A Healthy Diet
Having a healthy diet is one of the most important things
you can do to help your overall health. Along with physical activity,
your diet is the key factor that affects your weight. Having a healthy
weight for your height is important. Being overweight or obese increases
your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke,
breathing problems, arthritis, gallbladder disease, sleep apnea (breathing
problems while sleeping), osteoarthritis, and some cancers. You can
find out if you're overweight or obese by figuring out your body mass
index (BMI). Women with a BMI of 25 to 29.9 are considered overweight,
whereas women with a BMI of 30 or more are considered obese. All adults
(aged 18 years or older) who have a BMI of 25 or more are considered
at risk for premature death and disability from being overweight or
obese. These health risks increase as the BMI rises. Your health care
provider can help you figure out your body mass, or you can go to www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/bmi/calc-bmi.htm.
Having a healthy diet is sometimes easier said than done.
It is tempting to eat less healthy foods because they might be easier
to get or prepare, or they satisfy a craving. Between family and work
or school, you are probably balancing a hundred things at once. Taking
time to buy the ingredients for and cooking a healthy meal sometimes
falls last on your list. But you should know that it isn't hard to make
simple changes to improve your diet. And you can make sense of the mounds
of nutrition information out there. A little learning and planning can
help you find a diet to fit your lifestyle, and maybe you can have some
fun in the process!
You can start planning a healthy diet by looking at the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 (http://www.healthierus.gov/dietaryguidelines)
by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health
and Human Services (HHS). The best way to give your body the balanced
nutrition it needs is by eating a variety of nutrient-packed foods every
day. Just be sure to stay within your daily calorie needs.
Mix up your choices
within each food group
|Focus on fruits.
Eat a variety of fruits whether fresh, frozen, canned or dried
rather than fruit juice for most of your fruit choices. For
a 2,000 calorie diet, you will need 2 cups of fruit each day (for
example, 1 small banana, 1 large orange, and 1/4 cup of dried
apricots or peaches).
|Vary your veggies.
Eat more dark green veggies, such as broccoli, kale, and other
dark leafy greens; orange veggies, such as carrots, sweetpotatoes,
pumpkin, and winter squash; and beans and peas, such as pinto
beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas and
|Get your calcium-rich
foods. Get 3 cups of low-fat or fat-free milk or an
equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese (1 1/2
ounces of cheese equals one cup of milk) every day. For kids
aged 2 to 8, it's 2 cups of milk. If you don't or can't consume
milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified
foods and beverages.
|Make half your grains
whole. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals,
breads, crackers, rice, or pasta every day. One ounce is about
1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked
rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats,
or corn are referred to as 'whole' in the list of ingredients.
|Go lean with protein.
Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it.
And vary your protein choices with more fish, beans, peas, nuts
Know the limits on fats, salt and sugars. Read
the Nutrition Facts label on foods. Look for foods low in saturated
fats and trans fats. Chose and prepare foods and beverages
with a little salt (sodium) and/or sugars (caloric sweeteners).
The basic steps to good nutrition come from a diet that:
helps you either lose weight or keeps your BMI in the
is balanced overall, with foods from all food groups,
with lots of delicious fruits, vegetables, whole-grains, and fat-free
or low-fat milk and milk products.
is low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol.
Keep total fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories, with
most fats coming from sources of polyunsaturated and monounsaturated
fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and vegetable oils.
includes a variety of grains daily, especially whole-grains,
a good source of fiber.
includes a variety of fruits and vegetables (two cups
of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day are recommended for
a 2,000 calorie diet).
has a small number of calories from added sugars (like
in candy, cookies, and cakes).
has foods prepared with less sodium or salt (aim for
no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day, or about one teaspoon
of salt per day).
does not include more than one drink per day (two drinks
per day for men) if you drink alcoholic beverages.
There are different kinds of fats in our foods. Some can
hurt our health, while others aren't so bad some are even good for
you! Here's what you need to know:
Monounsaturated fats (canola, olive
and peanut oils, and avocados) and polyunsaturated fats
(safflower, sesame, sunflower seeds, and many other nuts and seeds)
don't raise your LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels but can raise your
HDL ("good") cholesterol levels. To keep healthy, it is best to
choose foods with these fats.
Saturated fat, trans fatty acids, and
dietary cholesterol raise your LDL ("bad") blood
cholesterol levels, which can lead to heart disease. Saturated
fat is found mostly in food from animals, like beef, veal,
lamb, pork, lard, poultry fat, butter, cream, whole milk dairy products,
cheeses, and from some plants, such as tropical oils. Tropical oils
include coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils that are found in commercial
cakes, cookies, and salty snack foods. Unlike other plant oils,
these oils have a lot of saturated fatty acids. Some processed foods
(such as frozen dinners and canned foods) can be quite high in saturated
fat it' s best to check package labels before purchasing these
types of foods.
Trans fatty acids (TFAs) are formed
during the process of making cooking oils, margarine, and shortening
and are in commercially fried foods, baked goods, cookies, and crackers.
Some are naturally found in small amounts in some animal products,
such as beef, pork, lamb, and the butterfat in butter and milk.
In studies, TFAs tend to raise our total blood cholesterol. TFAs
also tend to raise LDL ("bad") cholesterol and lower HDL ("good")
cholesterol. One study found that the four main sources of trans
fatty acids in women's diets come from margarine, meat (beef, pork,
or lamb), cookies, and white bread. At this time, TFAs are not listed
on nutrition labels, but that will soon change. Although it might
take a couple of years to begin seeing it, the Food and Drug Administration
(FDA) is now asking food manufacturers to begin labeling TFA content.
And some food manufacturers are announcing they are taking TFAs
out of their food.
Heart disease is the #1 killer of both women and men.
Eating a heart-healthy diet is key to help reduce your risk factors
for heart disease, like high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol,
overweight, and obesity. It also will help you control these conditions
if you already have them.
Here are some general guidelines for heart-healthy
Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats.
Foods low in saturated fat include fruits, vegetables, whole grain
foods, and low-fat or nonfat dairy products. Try to avoid commercially
fried and baked goods such as crackers and cookies.
Choose a diet moderate in total fat. Keep total
fat intake between 20 to 35 percent of calories. You don't have
to eliminate all fat from your diet! This will give you enough calories
to satisfy your hunger, which can help you to eat fewer calories,
stay at a healthy weight, and lower your blood cholesterol level.
To keep your total fat intake moderate, try to substitute unsaturated
fat for saturated fat.
Choose foods low in cholesterol. Try to eat
fruit, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products,
and moderate amounts of lean meats, skinless poultry, and fish.
Eat plenty of soluble fiber, which may help lower your
LDL ("bad") blood cholesterol. Good sources are oat bran, oatmeal,
beans, peas, rice bran, barley, citrus fruits, and strawberries.
Insoluble fiber will not help your blood cholesterol level
but is still good for healthy bowel function. Good sources of insoluble
fiber are whole wheat breads, kidney beans, almonds, beets, carrots,
brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, and apple skin.
The American Heart Association also recommends that
you try to eat at least two servings of fish per week (especially
fatty fish like salmon and lake trout) because they are high in
omega-3 fatty acids, which may help lower blood cholesterol. Some
types of fish, such as swordfish, shark, or king mackerel, may contain
high levels of mercury and other environmental contaminants that
can damage the brain and nervous system, especially in developing
fetuses. Children, pregnant, and breastfeeding women should limit
how much fish they eat to no more than 12 ounces per week.
You also can eat omega-3 fatty acids from plant sources,
such as from tofu, soybeans, canola, walnuts, and flaxseed (these
contain alpha-linolenic acid, a less potent form of omega-3 fatty
Cut down on sodium. If you have high blood
pressure as well as high blood cholesterol and many people do
your health care provider may tell you to cut down on sodium or
salt. Even if you don't have high blood pressure or cholesterol,
try to have no more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. The
DASH Diet also recommends a lower level of 1,500 mg of sodium a
day. You can choose low-sodium foods, which will also help lower
your cholesterol, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat
or nonfat dairy products, and moderate amounts of lean meat. To
flavor your food, reach for herbs and spices rather than high-sodium
table salt. Be sure to read the labels of seasoning mixes because
some contain salt.
Watch your body weight. It is not uncommon for overweight
people to have higher blood cholesterol than people who are not
overweight. When you reduce the fat in your diet, you cut down not
only on cholesterol and saturated fat but on calories as well. This
will help you to lose weight and improve your blood cholesterol,
both of which will reduce your risk for heart disease.
If you are healthy, but would like to keep
your cholesterol low, you can follow this diet:
Heart Healthy Diet
If you currently have high cholesterol, here
is a diet you can follow to help lower your LDL cholesterol:
Therapeutic Lifestyles Changes (TLC) Diet
If you need to lower high blood pressure,
you can follow:
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet
Salt is also labeled as sodium chloride. Soda, sodium
bicarbonate, and the symbol "Na" on food labels mean the product contains
sodium. Here are some general guidelines:
1/4 teaspoon salt = 600 milligrams (mg) sodium
1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,200 mg sodium
3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,800 mg sodium
1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
1 teaspoon baking soda = 1,000 mg sodium
It can be hard to learn if your portions of food are putting
you over amounts of things you're trying to control. It doesn't help
that sizes for everything from bananas to soft drinks have gotten larger
in the past 20 years. It's not enough to eat the right kinds of food
to maintain a healthy weight or to lose weight. Eating the right amount
of food at each meal is just as important. If you are a healthy eater,
it is possible to sabotage your efforts by eating more than the recommended
amount of food. A serving is a specific amount of food, and it might
be smaller than you realize. Here are some examples:
- A serving of meat (boneless, cooked weight) is two to three ounces,
or roughly the size of the palm of your hand, a deck of cards, or
an audiocassette tape.
- A serving of chopped vegetables or fruit is 1/2 cup, or approximately
half a baseball or a rounded handful.
- A serving of fresh fruit is one medium piece, or the size of a
- A serving of cooked pasta, rice, or cereal is 1/2 cup, or half
a baseball or a rounded handful.
- A serving of cooked beans is 1/2 cup, or half a baseball or a
- A serving of nuts is 1/3 cup, or a level handful for an average
- A serving of peanut butter is two tablespoons, about the size
of a golf ball.
Terms like these are on many food packages. Here are some
definitions based on one serving of a food. If you eat more than one
serving, you will go over these levels of calories, fat, cholesterol,
Calorie-free: fewer than 5 calories
Low calorie: 40 calories or fewer
Reduced calorie: at least 25% fewer calories than the
regular food item has
Fat free: less than ½ gram of fat
Low fat: 3 grams of fat or fewer
Reduced fat: at least 25% less fat than the regular
food item has
Cholesterol free: fewer than 2 milligrams cholesterol
and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat
Low cholesterol: 20 milligrams or fewer cholesterol
and 2 grams or less saturated fat
Sodium free: fewer than 5 milligrams sodium
Very low sodium: fewer than 35 milligrams sodium
Low sodium: fewer than 140 milligrams sodium
High fiber: 5 grams or more fiber
The American Heart Association gives these tips for a
healthy diet, even when you aren't cooking at home:
- Ask the server to make substitutions, like having steamed vegetables
instead of fries.
- Pick lean meat, fish, or skinless chicken.
- Make sure your entrιe is broiled, baked, grilled, steamed, or
poached instead of fried.
- Ask for baked, boiled, or roasted potatoes instead of fried.
- Order lots of vegetable side dishes and ask that any sauces or
butter be left off.
- Ask for low-calorie salad dressing or a lemon to squeeze on your
salad instead of dressing.
- Order fresh fruit or fruit sorbet in place of cake, pie, or ice
For More Information . . .
You can find out more about having a healthy diet by contacting
the National Women's Health Information Center at 1-800-994-9662 or
the following organizations:
U.S. Federal Government Nutrition.gov
American Diabetes Association
Phone: 800-DIABETES (800-342-2383)
American Dietetic Association
American Heart Association