruits and vegetables provide valuable vitamins, minerals and fiber. However, some stand out as particularly nutritious choices to include daily:
- Vegetables: Dark leafy greens like spinach, kale and broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, peppers, mushrooms, onions, garlic
- Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, apples, bananas, stone fruits like peaches
These provide the most nutrients per calorie and offer a range of health benefits including supporting heart health, gut health, immune function and more.
What are the healthiest protein foods?
Choose lean and low-fat proteins whenever possible. The top protein choices are:
- Fish and seafood (salmon, tuna, trout, shrimp)
- Poultry breast meat (chicken, turkey)
- Eggs and egg whites
- Beans and legumes (lentils, chickpeas, kidney beans)
- Nuts and seeds (almonds, walnuts)
- Low-fat dairy (Greek yogurt, milk, cheese)
These foods provide quality protein along with healthy fats and nutrients. Limit red meat intake to a few times per week and processed meats like bacon and sausage even less.
What are the healthiest whole grains?
Aim to get at least half your grains from whole grain sources. The healthiest whole grain choices are:
- 100% whole wheat bread, pasta and tortillas
- Brown rice
- Whole grain barley
These provide more fiber, vitamins and minerals compared to refined grains like white bread, rice and pasta.
What healthy fats should I eat daily?
Healthy unsaturated fats are important for health and should be included daily. The main sources are:
- Olive oil
- Nuts and seeds
- Fatty fish like salmon and tuna
Limit saturated fats from red meat, butter, cheese and baked goods. Avoid trans fats found in processed foods as much as possible.
How much water should I drink per day?
Drinking enough water is crucial for health. The recommended daily amount is:
- Women: Around 11 cups (2.7 liters)
- Men: Around 15 cups (3.7 liters)
This can come from water, other beverages and food. If you are active, live in a hot climate or are pregnant or breastfeeding you may need more. Listen to your body’s thirst signals and drink water regularly throughout the day.
What should I limit or avoid in my diet?
To maintain good health, limit or avoid:
- Sugary drinks like soda and juices
- Processed snack foods high in salt, sugar or trans fats
- Fast food and takeout
- Refined carbohydrates like white bread, pasta and rice
- Saturated and trans fats
- Excess alcohol
These provide extra calories with little nutritional benefit and can negatively impact health.
Do I need to take any supplements?
For most healthy adults, no dietary supplements are necessary if eating a balanced diet. Certain supplements that may provide benefit include:
- Vitamin D: Recommended for all adults unless getting adequate sun exposure
- Calcium: Recommended for women who don’t consume enough from food
- Iron: May be needed by premenopausal women or vegetarians
- Vitamin B12: Essential for vegans or vegetarians
- Omega-3s: Beneficial supplement for those who don’t eat fatty fish regularly
Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if specific supplements are recommended for your needs.
How can I plan and prep healthy meals?
Planning ahead and preparing nutrient dense meals and snacks at home is key to eating well consistently. Useful tips include:
- Make a weekly menu and grocery list
- Chop veggies and precook grains like rice or quinoa for the week
- Stock up on frozen fruits, veggies, and precooked beans
- Batch cook proteins like chicken breasts or tofu
- Make extras when cooking dinner for quick lunches
- Have portable snacks on hand like nuts, hard boiled eggs and fresh fruit
This allows you to put together healthy meals easily even on busy days.
What should I eat for breakfast?
A balanced breakfast gives you energy and nutrition to start the day. Aim for:
- Fruit and/or veggies – berries, banana, spinach
- Quality protein – eggs, Greek yogurt, nut butter
- Whole grains – oats, whole grain toast
- Healthy fat – avocado, olive oil
Easy go-to options include oatmeal with fruit and nuts, Greek yogurt with berries, veggie and egg white omelets or whole grain toast with nut butter.
What are some easy, healthy lunch ideas?
It’s easy to make healthy lunches at home with a little prep:
- Salads with greens, veggies, beans, nuts and a dressing like olive oil and vinegar
- Sandwiches or wraps with whole grain bread or tortilla, lean protein, veggies and hummus or avocado
- Soup or chili made with veggies, beans and lean protein
- Leftover grilled or roasted veggie and protein dishes from dinner
- Whole grain pasta salad with veggies, chickpeas and vinaigrette
Pack lunches to take to work or school. Having healthy convenient options on hand helps avoid less nutritious cafeteria or takeout meals.
What are nutritious dinner ideas?
Focus dinners around:
- Lean protein – fish, poultry, eggs, beans, tofu
- Non-starchy veggies – broccoli, peppers, spinach, tomatoes, etc
- Whole grains – brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat pasta
- Healthy fats – olive oil, avocado
- Salmon, asparagus and quinoa
- Turkey chili with spinach over baked sweet potato
- Veggie stir fry with tofu, broccoli and brown rice
- Portobello mushroom burger with sweet potato fries
Cooking at home allows you to control nutrition and avoid excess sugar, salt and fat.
What are some healthy snacks?
Having filling and nutritious snacks on hand prevents you from reaching for empty calorie options when hunger hits. Healthy go-to’s include:
- Fruit – apple, berries, banana, orange
- Veggies – carrot sticks, bell pepper slices, cucumber
- Low-fat dairy – yogurt, string cheese
- Nuts and seeds
- Whole grain crackers with hummus
- Air popped popcorn
Pair snacks with a protein source for sustained energy.
How can I eat healthy when dining out?
With a little planning, you can make healthier choices when eating out:
- Review menus online and choose a restaurant with diet-friendly options
- Opt for grilled, baked, broiled or steamed entrees
- Request dressings and sauces on the side
- Ask for whole grain breads and brown rice
- Choose a side salad with oil and vinegar or fruit instead of fries
- Share high-calorie items or take half home for later
- Drink water instead of sugary beverages
Being mindful when dining out allows you to enjoy meals out while still maintaining your healthy diet.
How can I stay motivated to eat healthy?
Sticking to healthy eating takes commitment but these tips make it easier:
- Eat mindfully and enjoy your food
- Find healthy recipes you love
- Cook and prep meals with friends or family
- Focus on how good nutritious foods make you feel
- Join an online support or accountability group
- Use apps to track eating habits and progress
- Reward yourself periodically for healthy choices
Focusing on all the benefits to your mood, energy and quality of life makes staying motivated easier.
Eating nutritious foods consistently provides your body with the balanced fuel it needs for optimal health. Focus on getting a variety of minimally processed, whole foods like fruits, veggies, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Limit added sugar, refined grains and unhealthy fats. Staying hydrated and planning out meals and snacks will help you make healthy choices consistently. Make nutritious eating a lifestyle by finding tasty recipes you love and focusing on how great it makes you feel.