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Healthy Eating Basics

Jump Start Your Health With Great Nutrition

Why eat a healthy diet? Healthy eating habits can reduce the risk of many diseases. Providing the body with the proper amount and kind of nutrients can improve one’s lifestyle and well-being.

  • Get adequate vitamins, minerals, proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats while staying within your calorie needs.
  • Choose nutrient-dense foods and beverages. This means they are rich in nutrients when compared to the calorie level. Examples of foods with a high nutrient to calorie ratio include:
    • Fruits and vegetables prepared without added sugar or fat
    • Low fat cheese, milk and yogurt
    • Whole grain breads and cereals
    • Legume products including beans, tofu and fortified soy milk
  • Minimize intake of “empty calorie” foods. Save them for occasional use at special events. Examples of “empty calorie” foods include:
    • Fried foods like potato or other snack chips that are high in calories, fat and salt but do not provide essential nutrients
    • Desserts and snacks that have fat and sugar (cake, pie, cookies, candy, etc.)
    • Sweetened beverages like soda pop
    • Alcoholic drinks such as beer, wine or cocktails

Eat the right number of calories (kcal) each day to reach and maintain a healthy body weight.

Calorie counter here

How many servings a day?

More is better! Aim for a minimum of 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables.

What is a serving?

  • 1 cup raw
  • 1/2 cup cooked or canned
  • 6 oz. juice

Check out this handy chart to help you visualize servings better!

Choose a variety of fruits and vegetables. They contain vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (plant substances that have helpful bio-active properties).

Find out when your favorite fruits and vegetables are in season with the ONIE Project's Seasonal Produce Guide.

  • How many servings a day? Three or more.
  • Whole grains contain the germ and the bran of the kernel. They are higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals (vitamins E and B complex and zinc).
  • Choose whole grain cereals instead of refined products with added sugars.
  • What is a serving?
    • 1 slice or 1 oz. whole grain bread
    • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat pasta
    • 1 cup ready to eat cereal
  • How many servings a day? Three or four to provide 1000 to 1200 mg calcium per day.
  • What is a serving?
    • 8 oz. milk or yogurt, 1 oz. cheese
  • It is best to choose skim or 1% products.
  • Dairy is rich in high-quality protein. One serving has about 8 grams protein.
  • Dairy is also high in calcium. One serving has about 300 mg.
  • Milk is fortified with vitamins A and D.
  • Fortified soy milk is a good dairy substitute.
  • How much do I need?
    • Most people need 0.8 g/kg protein.
    • People who are lifting weights and trying to gain muscle mass may safely eat more.
  • How much protein is in common foods?
    • 7 grams in 1 oz. meat, fish, poultry or cheese
    • ¼ cup cooked ground meat, tuna, chicken, cottage cheese or shredded cheese is about 1 oz.
    • 8 grams in 1 serving of dairy foods (1 cup milk or yogurt, 1 oz. cheese)
    • 8 grams in ½ cup cooked dry beans (pinto, red, black, brown, lentils, etc.)
    • Tofu has 1 to 2 grams protein per oz. (firm has more than soft types)
  • Choose lean meats and low fat cheeses.
  • Fats are high in energy at 9 kcal/gram and can promote weight gain.
  • Choose healthy oils and nuts with mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
    • Olives and avocados
    • Olive, peanut and canola oils
    • Soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, safflower and flax seed oils
  • Nuts are high in healthy fat and calories, but do have protein. To equal protein in 1 oz. meat or 1 serving dairy foods:
    • 1 oz. peanuts or 2 Tbs. peanut butter (190 kcal)
    • 1 oz. (12) almonds (170 kcal)
    • 2 oz. walnuts (370 kcal)
    • 3 oz. pecans (588 kcal)
  • Avoid saturated and trans fats:
    • Fat in whole milk, cheese, cream cheese, sour cream and butter is highly saturated.
    • High fat meats like bacon, sausage, regular luncheon meats and brisket are high in saturated fats. Avoid bacon grease and lard, too.
    • Solid shortening and many commercially prepared foods contain trans fats.
    • Read labels - combined saturated and trans fat content should be less than 2 grams/serving.
  • Stay hydrated. Most people need to consume about 1/2 oz. fluid per pound per day.
  • For example, a150-lb. person needs 150 x 0.5 = 75 oz. fluid; at 8 oz. per cup, that is 9 cups per day.
  • Drink extra liquids when you exercise or sweat excessively.


1. Dietary Reference Intakes. Food & Nutrition Board, Institute of Medicine, National Academies of Science Reports accessed May, 2007
2. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2005 Reports accessed May, 2007