National Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention
Eat wisely to maximize your health. Focus on variety, nutrient density, and amount of food. Limit calories from added sugars, salt, alcohol, and saturated or trans fats. Include healthier food and beverage choices in your diet to reduce risk for chronic disease.
Eating wisely helps prevent chronic diseases like obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and Type 2 diabetes. It is one of the most powerful tools we have to reduce the onset of disease. The keys to improving health through nutrition are to:
- Follow a healthy dietary pattern that is right for you.
- Customize and enjoy nutrient-dense food and beverage choices to reflect personal preferences, cultural traditions, and budgetary considerations.
- Focus on meeting food group needs with nutrient-dense foods and beverages and stay within appropriate calorie limits. The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:
- Vegetables of all types - dark green, red, and orange in color as well as legumes (beans, peas, and lentils)
- Fruits, especially whole fresh fruits - but they may be canned or frozen too
- Grains, at least half of which are high fiber whole-grains - eat 3 ounces or more of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta per day
- Dairy - fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese, and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives
- An assortment of protein foods - lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; legumes (beans, peas, lentils); and nuts, seeds, and soy products
- Oils - vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts
- Limit foods and beverages higher in added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium, and limit alcoholic beverages. Examples include:
- Added sugars - Consume less than 10% of your daily calories from added sugars, which include syrups and other caloric sweeteners. When sugars are added to foods and beverages, they add calories without contributing essential nutrients. Naturally occurring sugars, such as those in fruit or milk, are not added sugars.
- Saturated fat - Consume less than 10% of your daily calories from saturated fats and avoid trans-fats. Foods that are high in saturated fat include butter, whole milk, meats not labeled as lean, and tropical oils such as coconut and palm oil. Replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, such as canola or olive oil. When selecting and preparing foods, choose lean (skinless), low-fat, or fat-free varieties, and do not add fat when you cook.
- Sodium - Consume less than 1 teaspoon of salt per day (approximately 2,300 mg of sodium). Choose foods with little added salt and prepare foods without salt when possible. Adults who have high blood pressure (pre-hypertension and hypertension) should limit intake to 1,500 mg of sodium per day.
- Alcoholic beverages - Adults of legal drinking age can choose not to drink, or to drink in moderation by limiting intake to 2 drinks or less in a day for men and 1 drink or less in a day for women and people over age 64. Drinking less is better for health than drinking more. In addition, there are people such as children, pregnant women, and those with certain medical conditions who should not drink any alcohol.
- Maintain or strive for a healthy weight. To do so:
- Balance the calories you take in from what you eat and drink with the calories you burn through physical activity. To lose weight, most people need to both reduce the number of calories they get from foods and beverages and increase their physical activity. For weight loss of 1-1.5 pounds per week, daily intake should be reduced by 500-750 calories. Eating patterns that contain 1,200 to 1,500 calories each day can help most women lose weight safely. For men, eating patterns that contain 1,500 to 1,800 calories each day are suitable for safe weight loss.
If you want to learn more about how to eat wisely, talk with your VA health care team. They can also help if you have questions about making a healthy living change.
- Veterans Health Library: https://www.veteranshealthlibrary.va.gov
- VHA Nutrition and Food Services (NFS) Cookbooks: https://www.nutrition.va.gov/Recipes.asp
Check out the NFS Recipes and Cookbooks for information on how to create delicious meals that will help you eat wisely. Recipes were compiled from the VA Healthy Teaching Kitchens across the country!
- USDA Choose My Plate: https://www.choosemyplate.gov/
Choose My Plate is based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 and serves as a reminder to find and develop your healthy eating style. Everything you eat and drink matters, because the right mix can help you be healthier now and in the future. MyPlate offers tips to help you create a healthier eating style that will meet your needs and preferences as well as improve your health. You can also access MyPlate Kitchen at https://www.choosemyplate.gov/myplatekitchen, which provides recipes and resources to help you build healthy and budget-friendly meals. This resource features detailed nutrition analysis, a personal cookbook builder, cost ranges for recipes, and many more tools.
Non-federal Government Resources:
(Links to non-Federal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. Links do not constitute an endorsement of any organization by NCP or the Federal Government, and none should be inferred.)
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics Toolkits: https://www.eatright.org/food/resources/national-nutrition-month/toolkit