What Does a Healthy Diet Really Mean?

How to Have a Healthy Diet by Making Good Choices Daily

Directly Above Shot Of Eggs And Fried Egg In Frying Pan On Table
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If you've been diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, your health care professional has probably mentioned to you the importance of having a healthy diet. And while the word diet might cue to mind a time-limited restrictive eating plan, diet really just means your overall eating pattern. How should you eat overall? These guidelines help you figure out what a healthy diet really means.

What a Healthy Diet Looks Like

According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for All Americans, a healthy diet is "rich in vegetables, fruit, whole grains, seafood, legumes, and nuts; moderate in low- and non-fat dairy products and alcohol (among adults); lower in red and processed meat; and low in sugar-sweetened foods and beverages and refined grains." Here's what that looks like in practice:

Eat More Fruit & Vegetables

Strive to eat produce at most meals and snacks. Make half of your plate non-starchy vegetables. These include foods such as leafy greens, carrots, tomatoes and string beans. In addition to giving your plate lots of color, they also add bulk with few calories. Meaning, you can eat a satisfying quantity of food while keeping portions in check. Fruit and starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and sweet potatoes, peas, etc.) also have a solid place in a healthy diet. If you have diabetes, you'll need to count the carbs in these foods.

Make at Least Half Your Grains Whole

Whole grains are a starchy food that provides fiber and other essential micronutrients. When buying grain-based foods, such as bread or pasta, look for products that are labeled "100% whole grain." Also, diversify your grain intake by trying out new-to-you whole grains, such as teff, millet, and barley.

Eat Seafood Twice a Week

Fish and seafood are healthy proteins. Oily fish, such as salmon and mackerel, provide healthy omega-3s. Cook fish in the healthiest ways—baked, broiled, grilled—and skip fried fish.

Add Legumes and Nuts to Your Daily Diet

Legumes (beans and lentils) are rich in fiber, protein and vitamins and minerals. You can add them to meat dishes to use less red meat, while adding lean protein and fiber. Nuts are another nutritious food to eat frequently—they're an excellent source of healthy oils.

If You Drink, Do So in Moderation

Alcohol can be part of a healthy diet, but it's not essential for one. If you don't already drink alcohol, don't start. If you do, make sure your consumption falls within guidelines for moderate drinking: one drink or less per day for women; two for men.

Eat Less Red and Processed Meat

Eating a lot of red and processed meat is linked to health problems, including cancer and heart disease. Getting a variety of proteins in your diet—chicken, fish, tofu, eggs—will help keep your red and processed meat consumption in check.

Limit or Eliminate These Foods:

  • Beverages that contain added sweeteners
  • Packaged salty, fried snacks
  • Other packaged snacks that contain refined grains
  • Deep fried or breaded, battered foods
  • Sugar-laden foods like packaged cookies, cakes, and breakfast cereals


DGAC. Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.

Larsson, S., Orsini, N. Red and Processed Meat Consumption and All-Cause Mortality: A Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, October 22, 2013.

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