This healthy eating plate model was developed by the Harvard School of Public Health. I consider this model a more scientifically-based nutritious way of eating than the similar federal government sponsored My Plate, which has a heavier emphasis upon animal products. For optimal health, moving even further to a whole foods, plant-based diet with even less animal products and less added oils/fats is advisable.
Sitting down to a good meal is one of the great pleasures in life. First, you may want to consider that when you eat your meals that they involve a plate, rather than a bag, a box, or a wrapper.
Vegetables are the powerhouses of nutrient density, giving the most nutrition for the least calories. Plus, vegetables offer bulk, a high volume with fiber and water, helping fill you up and prevent overeating. Fruits, particularly whole fruits, add sweet nutrition to your meal, and make for nutritious desserts. Make half of your meal vegetables and fruits — though even more would improve overall nutrition for most people’s meals. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Eat the rainbow! Plant pigments that color fruits and vegetables also happen to be health promoting phytonutrients/antioxidants. A wide variety of phytonutrients work better when together with other phytonutrients, so variety and whole foods are key to healthy meals.
Whole grains are the best source for energy-providing complex carbohydrates/starches. Whole grains are health promoting, providing abundant amounts of fiber, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. You should limit refined grains — like white rice, white bread or white pasta — because they are a net drain on good nutrition, unless you are starving. If you are restricting calories, you may want to limit yourself to more modest amounts of healthy, high carbohydrate foods. Potatoes should be considered in the healthy, high carbohydrate food category, not the vegetable portion.
The healthiest sources of protein are beans, nuts, and seeds. The next healthiest sources of protein would be fish and poultry. Modest amounts of lean pork and lean red meat would be the next best choices. Limit eggs. Avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausages, cold cuts/lunchmeats, hot dogs, and ham. Adequate protein intake is not usually an issue for most Americans; however, the one most important exception to this may be when substantially limiting calories, as when on a weight loss diet.
IF you are using added fats in cooking, on salad, or at the table, use healthier oils like olive or canola oil. Added oils and fats are the most concentrated sources of calories in human diets. ALL processed oils and fats have very low nutrient density, and they can have a powerful diluting effect on your overall nutrition. However, the type of dietary fat makes a big difference in nutritional health. If you are restricting calories, this is the first place you should look to limit calories (along with refined sugars from sugary drinks, desserts, and processed foods).
Drink plenty of fluids. Water, tea, and coffee are fine choices. Tea and coffee contribute significant amounts of phytonutrients; however, avoid adding milk/cream and sugar. Milk (and dairy) are not must-have foods — limit them to 1-2 servings/day. Remember that vegetables and fruits are about 90% water! Go easy on juice — instead, choose whole fruits. Avoid sugary drinks. Alcoholic beverages can be fine in moderation.
Eating whole, minimally processed foods is an important guideline for an overall healthy diet. This bolsters nutrient density and limits unnecessary or harmful ingredients from processed foods. The big three food additives — the most important — are fat, sugar, and salt. About the only way to moderate salt/sodium intake is to substantially limit processed foods. Along with nearly ubiquitous salt, cheap fats and refined sugars are easy ways for processed food manufacturers to modify taste. Be on the lookout: read nutrition labels!