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37. What Is Healthy Eating and What Tools Can Help?

Healthy eating involves the key principles of balance, variety, and moderation. As a student, you are probably familiar with these principles from other areas of your life. Think about how you balance your time between work, school, and your family and friends.

You engage in a variety of activities to avoid being bored, and you enjoy each in  moderation, since  spending  too  much  time  on  one  activity  (such  as  working) would reduce the amount of time you could spend on others (such as studying, socializing, or sleeping). An unbalanced life soon becomes unhealthy and unhappy.

Likewise, your diet must be balanced, varied, and moderate in order to be healthy.

A balanced diet includes healthy proportions of all nutrients. For instance, a student subsisting largely on bread, bagels, muffins, crackers, chips, and cookies might be eating too much carbohydrate and fat but too little protein, vitamins, and minerals.

A varied diet includes many different foods. A student who habitually chooses the same foods for breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not likely to be consuming the wide range of phytochemicals, fiber, and other benefits that a more varied diet could provide.

A moderate diet provides adequate amounts of nutrients and energy. Both crash diets and overconsumption are immoderate.

In short, you need to consume a variety of foods, some more moderately than others, and balance your food choices to meet your nutrient and health needs.

A diet that lacks variety and is unbalanced can cause under nutrition, a state in which you are not meeting your nutrient needs. If you were to consume only grains like white bread and pasta, and avoid other foods such as milk products, fruits, vegetables, and meats, your body wouldn’t get enough fiber, calcium, protein, and other important nutrients. You would eventually become malnourished.

In contrast, over nutrition occurs when a diet provides too much of a nutrient such as iron, which can be toxic in high amounts, or too many calories, which can lead to obesity. A person who is over nourished can also be malnourished. For example, a person  can  be  overweight  on  a  diet  laden  with  less  nutritious  snack  foods  and sweets-foods that should be eaten in moderation-because he or she is taking in more calories than needed. These foods often displace more nutrient-rich choices, leaving the person malnourished.

Fortunately, the United States government provides several tools that can help you avoid both under- and over nutrition, including:

The Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs), which provide recommendations regarding your nutrient needs

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which provide broad dietary and lifestyle advice

My Pyramid, which is a food guidance system that helps you implement the recommendations in the DRIs and the advice in the Dietary Guidelines.

My Pyramid provides personalized food choices from among a variety of food groups to help you create a balanced diet.

The Nutrition Facts panel on food labels contains the Daily Values, and can help you decide which foods to buy.

Together, these tools help you plan a varied, moderate, and balanced diet that meets your nutrient and health needs.

Let’s look at each of these tools, beginning with the DRIs.

The Take-Home Message

A healthy diet is balanced, varied, and moderate. The United States government provides several tools to assist you in planning a healthy diet. These include the Dietary Reference Intakes, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the My Pyramid food guidance system.


Malnourished - The long-term outcome of consuming a diet that doesn’t meet nutrient needs.

Under nutrition - A state of inadequate nutrition whereby a person’s nutrient and/or calorie needs aren’t met through the diet.

Over nutrition - A state of excess nutrients and calories in the diet.



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