Healthy Eating Guidelines

The days of the four basic food groups - dairy, meat, vegetables and fruit - are long gone. Today, a healthy diet encompasses a far wider range of options and includes whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts, fish and even plant oils such as olive oil. Add in ethnic, religious, cultural and personal preferences and there are more options than ever before when planning healthy meals and snacks.

A Healthy Eating Plan

A healthy eating plan can be illustrated in many ways, but guidelines for choosing foods have evolved from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Health and Human Services’ food pyramid, established in 1992, to the new food guide symbol, MyPlate (, introduced in 2011 and pictured here.

Diet Planning - Here are a few simple practices for a healthy diet plan.

  • Choose a variety of foods from each major food group to ensure intake of adequate amounts of calories, protein, vitamins, minerals and fiber. Choosing a wide range of foods also helps to make meals and snacks more interesting.
  • Adapt the meal plan to meet specific tastes and preferences. For example, a serving of grains doesn't only mean a slice of wheat bread. It can be wild rice, whole-wheat pasta, grits, bulgur, cornmeal muffins or even popcorn.
  • Combine foods from different major groups. For example, create a meal of (1) tortillas (grain group) and beans (meat and beans group), or (2) fish topped with fruit salsa served with steamed vegetables over pasta.
  • Select meals and snacks wisely and chose nutrient-rich foods within each group. For example, in the setting of lactose intolerance, choose foods from other groups that are good sources of the nutrients found in dairy products.

If you eat a healthy diet, do you need to take vitamins? Not long ago, the answer from most experts would have been a resounding "no.” The reason was that by eating a well-balanced variety of foods, one more than likely would consume all of the vitamins and minerals needed for health. Nutritious eating includes:

  • Eating a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruits and whole-grain products.
  • Eating lean meats, poultry, fish, beans and low-fat dairy products.
  • Limiting consumption of salt, sugar, alcohol, saturated fats and trans fats.
  • Reading food labels to ensure a healthy diet.

One model for a “balanced” and nutritious meal would be to use the "plate method" for planning food portions:

  • 50 percent as assorted vegetables
  • 25 percent as protein
  • 25 percent as whole grains (e.g., brown rice)
  • One fruit