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What Does a Healthy Diet Look Like?

Updated on July 5, 2011

What Does a Balanced Diet Consist Of?

So many nutritionists spend so much time telling us what not to eat and how terrible crash diets are, we are left wondering just what we ought to be eating.

I'm fairly confident we all know what to avoid:

  • Trans fat
  • Saturated fat
  • High-sodium foods
  • Cholesterol
  • Over-processed foods
  • White bread and flour
  • Added-sugar products

to name merely a few of the offenders on the "No-No" list. And it seems common sense to observe that someone eating red meat three times a day and avoiding fruit like the plague is not eating a balanced diet. We all know what a balanced diet isn't. So what does a healthy diet really look like?

A visual illustration of just what a balanced diet looks like.
A visual illustration of just what a balanced diet looks like.

The Basic Principles of Healthy Eating

Proper nutrition is dependent on your ability to introduce variety into your diet. Choose a range of foods within each food group, and on getting essentials from each group daily. Contrary to popular belief, one "bad" eating day will not wreak immediate havoc upon your body, nor even negatively affect your weight in the long run. The twenty-four hour clock is an intellectual invention; the body exists in continuity, and one "mistake" barely makes a blip on your physical radar.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), after extensive criticism of the food pyramind introduced in 1992, instituted new guidelines in 2005, with the slogan Steps to a Healthier You. The revised guidelines offer a healthier approach to eating, less based on rules and emphasizing moderation and activity in a lifelong journey to health.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
The old food guide pyramid from 1992Since 2005, the USDA has employed this illustration for its MyPyramid campaign.Click the image to read the USDA's explanation of MyPyramid eating.
The old food guide pyramid from 1992
The old food guide pyramid from 1992
Since 2005, the USDA has employed this illustration for its MyPyramid campaign.
Since 2005, the USDA has employed this illustration for its MyPyramid campaign.
Click the image to read the USDA's explanation of MyPyramid eating.
Click the image to read the USDA's explanation of MyPyramid eating.

The Food Groups


Ignore the low-carb diet hype. Carbohydrates are your body's main source of fuel, and without it, your muscles begin to atrophy - your body literally digesting itself. Instead of thinking in terms of "good" and "bad" carbs, concentrate on consuming half of your daily carbohydrates in whole grains and high-fiber foods. (See How to Fit More Fiber Into Your Diet.) Almost half of your daily calories should come from carbs. Excellent sources of complex carbohydrates include starchy vegetables like peas, corn, and potatoes, and legumes like beans and lentils.

Fruits and Vegetables

The government and agricultural farmers alike have been stressing this food group for years, and for good reason. A third of your diet should consist of fruits and vegetables. Choose plenty of vibrantly colored fruits and green, leafy vegetables for the best nutrition and taste. Eat them fresh, whenever possible. (See: Eating in Season - Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter.)Your next best options are steaming, baking or stir-frying in a little olive oil. Avoid deep frying or extensively boiling, as this robs vegetables of their nutrients and defeats the purpose of eating them!


Protein is essential to the functioning of the human body, but it is easy to overindulge. So much of the stereotypical American diet consists of red meat, it leaves little room for other important sources, such as seafood, nuts and seeds, and poultry. Try to vary your protein intake, based on what you enjoy eating, and pick lean cuts of meat and fish. Bake instead of frying, like in these easy oven-fried chicken recipes.


Dairy is another good source of protein, and its right to a separate group has long been debated. If you enjoy milk, cheese, and yogurt, include these in your daily routine. If not, be sure to take in enough calcium and vitamin d through other sources, like fresh spinach. Nowadays, even the lactose intolerant can enjoy dairy with a few simple tips.


This section of the old 1992 food pyramid was accompanied by the infamous warning "use sparingly." Do not obsess over removing fats and sugars from your diet, but be mindful of your intake. This does not mean buying "reduced-fat" everything. It simply takes into account the fats and sugars that are built into the other food groups, and reminds us not to overdo the extras. For quick, easy fat-free indulgences you don't have to stress over, try these cookies and other desserts.

Remember, you don't have to sacrifice balanced meals in these tough economic times.  Check out my tips for eating healthy on a budget.


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    • mydubstepstudio profile image

      Paul Perry 

      6 years ago from Los Angeles

      I just try to eat more fruits and vegetables and fish all the time... the rest of the food groups seem to take care of themselves since they are the staples of the western diet.

      Great to see this hub and a solid reminder of the balanced diet we should all be striving towards. Thanks!

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      Up, Useful, and Interesting. Sounds like good, practical advice. What is your opinion of the Swank diet? A friend with MS is enthused about it and says it has eased her symptoms a lot and that it is a good diet, too, for people worried about heart attack and stroke. Does it match up well with this hub? My friend also mentioned the McDougall diet and the PCRM diet, which are stricter re meat and dairy.

    • weightlosshere profile image


      7 years ago from Malaysia

      nice hub on dieting :)

    • louromano profile image


      7 years ago

      Nice article . great hub.

    • Maddie Ruud profile imageAUTHOR

      Maddie Ruud 

      7 years ago from Oakland, CA


      Your eating habits sound problematic. Your body needs fuel throughout the day, so try to snack more frequently rather than waiting until nighttime to eat. Also, the more processed the food you eat, the less nutritional punch it packs. Concentrate on eating things in as close to their natural state as possible (ie, fresh raw fruit and veg, whole grains, etc).

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi, all i eat is junk food, soup, and CRAP, and worst of all, i only eat at night. I just want to know how bad this really is for me

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      i luv the concept of healthy diet.we must add all these things in our diet.

    • GDiBiase profile image


      8 years ago from Portland, ME

      Hi Maddie,

      Great hub! I love the whole concept of sharing what can be eaten. So correct fitness instructors tend to leave people hanging with the statement "Eat Healthy".

      Happy Wednesday!


    • gajanis786 profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent article.....all useful information.Thanks.

    • ncuxapa_ profile image


      9 years ago

      Good! As a medical student, I really appreciate your job !

    • Joyce F profile image

      Joyce F 

      9 years ago from USA

      Great Hub! Your hubs (I've looked at several - I appreciate all the links) have inspired me to eat a more healthy diet and write more hubs instead of snacking. :-) By the way, where do you get all the great pics?

    • easylearningweb profile image

      Amelia Griggs 

      9 years ago from U.S.

      Hi Maddie :-)

      Great tips and wonderful pics, especially the visual for the balanced diet!



    • Glemoh101 profile image


      9 years ago

      I like fruits ,its the most healthy foods that helping in diet and its contain vitamin c which is anti-oxidant.

    • profile image


      9 years ago from london

      Thanks ,i kind of overweight nice article

    • membersa profile image


      9 years ago from USA

      It's really hard to keep on eating healthy especially this season. I am vegetarian and I easily gain weight that's why I really have to be careful of what to eat. And I like chocolate a lot!!!

    • ChrisJohnsonArt profile image


      9 years ago from Mexico

      A diet based on carbohydrates is one that is not very balanced at all. It isn't surprising that people keep getting fatter.

    • kazeemjames01 profile image


      9 years ago

      Hi, your hub is nice and informative. Cheers

    • alfasentari profile image


      10 years ago

      Nice Hub. Very informative. Thanks for the information!

    • Betty Reid profile image

      Betty Reid 

      10 years ago from Texas

      Great point about spinach having calcium! Getting a little sunshine every day can keep the vitamin D levels high enough.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      You know sometimes we need to keep it basic, with all the advances in dietary knowledge I don't know what to believe any more. One day this works then the next day its bad for you. I think that excersise is understated. We believe that we get enouth exercise running thru our daily lives. But our body's just adjust the rate of calories we burn while doing the same thing over and over again.

      Love the the pictures \thanks

    • michelle.dragon99 profile image


      10 years ago

      Hi Maddie...a healthy diet should consist of balanced nutrition with great health should also meet the healthy guidelines and standard set my the authorities..great hub!

    • profile image

      Aj Athwal 

      10 years ago

      Simple, easy to understand and lots of useful info here. Brilliant.

    • vinesh777 profile image


      10 years ago from Oman

      Superb Hub....... a must read one

    • Priyanka Swamy profile image

      Priyanka Swamy 

      10 years ago from Concord, CA

      Great information that you provided. So many people think that a healthy diet has to be boring or see it as a punishment, but healthy eating doesn't have to be that way. It's important that people take care of themselves. This also applies to children as more and more children are also becoming overweight.

    • profile image


      11 years ago

      Nice informative article. I have given a stumble to your blog.

    • 2patricias profile image


      11 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      Good information - this is something that everybody should know (but a lot of people don't).

    • profile image

      Aya Katz 

      11 years ago

      Good article. I agree with New Horizons, though, that the ADA and the USDA dietary recommendations are misleading. Grains, even, whole grains, are highly over-rated as a source of good carbs. Fresh vegetables and fruit are very much to be preferred. Acceptable sources of nutritional carbohydrates have a high water content as well as high fiber.

    • profile image

      Nacie C 

      11 years ago

      This Hub is so awesomely thorough - thanks so much for taking the time to put it together, I for one really appreciate all the info!

    • LdsNana-AskMormon profile image

      Kathryn Skaggs 

      11 years ago from Southern California

      Maddie -

      Great Hub!

      I have spent my life on the weight-loss and gain roller-coaster that many women have also. I am really hoping that I can find balance once and for all in my eating habits. I particularly liked your advice about introducing variety into the diet.

      I think variety is where I fall short. I like that which I like and don't add in new too often.

      But hey, on closer evaluation - I do that in every facet of my life. So I think I need to just shake things up all together and live a little more.

      Good advice and most appreciated.



    • speltfan profile image


      11 years ago

      great pictures, and great content. I am enjoying reading your hubs.

    • weight-loss profile image


      11 years ago

      I love the pictures Maddie - especially the first one. Another great hub!

    • profile image

      new horizons 

      11 years ago

      oops! Sorry, Maddie. It's late at night!

    • new horizons profile image

      new horizons 

      11 years ago from Oregon, USA

      Hi Maggie,

      In researching more enlightened options for my diabetes readers on my long-established wordpress blog, I have been impressed with the Healing Foods Pyramid proposed by the University of Michigan.

      I feel the USDA 2005 Pyramid and the ADA (American Diabetes Association) Pyramids have it all wrong. They fail to educate people that most "starches" are just long chains of glucose (sugar) molecules, and by having "starches" form the foundation of those pyramids, it's not much different than putting sweets there!

      The real foundation of the pyramid should be water, then vegetables, as they are fiber-rich and that slows down their carbohydrate effect on blood sugar, and fruits should be in a minor role, whole not juiced. Legumes are another good choice, as the fiber in them is much more substantial than in grains. You can check out the rest of the University's Healing Foods Pyramid.

      I just joined HubPages, and have written a couple of Hubs that I hope you can learn from, too.

      Take care.

    • Jerome Vrega profile image

      Jerome Vrega 

      12 years ago from Florence, KY

      Great article! Keep them coming!

    • mathan1234 profile image


      12 years ago from Oklahoma City, OK

      There was a time when it was people didn't eat meat two to three times a day. It seems like today's western diet has a meat of some kind at the centerpiece of most any meal. That can't be a good thing.

    • Obsession_Fitness profile image


      12 years ago

      Great article. Thanks for the info.

    • daliakins profile image


      12 years ago from Atlanta,GA

      I just finished reading "Skinny Bitch" and I have been totally inspired to revamp my diet. I love all of your tips. I'm going to have to alter them a bit to mesh them with the vegan plan though.


    • Watkins Lady profile image

      Watkins Lady 

      12 years ago

      Great hub, good stuff we all need to know!


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