What Are the ABCs of Healthy Eating? 6 Principles

Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022
What Are the ABCs of Healthy Eating
The ABCs of healthy eating are: A = Aim for fitness, B = Build a healthy base, and C = Choose sensibly. Learn more about building healthy eating habits

The ABCs of healthy eating are:

  • A = Aim for fitness
  • B = Build a healthy base
  • C = Choose sensibly

According to dietary guidelines from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), you should focus on variety and nutrient density in order to build a healthy foundation for nutrition.

What tools are available to help you make healthy food choices?

The MyPlate system and Exchange Lists are two widely used and comprehensive tools provided by the USDA that can help you make wise food choices. 

Though different, both strategies are based on key nutritional concepts and a comprehensive approach to diet:

  • Adequacy
  • Balance
  • Calorie (energy) control
  • Nutritional density
  • Moderation
  • Variety

6 principles of healthy eating

1. Adequacy

Healthy eating should involve eating foods that contain adequate nutrients, fiber, and calories to promote overall well-being. 

For example, imagine eating a meal that consists of two beef tacos, cinnamon rolls, and a soda. Despite the fact that this meal contains foods from various food groups, it is heavy in sugar and fat and lacks many vitamins and minerals. Not eating enough fruits and vegetables can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies over time. 

You can aim for adequacy in your diet by selecting foods that are rich in nutrients but low in calories. This has several benefits:

2. Balance

Your diet can be balanced if the items you choose to eat provide you with a wide range of nutrients. The key is to consume enough, but not too much, of each food category. A well-balanced diet includes:

  • Various food groups such as:
    • Grains
    • Vegetables
    • Fruits
    • Oil
    • Milk
    • Meat
    • Beans
  • Energy sources such as:
    • Carbohydrates
    • Protein
    • Fat
    • Vitamins
    • Minerals

If the amount of energy (calories) you eat equals the amount of energy you expend in daily activities and exercise, your diet is balanced. 

3. Calorie control

While it may be difficult to calculate the number of calories required to maintain or achieve a healthy weight, the idea is to eat enough calories your body needs to maintain your normal metabolic activities.

The formula for weight maintenance is fairly straightforward:

  • Your weight will remain constant if you eat the same number of calories that you use each day.
  • You will gain weight if you eat more calories than you use, and you will lose weight if you eat less than you use.

Calorie control focuses on selecting foods so that you obtain the most nutrients without wasting calories.

4. Nutrient density

The nutritional density of food indicates the ratio of nutrition to calorie content. Nutrient-dense meals include a high concentration of vitamins and minerals while being low in calories. 

According to the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee and Dietary Guidelines for Americans, many Americans are overweight or obese, and some are malnourished. This is due to the fact that many diets are calorie-rich but nutrient-deficient. 

To achieve your health goals, you must make dietary choices to match your daily calorie needs and alter your calorie expenditure accordingly.

5. Moderation

Practicing moderation in healthy eating means that while you don’t completely exclude certain foods from your diet, you consume them in reasonable amounts when you do decide to have them. Moderation involves not going too far in either direction.

For example, vitamin D has health benefits, but that doesn't mean that consuming large amounts is necessarily healthy. It is vital to remember that some nutrients that are beneficial in small doses can sometimes be harmful in high doses.

For example, your body requires zinc for hundreds of chemical reactions, including those that maintain normal growth, development. and immunological function. However, too much zinc can lead to copper deficiency, which can impair immunological function.

6. Variety

Variety involves including a wide range of foods in your diet, not just different food groups but also diverse items within each group.

Eating a variety of fruits, for example, provides you with a more diverse mix of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. Including a range of protein sources in your diet allows you to get a different balance of fats and other nutrients. Variety also prevents you from becoming bored with your diet plan.

Most importantly, a varied diet ensures that you are getting all of the essential nutrients you need to prevent diseases and maintain good health.


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Medically Reviewed on 3/30/2022
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