What are the characteristics of a healthy diet?

A healthy diet usually includes food choices like fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains. While high sugar and calorie products can be consumed on rare occurrences, it is generally best to avoid them. A normal amount of calories per day for weight loss includes 1,000 to 1,600 calories.

A healthy diet works best when accompanied by exercise. The American College of Sports Medicine advises individuals to exercise at least 150 minutes a week.
Jill A. Grimes, MD
Family Medicine

Here are some common themes of a healthy diet:

  • Eat a big breakfast. Eat your largest meal first, then a smaller lunch, and smallest portions at dinner.
  • Eat very little processed foods of any type.
  • Eat an afternoon snack, typically including nuts.
  • Eat a dinner that includes primarily vegetables.
  • If you eat dessert, make it a small piece of rich chocolate and/or a glass of red wine.
What does this look like specifically?
  • Breakfast -- Egg or egg-white vegetable omelet (peppers, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, with or without cheese), beans, a bowl of mixed berries, whole wheat toast, and sometimes a slice of bacon or piece of sausage, juice, or milk and coffee.
  • Lunch -- chicken breast, asparagus, carrot sticks, brown rice, and water.
  • Snack -- an ounce of cashews or almonds, a sliced apple, and water.
  • Dinner -- a large green salad with tomatoes and other veggies and a small portion of fish, completed with a glass of wine and a chocolate truffle.
Notice there are not lots of chips, no fast food, and plenty of water.
Deborah Beauvais
Nutrition & Dietetics
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans offer concrete science based information for a Healthy Diet and Lifestyle. Generlly speaking:
  • Make smart choices from every food group. Your eating plan should include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products, that includes lean meat, poultry, fish, beans, eggs and nuts, and that's low in saturated fat, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
  • Find your balance between food and physical activity, by balancing the calories you take in from food with the calories your spend each day.
  • Get the most nutrition out of your calories by choosing nutrient rich foods ( foods with more nutrients and fewer calories) from each food group every day. Pick fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk and milk products more often. 
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, released on January 31, 2011, emphasize three major goals for Americans:
  • Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight
  • Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products, and seafood
  • Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars, and refined grains
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 include 23 key recommendations for the general population and 6 additional key recommendations for specific population groups, such as pregnant women. The recommendations are intended to help people choose an overall healthy diet.
There are plenty of important characteristics to a healthy diet. One commonly overlooked portion of a balanced diet are fruits and vegetables. According to a recent study of over 70,000 adults, those who ate less than 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily were shown to have a 53 percent higher risk of dying compared to those who consumed 5 servings a day. These findings persisted even after factoring in gender, smoking status, body weight, and educational level. Past research has also suggested that a minimum of 5 servings of produce daily can help you fight heart disease, certain cancers, and an expanding waist.

The others include incorporating lean dairy, meats, fish, and poultry, as well as whole grains and some healthy oils, such as olive and canola oil.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.