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What is a healthy diet?

What foods give my body what it needs for energy, muscles, and all that?

So, if I want to eat a healthy diet, are there foods I have to skip completely?

What about how MUCH food to eat?

Nutrition, Fruits and Vegetables, Calories, Fat... all over magazines, on the news, in school... Why is all of this such a big deal?


QuestionWhat is a healthy diet?

AnswerEating a healthy diet means giving your body the type and amount of foods and drinks that help you look and feel your best. When you give your body what it needs (like vitamins, minerals, protein), it uses that great stuff to give you lots in return, like energy, powerful muscles, and strong bones.


QuestionWhat foods give my body what it needs for energy, muscles, and all that?

AnswerIt takes a variety of different foods. A healthy diet is made up mostly of whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy foods. It also should include smaller amounts of lean meats, fish, and poultry (like chicken or turkey), plus beans. Everybody needs plenty of water every day, too. It's just plain refreshing, plus your body needs water for everything from digesting food to circulating blood.


QuestionSo, if I want to eat a healthy diet, are there foods I have to skip completely?

AnswerNope. Healthy eating is like a puzzle. There can be a place for everything.

Let's go back to the big picture. It's true, most of what you eat should be the foods that deliver what you need to look and feel your best. But if you're thinking that you haven't seen any mention of soda, corn chips, chocolate cake, or pepperoni pizza yet, don't worry! These foods can fit into the puzzle. The goal is to watch out for four key things:

  1. calories,
  2. fat,
  3. sugar, or
  4. salt.

Some foods (like sodas, potato chips, chocolate cake, and pepperoni pizza) can pack a lot of calories, fat, sugar, and/or salt. Getting too much of these 4 key things can just plain slow you down. And eating too much fat can also start clogging up your arteries (blood vessels) with waxy goo (EWWW!). So, while everyone enjoys a treat now and then, just make sure they don't start crowding out all the other things you need to eat to feel and look your best.


QuestionWhat about how MUCH food to eat?

AnswerHere’s a list of the different kinds of foods people need that also gives you an idea of about how much you should have each day. Kids who aren’t very active need to eat less food than kids who are very active.

9 to 13 year olds
Less Active
More Active
1 ½
< — >
< — >
Grains (like whole grain bread, brown rice, popcorn)
< — >
Lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or beans
< — >
Low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese
fats or oils (like olive oil in salad dressing, oils in nuts)
< — >

Nutrition FactsIf “cups, ounces, and teaspoons” make your head spin, don’t worry. Try our decoder to get an idea of how to “count” the many different foods you eat.

chipsNutrition labels talk about how many cups etc. make one “serving” of that food. The labels show things like the fat, calories, and nutrition from vitamins that food gives you if you eat one serving of it.

Some things that may look like one serving are really much more. Next time you grab an individual-size package of chips, cookies, or crackers, check the label—lots of these small size packages actually count as 2 or 3 servings, even though it would be easy to eat it all at once. One more good reason to be a label reader!

QuestionNutrition, Fruits and Vegetables, Calories, Fat... all over magazines, on the news, in school... Why is all of this such a big deal?

AnswerWe need nutrition from foods and drinks to fuel our bodies. The kinds and amounts of food we give our bodies can directly affect how we look and feel. With the best (most nutritious) fuel, we're ready and able to do all the stuff we have to do, and all the fun stuff we love to do.

And, you're right—the world makes it a little complicated. As many regular people struggle with weight, the media shows super skinny women and buff guys, and hints that being thin or really muscular makes people happy and popular. And then you see a fast food ad right after that! Add to all this the fact that eating is sometimes about more than just fueling our bodies—like when families cook up a huge meal to celebrate, or when some folks eat because they feel sad, or others think grabbing fries instead of carrots is just plain more convenient for them.

WHEW! Ready for some sanity? A healthy eating style is about fueling your body in a healthy way—so you can be your personal best. Check here to get started.



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You've probably heard, "Eat your fruits and veggies," since you were little. That's because they're packed with vitamin and fiber. But, how to fit 'em into a busy life?! Try tricks like these… Toss strawberries on your breakfast cereal. Grab a banana for an after school pick-me-up. Pop dried fruit or some baby carrots in your backpack for an on-the-go snack. Crunch celery sticks with low-fat cream cheese while you do homework. Or peel an orange while you watch your favorite show.

Foods like wheat, rice, and oats are grains. A whole grain food uses every part of the grain, so that the final food has lots of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Tricks for tracking down whole grains...A "whole grain" food like breakfast cereal or sandwich bread will usually say so right on its label. Or, the word "whole" will be next to the first ingredient on the ingredients list. You can get whole grains in unexpected places, too. For instance, do you like popcorn? It's a whole grain!

Dairy means milk or foods made with milk — like yogurt and cheese. Dairy foods give us calcium, to help bones grow and get stronger. Eating low-fat dairy foods like skim milk and low-fat yogurt (look for these key words right on the label) means you score calcium for powerful bones without extra fat.

"Lean meat" means particular, less fatty cuts of meats such as pork and beef (you shouldn't see much visible fat on lean meat). Some meats, like lunchmeat or ground beef, will say if they're low fat on the package. Poultry means foods like chicken or turkey. You know what fish is, of course, and that includes shellfish like shrimp. The trick with these foods is to score protein to build your muscles and blood without getting too much fat and calories. Eating meat and fish that are roasted or grilled rather than fried is one way to stay away from too much fat. You can also trim off any fat you see, or take the skin off your chicken before you eat it. If you're getting tuna in a can, look for the kind packed in water instead of oil.

Quick, how many kinds of beans can you think of? Kidney, navy, black, pinto, chickpeas (or garbanzo beans)... These dried beans are another great way to get fiber and protein, and can fit into all kinds of places in your diet. Get 'em in a can. Easy! Some ideas? Kidney beans go right with chili, put some black beans in a taco, or toss some chickpeas on a salad.

A calorie is a way to measure the energy that comes from food. Like all living things, people need energy to grow, develop, and keep our bodies running. We get this energy from food and drinks. So, should you "count calories?" Nah. It's easiest to just follow a healthy eating style and pay attention to your body. A tip: To help balance the calories that you eat with the calories you "spend," get movin' with some physical activity for 60 minutes every day, or most every day.

Fat is a part of some foods. Picture the white, waxy stuff around a steak or on a chicken breast. Or, think of the grease that French fries leave on your fingers. That's fat. Eating some fat is important for energy and to digest some vitamins. So why limit it? Because when we eat more than we need, our bodies store it as extra weight. And, long term, all that fat can clog arteries (blood vessels) and cause diseases.

One big way excess sugar sneaks into our diets is in sodas, or other sugary drinks. So what? The calories inside that one little soda or juicy drink can add up fast. Plus, all that sugar can cause cavities in your teeth.

The biggest problems with eating too much salt, or "sodium," are pretty long-term—like high blood pressure and heart disease. But, if you've got your mind on your own healthy eating style now, it's a great time to start sniffing out the salt in your diet. There's lots of it in prepackaged foods like macaroni and cheese.

OK, some foods are easy to measure. You can imagine "one cup" of applesauce or milk, right? You could even try it out in your kitchen. Here is an idea of how other foods add up in the cups, ounces, and teaspoons you eat every day:

One cup of fruit = 1 large banana, 1 small slice watermelon, or 2 halves of canned peaches

One cup of veggies = 1 large ear of corn, about 12 baby carrots, or a measuring cup filled to the 1-cup line w/ chopped or cut-up veggies

One ounce of grains = 1 slice of bread, 1 packet of instant oatmeal, or a measuring cup filled to the 1-cup line w/ cooked rice

One ounce of lean meat, poultry, fish, eggs, or beans = 1 sandwich slice of turkey, 1 egg, or ¼ cup of baked beans

One cup of low-fat milk, yogurt, or cheese = 1 cup of milk, or one regular container of yogurt

One teaspoon of oil = The peanut butter in a PB and J (about 2 tablespoons) delivers 4 teaspoons of oil, the Italian dressing on your salad (about 2 tablespoons) delivers 2 teaspoons of oil The U.S. Government's Official Web PortalDepartment of Health and Human Services
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