Healthy Eating Basics

Written by The Healthline Editorial Team on April 12, 2013

Food is essential to life. If we did not have fresh water to hydrate us and food to nourish us we couldn't survive. The quality and quantity of the food we eat significantly affects our health, energy levels, and perhaps even how long we live. Deciding to put nutritious food into your body can be one of the best and healthiest decisions you make.

What to Eat
Too much of the focus in nutrition is on what not to eat and how "bad" everything is for you. Instead of dwelling on what you can't eat, let's focus on what is healthful and good to eat. In fact, unless you are allergic to a particular food, nothing is off-limits. French fries, cheese, chocolate -- it's all allowed! What matters for your health is how much (portion) and how often (frequency) you are eating each food.

To put it simply, every day we should focus on eating a balance of items from each food group. You can use My Pyramid as a guide as to how much you should eat for your size from each food group: fruits, vegetables, grains, milk, meat and beans, and oils.

It's simple: If you eat more calories than you burn, you will gain weight over time. If you burn more than you eat, you will lose weight over time. Nevertheless, for the majority of people the most difficult part of a healthful diet is balancing the number of calories they eat with the number of calories they burn every day.

Portion control is the most critical part of maintaining a healthy weight and preventing weight gain. Knowing exactly how many calories a person needs is an inexact science and depends on many factors such as:

  • Metabolism
  • Age
  • Gender
  • Activity level
  • Body weight
  • Body composition (fat vs. muscle)


Maintaining a healthy body weight is one of the most critical factors in preventing diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and many cancers.

The Right Nutrients
All calories in the food we eat and drink are made up of a combination of just four things:

  1. Carbohydrates
  2. Protein
  3. Fat
  4. Alcohol


Carbohydrates, protein, and fat are necessary nutrients called macronutrients. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends the following range of distribution for daily caloric intake:

  • 45% to 65% from carbohydrates
  • 10% to 35% from protein
  • 10% to 35% from fat


In addition to macronutrients, there are micronutrients that we need each day. This includes the vitamins and minerals that are essential to keeping our bodies functioning and preventing deficiency conditions and diseases. With the right mix of foods in the right portions eaten at the right times, you can fight disease and have the energy you need to complete any task on your list!

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