Michael Pollan offers three simple, easy-to-remember “rules” for eating:
- Eat food.
- Not too much.
- Mostly plants.
These guidelines are very aligned with the 2015 USDA recommendations and those developed by Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate , which include choosing whole grains, eating lean protein like fish and chicken instead of red meat, drinking plenty of water, using healthy oils, and filling almost half your plate with healthy produce.
Here are general guidelines that apply to everyone and are important for good health.
Know your healthy body weight
Because there is such strong evidence linking obesity to many chronic or acute diseases, the World Health Organization and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommend that you aim for a healthy body weight with a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 25. BMI indicates an individual’s weight status in relation to height, and it helps give a sense of a healthy ratio between the two. It doesn’t apply to children, the elderly, or the very athletic.
Calculate your BMI with this tool from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Combine healthy eating with exercise
Studies show that diet alone is not as effective in achieving a healthy body weight as diet combined with exercise. Physical activity has many other health benefits as well. See the Fitness and Exercise section for recommendations on how to be physically active each day. Even relatively small weight loss can make a difference in health by reducing blood pressure and improving glucose tolerance and blood lipids.
Follow dietary guidelines
Whether you are working to lose or maintain weight, you should make healthy food choices following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans , developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. These guidelines will improve your health, help you meet your nutrient requirements, and reduce your risk of chronic disease.
Learn to see food as medicine The dietary guidelines recommend that you get the most nutrition out of the calories you eat. Calculate your calorie needs .
To simplify healthy eating, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has replaced the traditional food pyramid with the Choose My Plate graphic. We recommend the Harvard School of Public Health version, called the Healthy Eating Plate, which points consumers to the healthiest choices in the major food groups based on the best scientific evidence.
It is a common recommendation to drink 8 to 10 glasses of water a day to help your body’s biological processes, especially carrying nutrients to cells and eliminating wastes.
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) advises men to consume roughly 3.7 liters (about 16 cups) of water a day and women to consume 2.7 liters (about 12 cups) of water a day.
- Eighty percent of this should come from drinking water and other beverages, (but not soda, coffee, or alcohol).
- The remaining 20% should come from foods—especially fruits and vegetables, which are 70% to 95% water.
Your water needs depend on many factors, including your health, how active you are, and where you live. It’s generally not a good idea to use thirst alone as a guide for when to drink. By the time you become thirsty, you may already be slightly dehydrated. It is especially important for older adults to drink water before becoming thirsty, because your thirst sense is diminished as you get older.
Eisenberg, M.E., Olson, R.E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., Bearinger, L.H. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 792-796.
Hammons, A.J., Fiese, B.H. (2011). Is frequency of shared family meals related to the nutritional health of children and adolescents? Pediatrics; 127(6), e1565-74.
Moss, M. (2013). Salt sugar fat: How the food giants hooked us. New York: Random House.
Pollan, M. (2009). Food rules. New York: Penguin Group.