There are many ways to eat healthfully. Balanced vegetarian and vegan diets fulfill all nutritional needs and promote good health, but diets that include meat can do the same. In short, you don’t have to eat every single vegetable or refuse all cookies if you want to be healthy. Instead, focus on prioritizing dietary balance, food quality and foods that are whole and natural.
Harvard University’s healthy diet model, the “Healthy Eating Plate,” is filled with a variety of smart food choices and focuses on striking a balance among them. The plate is divided into four sections, with the smallest being fruit and the largest being vegetables. Whole grains and healthy proteins each take up approximately one-quarter of the plate. The model also recommends drinking water with each meal, staying active between meals and including a small amount of healthy oil, such as olive oil or canola oil, at most meals.
Dr. Jonny Bowden, a board-certified nutritionist writing for Forbes.com, suggests that the specifics of a healthy diet don’t matter as much as the amount of processing that its foods have undergone. The healthiest diets are entirely or mostly made up of whole, unprocessed or minimally processed foods -- meaning the foods are as close as possible to their originally harvested state. Examples of healthy whole foods from every main group are leafy greens and root vegetables, fresh berries and apples or oranges, brown rice and steel cut oats, and wild salmon, dry beans or plain yogurt.
Of course, it’s possible to eat foods from all main groups by choosing products that have undergone more processing, such as fruit juice, flavored yogurt or hot dogs. You can eat small amounts of processed foods and still have a healthy diet, but research suggests that minimizing processed foods provides the greatest health benefits. According to Harvard’s School of Public Health, refined and processed foods raise your risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and unstable blood sugar levels.
“USA Today” health writer Liz Szabo reports in a 2004 article that going out to eat a meal can result in consuming about 50 percent more calories, fat grams and sodium amounts than you’d have at home. Restaurant and convenience choices tend to be deep fried, made with processed ingredients or loaded with butter and salt to improve taste, and there’s no way to tell exactly how a dish was prepared or what it contains. Cooking at home is more conducive to following a healthy eating plan because you have control over exactly what you eat, how you make it and how much of it you serve. You can also lend more focus to using whole foods in your cooking and choosing ingredients that you know you enjoy.