Healthy diet facts
A healthy diet can prevent diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, obesity, osteoporosis, and certain cancers.
Here are three reasons why following a healthy diet is important:
- to maintain health by preventing loss of muscle strength, bone mass, and vitamin deficiency states;
- to prevent diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, obesity, osteoporosis, and certain cancers; and
- to help control and/or treat chronic diseases and conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, sleep apnea, and celiac disease.
What is a healthy diet?
- The body requires carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals to maintain healthy organs, bones, muscles, and nerves, and to produce hormones and chemicals that are necessary for the proper function of organs.
- Vitamins and minerals are naturally occurring substances that are essential for the growth and function of the body. Vitamins and minerals are both necessary (in small amounts) for normal chemical reactions (metabolism) in the body.
What is a healthy diet for weight loss?
Obesity and heart attacks are major public-health problems in the United States and other countries. Therefore, most dietary recommendations are aimed at preventing these two diseases.
Obesity comes over time by eating more calories than the body burns. Obesity, in turn, can contribute to the development of many diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, liver disease, arthritis, high blood pressure, gout, gallstones, and certain cancers.
- To lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, it helps to eat more low-energy-dense foods.
- Low-energy-dense foods (such as vegetables and fruits) contain few calories per unit volume of food so that one can eat a large volume of it (for example, lettuce) without taking in many calories.
- One should also eat less of the high-energy-dense foods such as fats, egg yolks, fried foods, sweets, and high-fat salad dressings.
- Foods with a high energy density also often have high cholesterol and saturated fat content.
- One should also eat less of those foods that provide calories but little other nutrients, such as alcohol and many packaged snack foods.
The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, published in 2020 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), contains guidelines for healthy diets based upon a review of scientific studies for infants to adults.
These guidelines recommend that a healthy diet should be met with nutrient-dense foods and beverages offering vitamins, minerals, and other health-promoting components with no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
A healthy diet should include:
- Vegetables (a variety of types and colors)—dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables
- Fruits, whole fruits especially
- Grains—make sure at least half of these are whole grain
- Dairy—these foods and drinks can include fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
- Proteins, including lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Oils, including vegetable oils and oils present in foods (seafood and nuts)
The MyPlate app can help you maintain a healthy weight by tracking your daily progress on healthy diet goals, like eating a protein-rich snack, enjoying fresh fruit with lunch, or adding a dark green vegetable to your dinner. It also shares tips and ideas on how you can incorporate healthy foods into your diet.
What Dietary Supplements Should I Take?
Author: Betty Kovacs, MS, RD
Medical Editors: Ruchi Mathur, MD, and Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Viewer question: I started taking dietary supplements a couple months ago, but I don’t really feel any different. What dietary supplements should I be taking to maintain a healthy lifestyle overall?
Dietitian’s response: Many people use dietary supplements with the hopes of improving their health without knowing that there is typically little proof, if any, that a supplement will do what it claims to do. The truth is that supplements are not monitored for their safety and efficacy the way that prescription and over-the-countermedications are. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA) is responsible for ensuring the safety of drug products (prescription and over-the-counter). Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA), manufacturers of dietary supplements are the ones responsible for ensuring the safety of their own products. This means that the companies making the supplements do not have to report to anyone but themselves. There are many reasons why this becomes a problem…
Read more about dietary supplements »
What vitamins and minerals do I need for a healthy diet?
Vitamins and mineral supplements are important both in preventing deficiency states as well as in preventing diseases. Most diseases resulting from vitamin deficiencies such as scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), night blindness (vitamin A deficiency), and beriberi (thiamine deficiency) occur mainly in developing countries and are almost nonexistent in the United States.
But certain special populations in the United States can develop vitamin or mineral deficiencies, and thus require dietary supplements. For example,
- severely malnourished people with unhealthy alcohol use can develop nerve damage from thiamine deficiency;
- individuals lacking sun exposure can develop bone disease from vitamin D deficiency;
- pernicious anemia is a condition associated with nerve damage, which can result from vitamin B12 deficiency; and
- people with celiac sprue can also develop vitamin deficiencies, as well as iron deficiency.
For these special populations, vitamin supplements are important to prevent these deficiencies.
What vitamin supplements can help prevent diseases?
- Vitamin supplements are used to prevent deficiencies and also to prevent diseases.
- Certain vitamin supplements (such as folic acid, vitamin B6, and B12) have been used to lower blood levels of homocysteine, which may help prevent heart attacks.
- Folic acid fortification in cereals and vitamin supplements has been found to decrease the risk of birth defects in the developing fetus in pregnant women.
What diets can help control and/or treat diseases?
Diets low in simple sugars are important in controlling blood glucose levels in people with diabetes mellitus. When the condition cannot be adequately controlled by diet alone, medications (sometimes including insulin) are required.
- The DASH diet is recommended to lower blood pressure. If dietary measures alone are not sufficient, medications are frequently prescribed by doctors (sometimes in combination) to lower blood pressure.
- A gluten-free diet is the primary treatment for celiac disease (celiac sprue). Since people with celiac sprue may have difficulty absorbing nutrients and vitamins, some people with this condition may also need calcium, iron, and vitamin supplements.
- Therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC) are important treatments for high blood levels of cholesterol, especially the "bad" ( LDL) cholesterol. When TLC are not sufficient, then medications are usually indicated to lower blood lipid levels.