Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines – How to Eat Healthy

Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy from Open Mind Nutrition

Need some healthy eating guidelines to help you know how to eat healthy? Here are some basic nutrition guidelines to help get you on the right track


What is a ‘Healthy Diet’?

Eating healthy means incorporating a wide variety of nutritious foods (from all the food groups) in to your diet. Including these foods contain all the energy, vitamins, minerals & fiber your body needs to function properly

According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy diet is one that:

  • Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
  • Includes protein from a variety of sources such as lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts & seeds
  • Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars


Learn how to eat healthy with these basic healthy eating guidelines

Let’s dive into the basics of how to eat healthy (using the U.S Dietary Guidelines as a guide)

MyPlate is the latest nutrition guidelines, released by Michelle Obama and USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack on June 2, 2011. The website provides tools & practical information to help consumers make healthier food choices.

The Healthy Plate is a guide to how your plate should look at every meal. Here, we will break down the different food groups using the MyPlate Recommendations

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy My Plate

Food Groups

MyPlate emphasizes the following Five Food Groups as the building blocks for a healthy diet

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Grains
  • Protein Foods
  • Dairy

and (which is not considered food groups but should be taken in to account):

  • Oils
  • Empty Calories


Fruits – Have at least 2 cups per day

1/4 your plate should be fruit – choose a variety of colours

Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Fruit GroupBasic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Fruit

Example Serving Sizes:

Fresh Fruit

  • 1 cup diced or chopped fruit
  • 1/2 cup fresh fruit salad (or canned with lite juice)
  • 1 medium apple, pear, orange or banana
  • 1 cup berries
  • 15 grapes
  • 8 large strawberries
  • 2 small apricots, plums or kiwi

Dried Fruit

Only 1/2 cup dried fruit can be considered as 1 cup from the Fruit Group

  • 1/2 cup dried fruit
  • 1 tbsp raisins
  • 4 dried apricots or 3 dates

Buy fresh fruits in season

Choose whole or cut up fruit more often than fruit juice

Vary your fruit choices to make the most of different nutrients


Vegetables – Have at least 2-3 cups per day

1/4 – 1/2 of your plate should be vegetables – eat at every meal & choose a variety of colors

Vegetables may be raw or cooked, fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated, and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. Vegetable juice also counts as a member of the Vegetable Group

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy VegetablesBasic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Vegetable Group

Examples Serving Sizes:
  • 1 cup of raw, lightly cooked or frozen vegetables
  • 2 cups of raw leafy greens (equivalent to 1 cup)
  • 1 tomato or carrot
Types of Vegetables

Include vegetables from each category:

Dark Green Vegetables (have at least 1 and 1/2 cups per week) – kale, bok choy, broccoli, dark green leafy lettuce, collard greens, mesclun, mustard greens, romaine lettuce, spinach, turnip greens, watercress

Starchy Vegetables (have at least 5 cups per week) – sweet potato, potatoes, corn, cassava, peas, taro, water chestnuts

Red & Orange Vegetables (have at least 5 and 1/2 cups per week) – tomatoes, red peppers, carrots, pumpkin, butternut squash, acorn squash

Other Vegetables (have at least 4 cups per week) – artichokes, asparagus, bean sprouts, beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, cucumbers, eggplant, green beans, green peppers, mushrooms, okra, onions, turnips, zucchini


Buy fresh vegetables in season

Buy frozen vegetables for quick & easy cooking

Vary your vegetable choices

Plan meals around vegetables to increase your intake

Avoid canned vegetables as these can be high in sodium or choose ones labeled “reduced sodium,” “low sodium,” or “no salt added”


Grains – Have at least 3 servings (or ounces) per day

Food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is considered a grain product

Choose whole grain & high fibre wholegrain foods as opposed to refined grains

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Grain GroupBasic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Grains


The U.S Guidelines recommends 5-8 servings of grains per day – amount depending on age, sex & level of physical activity

1 serving = 1 ounce. In general, 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of cereal or ½ cup of cooked rice, pasta, or cereal can be considered as 1 ounce equivalent

Note: Carbohydrates are also found in Fruit & Starchy Vegetables, so this recommendation may be higher than what some people may prefer to have


Example Serving Sizes:

Breads & Cereals

  • 1 medium slice wholemeal bread
  • 1 small wholemeal bread roll or pita bread
  • 1 cup cooked cereal or muesli
  • 1/2 cup oatmeal
  • 1.5 wheat biscuits
  • 1 corn tortilla (6″ diameter)

Pasta & Rice

  • 1/2 cup cooked pasta
  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice

Other Wholegrain Products

  • 5 wholewheat crackers
  • 2 rye crispbreads
  • 3 cups popcorn, popped

Starchy Vegetables

  • 1 small potato or taro
  • 1/2 sweet potato, parsnip or corn

MyPlate allows for refined grains which lack key nutrients – stick to wholegrains. For example, choose wholemeal bread over white bread

Minimise refined carbohydrates & added, refined sugars

Opt for high fibre alternatives


Protein Foods – Have at least 5-6 servings (ounces) per day

All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group

Select a variety of protein foods, including cooked seafood at least twice a week (8 ounces)

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Protein FoodsBasic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Protein Group

Example Serving Sizes

Beans, Peas & Legumes

  • 1/4 cup cooked beans, peas or lentils (equivalent to 1 ounce)
  • 1/4 cup baked or refried beans (equivalent to 1 ounce)
  • 1 cup bean, pea or lentil soup (equivalent to 2 ounces)

Pasture Raised Meats & Wild Caught Fish

  • 1 ounce of cooked meat, poultry or fish


  • 1 small lean hamburger (equivalent to 2-3 ounces)
  • 1 small steak (equivalent to 3 and 1/2 – 4 ounces)


  • 1 small chicken breast half (equivalent to 3 ounces)

Fish & Seafood

  • 1 can of tuna, drained (equivalent to 3-4 ounces)
  • 1 salmon steak (equivalent to 4-6 ounces)
  • 1 small trout (equivalent to 3 ounces)

Other Protein Sources

  • 1 egg = 1 ounce equivalent

Nuts & Seeds

1/2 ounce of nuts or seeds = 1 ounce equivalent

  • 1 tbsp peanut butter (or any other nut butter)
  • 1/2 ounce nuts eg. 12 almonds, 24 pistachios, 7 walnut halves
  • 1/2 ounce seeds eg. pumpkin or sunflower seeds

Soy & Legume Products

1/4 cup = 1 ounce equivalent

  • 1/4 cup (2 ounces) tofu
  • 1 ounce tempeh, cooked
  • 1/4 cup roasted soybeans
  • 2 tbsp hummus
  • 1 soy or bean burger patty (equivalent to 2 ounces)

Eat protein from a variety of sources – vary your protein routine

Eliminate processed meats – a distinction not made by MyPlate

If you eat meat, keep meat & poultry portions small & lean


Dairy – Have at least 3 cups per day

Milk & Milk Products such as cheese & yogurt make up part of this food group. Cream cheese, cream, and butter, does not.

Calcium-fortified soymilk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group. Dairy choices should be fat-free or low-fat

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Dairy GroupBasic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Dairy

Example Serving Sizes:
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 cup calcium-fortified soy milk

Milk Products

  • 1 pottle or small container yogurt (6 ounces) equivalent to 3/4 cups
  • 1/2 cup cottage (equivalent to 1/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese (equivalent to 1 cup)
  • 1 slice of hard cheese (parmesan, mozzarella, swiss) equivalent to 1/2 cup
  • 1/3 cup shredded cheese (equivalent to 1 cup)

Milk Based Desserts

  • 1 and 1/2 cups ice cream equivalent to 1 cup
  • 1 cup frozen yogurt (equivalent to 1 cup)
  • 1 cup pudding made with milk

Dairy should actually belong in the Protein Foods Group – eat moderate amounts &  choose to drink water instead

Choose fat-free or low-fat varieties if you choose to include dairy in your diet – dairy is high in calories & saturated fats which increase bad cholesterol levels

For those who choose not to consume dairy – alternative calcium sources include:

  • Calcium-fortified juices, cereals, breads, rice milk, or almond milk
  • Canned fish (sardines, salmon with bones)
  • Soybeans and other soy products (tofu made with calcium sulfate, soy yogurt, tempeh) & some other beans
  • Some leafy greens (collard and turnip greens, kale, bok choy)


Summary of Dietary Guideline Recommendations

basic healthy eating guidelines - how to eat healthy chart


Oils – no more than 6 teaspoons a day

Oils are fats that are liquid at room temperature, as opposed to fats such as butter that are solid at room temperature. Oils come from many different plants and from fish

Oils are NOT a food group, but they provide essential nutrients, therefore, oils are included in USDA food guidelines – but only eat in small amounts as they are high in calories

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy Oils

Types of Healthy Oils/Fats
  • Oily Fish
  • Olive Oil
  • Coconut Oil
  • Nuts & Seeds
  • Nut Butters
  • Avocado
Example Serving Sizes:
  • 1 tbsp or small handful of unsalted nuts or seeds
  • 1 tbsp natural nut butter
  • 1 tsp margarine or vegetable oil
  • 2 tsp mayonnaise or vinaigrette
  • 1 tbsp avocado


Empty Calories

Empty Calories are foods that provide little to no nutrients and contain high amounts calories from fat, salt and/or sugar


Currently, many of the foods and beverages consumed today contain empty calories. Learning more about solid fats and added sugars can help you make better food and drink choices

Basic Healthy Eating Guidelines - How to Eat Healthy - Empty Calories

Foods High in Fat

  • Whole fat dairy, cheese & cream
  • Processed meats, sausages, hot dogs, pies, bacon
  • Snack foods like crackers & potato chips
  • Sour cream dips, mayonnaise
  • Takeaways, fried food, hot chips, pizza


Foods High in Added Sugar

  • Sodas, Energy Drinks, Sports Drinks, Cordials & Fruit Juice
  • Lollies, Fruit Leathers
  • Puddings, Custard, Condensed Milk
  • Syrups, Sweet Tinned Food, Jam


Foods High in Fat AND Sugar

  • Ice cream
  • Cakes, Cookies, Biscuits
  • Chocolate, Chocolate Spreads
  • Muffins, Doughnuts, Sweet Pastries
  • Muesli Bars, Nut Bars


A small amount of empty calories is okay, but most people eat far more than is healthy. It is important to limit empty calories to the amount that fits your calorie and nutrient needs


Know your Limits on Fats, Sugars & Salt

Foods that contain high amounts of fat, salt and/or sugar lack vitamins, minerals & fiber a lot of the time too. It is important to limit these from your diet and only consume these foods occasionally

measuring_spoonsSalt – no more than 2300mg salt (equivalent to 1 tsp salt)

Fat & Sugar – limit calories from solid fats & added sugars to 260 calories (less than a heaped teaspoon of added sugar a day)

Oils – no more than 6 teaspoons oil per day



Some Concluding Remarks

A healthy diet consists of foods that contain all the energy, minerals, vitamins & fiber you need to stay healthy. Following these basic healthy eating guidelines can help you achieve a balanced diet necessary for maintaining a healthy weight. Including more fresh,whole foods from the Four Food Groups and avoiding foods high in fat, salt & sugar means you will eat a much healthier diet.

Learning more about the basic nutrients (carbohydrates, healthy fats & protein) and the essential vitamins & minerals you need in your diet can help you appreciate how important these nutrients are, and can teach you how to eat healthier. Making small changes everyday will help you get closer to where you want to be



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