Healthy eating is about balance, variety, and moderation.
Calories, the energy in food, are another part of balance. The more active you are, the more calories you need. When you are less active, you need fewer calories.
How many calories you need each day also depends on your age, whether you are male or female, and activity level.1 Some life situations, such as being pregnant or breast-feeding, can also influence calorie needs. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest:
- Less active women and older adults need 1,600 to 2,000 calories each day.
- Active women and less active men need 2,000 to 2,400 calories each day.
- Active men need 2,400 to 3,000 calories each day.
Listening to your body
Young children are good at listening to their bodies. They eat when they're hungry. They stop when they're full.
But adults may ignore these signals. They may keep eating after they're full, or they may eat because they're bored or upset. If you ignore your body's signals for a long time (such as by dieting or overeating) you may lose your ability to notice them. You get out of practice. Other factors may influence what you eat.
Your body uses these signals to tell you when and how much to eat:
- Hunger makes you want to eat. Your body tells your brain that your stomach is empty and your blood sugar is low. This makes your stomach growl and gives you hunger pangs. You can ignore hunger for a while, but then you reach a point where you will think only of food.
- Fullness is the feeling of being satisfied. Your stomach tells your brain that you're full, and you won't be hungry for a few hours.
- Appetite is the desire for the taste of food and the pleasure we get from food. It's usually linked to the sight, smell, or thought of food. Appetite can override hunger and fullness, such as when you keep eating after you're full.
Eating a variety of foods can help you get all the nutrients you need. Your body needs protein, carbohydrate, and fats for energy. They keep your heart beating, your brain active, and your muscles working.
Along with giving you nutrients, healthy foods also can give you pleasure. They can taste great and be good for you at the same time.
Good sources of nutrients are:
- Unsaturated fats like olive and canola oil, nuts, and fish.
- Carbohydrate from whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and low-fat milk products.
- Lean protein such as all types of fish, poultry without skin, low-fat milk products, and legumes.
For more information about nutrients, see:
In addition to nutrients, foods also contain other things that are important for good health. These include:
- Fiber, which comes from plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts. Fiber may help control blood sugar and cholesterol. It keeps your intestines healthy and prevents constipation.
- Phytochemicals, which also come from plants and may protect against cancer.
- Antioxidants, which also are in fruits and vegetables. They protect your body from damage caused by free radicals.
Moderation is your key to healthy, balanced eating. If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, or calories, limit how often you eat them. Eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes.
And yes, you can have desserts and treats now and then. All foods, if eaten in moderation, can be a part of healthy eating.
For more information, see: