Healthy eating

All Services

Why is it important to eat a healthy diet?

Your body needs a balanced supply of nutrients to grow, replace worn-out tissue, and provide energy. Not getting enough of these important nutrients can affect your health. But eating too much food and too many calories can lead to health problems.

How can obesity be harmful to my body?

Obesity increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, and certain types of cancer, including breast cancer, colon cancer, and cancer of the uterus. Obesity also is associated with infertility. (See Weight Control: Eating Right and Keeping Fit.)

How can I find a healthy way to eat?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website “ChooseMyPlate” ( can help you plan a healthy diet. The site explains the five food groups:

  • Grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Protein foods
  • Dairy foods

What is a balanced diet?

A balanced diet should include a combination of proteins, carbohydrates, and fats.

Why is protein important?

Protein provides the nutrients your body needs to grow and repair muscles and other tissues.

What foods are good sources of protein?

  • Beef, pork, and fish
  • Poultry
  • Eggs and dairy products
  • Beans and peas
  • Nuts and seeds

How can I get enough protein if I am a vegetarian?

Non-meat sources of protein include nuts, seeds, nut butters, and soy products such as tempeh and tofu. Vegetarians who eat dairy products also can get protein from milk. Eggs are another source of protein that some vegetarians eat.

Why is it important to include fat in my diet?

Some types of fats, called omega-3 fatty acids, play an important role in brain development. Fats also are essential to the function of the immune system, aid in blood clotting, and help your body use vitamins A, D, E, and K.

What are the types of fats?

  • Saturated fats come mainly from meat and dairy products. They tend to be solid when chilled.
  • Unsaturated fats tend to be liquid and come mostly from plants and vegetables.
  • Trans fats are unsaturated fats that have been chemically processed to be solid at room temperature.

What type of fat is best for me?

Most of the fat that you eat should be in the form of unsaturated fat from plant oils.

How can too much fat be bad for me?

Too much saturated fat and trans fat in your diet can lead to abnormal cholesterol levels. This can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Too much body fat also can lead to several health problems, including diabetes, heart disease, and joint problems.

How can I reduce the fat in my diet?

In addition to eating fewer fatty foods, you can change the way you prepare foods:

  • Broil, bake, poach, or steam your food instead of frying or sautéing it.
  • Skim liquid fat from soups.
  • Trim all fat from meats.
  • Remove skin from poultry.

How does my body use carbohydrates?

All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose (blood sugar), the body’s main fuel that powers all of its activities.

What are the types of carbohydrates?

There are two types of carbohydrates: 1) simple and 2) complex.

What are simple carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates are found in naturally sweet foods like fruits. They also can be added to foods in the form of table sugar, honey, and syrup. Simple carbohydrates provide a quick boost of energy because they are digested and absorbed rapidly.

Why is it important to limit my intake of simple carbohydrates?

Simple carbohydrates often are high in calories. It is best to avoid sugary drinks and foods with added sugar.

What are complex carbohydrates?

Complex carbohydrates are found in bread, rice, pasta, some fruits, and starchy vegetables such as potatoes and corn. Complex carbohydrates also include dietary fiber. Complex carbohydrates provide longer-lasting energy than simple carbohydrates because it takes your body longer to process them.

What is dietary fiber?

Dietary fiber is found in plant foods. It is the part of the plant that your body cannot digest. Fiber passes relatively unchanged through your digestive system. It can help prevent constipation by adding bulk to the stool, making it easier to pass. 

How does fiber affect blood sugar?

Fiber helps maintain a stable blood sugar level because fiber passes slowly through the digestive tract. Foods that do this are described as “low-glycemic” because they do not cause your blood sugar level to spike. Eating low-glycemic foods can help you feel full and reduce the feeling of hunger, which can aid in weight loss. Low-glycemic foods also may help reduce cholesterol levels and prevent diabetes.

Which foods are good sources of dietary fiber?

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole-grain products

Why is calcium important in my diet?

Calcium is needed for healthy bones. Women age 19 to 50 need 1,000 milligrams (mg) of calcium per day. Women older than 50 need 1,200 mg of calcium per day.

What are good sources of calcium?

Three cups of skim milk daily provide about 1,000 mg of calcium. Other dairy foods, such as yogurt and cheese, also are high in calcium. Non-dairy sources of calcium include

  • dark greens
  • soybeans and some soy products
  • certain canned fish and seafood
  • cereals and juices with added calcium

Why is vitamin D important in my diet?

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium. You need 600 international units (IU) of vitamin D a day if you are 19 to 70 and 800 IU if you are older than 70.

What are good sources of vitamin D?

  • Milk fortified with vitamin D
  • Fish that have a lot of unsaturated fat, such as salmon

Exposure to sunlight also converts a chemical in the skin to vitamin D.

Why is iron important in my diet?

Iron is needed to make new red blood cells. The most common form of anemia is caused by a lack of iron. Anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

Most women of childbearing age need 18 mg of iron per day. During pregnancy, women need 27 mg of iron daily. During and after menopause, women may not need such high levels of iron. If you are 51 or older, you need only 8 mg of iron per day.

What are good sources of iron?

One serving of most breakfast cereals with added iron should provide enough of what you need each day. Other foods that are good sources of iron include

  • spinach
  • beans (soybeans, white beans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas)
  • clams and oysters
  • meats (beef, duck, lamb)
  • Organ meats (liver, giblets)

It helps to eat foods rich in vitamin C, like oranges and tomatoes, at the same meal with an iron-rich food. Vitamin C helps your body use iron better.

Why is folic acid important in my diet?

Folic acid is a B vitamin that also is known as folate. Folic acid supports the growth and functioning of red blood cells and other cells. It also helps prevent major birth defects of a baby’s brain and spine called neural tube defects (NTDs).

How much folic acid do pregnant women need?

Current guidelines recommend that pregnant women get at least 600 micrograms (mcg) of folic acid per day, but it is hard to get enough from your diet alone. To reach this goal, take a prenatal vitamin with at least 400 mcg of folic acid every day and each foods rich in this vitamin. The combination of folic acid in your vitamin and your diet should help you reach the 600 mcg goal.

What foods are high in folic acid?

Folic acid is added to certain foods (breads, cereal, pasta, rice, and flour) and is found in leafy dark-green vegetables, citrus fruits, and beans. Even though these are good sources of folic acid, all women of childbearing age should take a daily vitamin containing 400 mcg of folic acid.

What should I know about sodium?

Sodium is linked to high blood pressure. Sodium should be used in small amounts—about 2,300 mg, or about one teaspoon of table salt, a day. If you are older than 50 or have diabetes, high blood pressure, or kidney disease, you should have no more than 1,500 mg a day, or about two-thirds of a teaspoon of salt per day.