In order to stay healthy, we must consume a varied diet that contains all the essential nutrients. In addition, we must limit our intake of foods that can be harmful in large quantities. Although researchers still have much to learn about nutrition and our knowledge is constantly changing, there is strong evidence about what good eating patterns are. According to government health agencies, the following guidelines are suggested for maintaining a healthful diet. It should be noted that these are only general recommendations for people who are already healthy and want to stay that way. They are not necessarily for those who need special diets because of disease or other abnormal conditions.
1. Getting Adequate Nutrients Within Calorie Needs
The greater the variety of nutrient-dense foods and beverages within and among the basic food groups we consume, the more likely we are to get all the nutrients we need. Choosing nutrient-dense foods and avoiding empty calories is necessary in order for us to get adequate nutrition without consuming too many calories in the process. Choose foods that limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol,
added sugars, salt, and alcohol.
2. Managing Weight
To maintain a healthy body weight, balance the calories you consume with the calories you burn. People who are greatly overweight are more likely to develop certain chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. People who consume more calories than they burn off will gain weight.
To prevent gradual weight gain, make small decreases in the calories you consume and increase your physical activity. Rather than depending on crash diets, it is usually better to lose weight slowly and gradually, to develop better habits of eating, and to increase physical activity. To get all the nutrients
you need while cutting down on calories, cut down on foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients, especially fat and fatty foods, sugar and sweets, and alcohol.
3. Engaging in Physical Activity
Engaging in regular physical activity promotes health, psychological well-being, and a healthy body weight. For general health and reducing the risk of chronic diseases, getting at least 30 minutes of moderately vigorous exercise every day is desirable, and more and longer vigorous exercise can be
even more beneficial. In order to avoid gaining weight, adults should try to get 60 minutes of exercise most days, while at the same time not consuming too many calories. For those who wish to lose weight gradually, try to get 60 to 90 minutes of exercise most days, again while limiting calorie intake.
4. Selecting from the Right Food Groups
Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat or fat-free milk and milk products are the foods with the highest nutrient density. These foods should be strongly emphasized in a healthy diet. In particular, someone who consumes 2,000 calories a day should try to eat the following daily:
• 2 cups (4 servings) of fruit, selecting from a variety of fruits.
• 21⁄2 cups (5 servings) of vegetables, selected from as many of the basic vegetable groups as possible: dark green vegetables, orange vegetables, legumes, starchy vegetables, and others.
• 3 servings of whole grains.
• 3 cups of fat-free or low-fat milk or its equivalent in other dairy products, such as yogurt and cheese.
In the United States, these food groups, along with others including meats, poultry, and fish, form what is known as the food guide pyramid.
[source: professional cooking sixth edition]