What Is Good Nutrition?

In This Chapter

  • A proactive approach to good health through nutrition
  • Determining your health risk factors
  • Tools to help you evaluate your diet
  • How to filter the media hype around nutrition and health
  • Exercise and its role in good health
  • What are the components of a healthy lifestyle?

Good nutrition is the foundation to good health. It assures your body has the nutrients it needs to support growth and function optimally. When you eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, you maintain your weight, help ward off disease, gain mental clarity, and genuinely feel better.

In this chapter, we’ll take a look at how you can make better food choices, what makes a well-balanced meal, and how exercise and stress affects well-being. Additionally, we’ll do a quick risk assessment of your health.

How to Get Healthy

Good nutrition is the gateway to good health, but being really healthy involves a whole life approach. You need to take a proactive approach toward your health and not wait until a health issue is present before taking an active role in your well-being. Getting healthy means making good food choices, participating in an active lifestyle, finding ways to alleviate stress, and maintaining a joyful outlook on life. All of these things work in unison to make for a long and healthy life.

Eat Good Foods

Eating good foods sounds easy, right? So why isn’t everyone eating healthy? Well, it’s not so simple, especially if you’ve spent a lifetime learning poor eating habits. You may have to redefine what makes a healthy meal and seek out those foods, some of which may be new to you. Overhauling your diet can seem like an overwhelming task, but it doesn’t have to be. Some people can get started on their own and others need a little guidance and support. But before you can make a change in your eating pattern, you need to know what you’ve been doing wrong. This will give you a way to evaluate where you are and the areas you need to work on.

An easy way to begin the process is to keep a food log. A food log is a record of what you ate or drank, and the specific time and day you ate or drank it. Keeping track for about a week will provide you with a good picture of what you’ve been eating and the types of foods that dominate your diet. Next, evaluate how you’re doing by asking yourself the following questions as you review your food log:

  • Are 50 percent of your meals made up of fruits and vegetables?
  • Are the majority of your grains from whole grain sources?
  • What percentage of added fats are present in your meals? Less than 10 percent?
  • Do 25 percent of each of your main meals (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) contain lean protein sources?
  • What percentage of foods are from sugary and refined snacks? Less than 10 percent?
  • Do you have three servings of dairy each day?
  • Do you eat three meals a day, along with snacks?

Most people have room for improvement, and it’s important to gradually make small changes in your diet. One way to begin is to add more fruit and vegetables. Decide on a goal such as the addition of one fruit or vegetable per day for the entire week. It should be something you enjoy eating, too. There’s no point in making unrealistic goals, such as starting your day with a glowing green smoothie made of dandelion greens, kale, carrot, ginger, and an apple, when you don’t own a blender and you don’t even know if you like dandelion greens! An easy solution would be to add more vegetables you’re already familiar with to your diet.

Good nutrition involves a variety of nutrient-dense foods. We can classify them into five food groups. Each group provides a variety of essential vitamins, minerals, and plant nutrients like phytochemicals to help keep your body strong and healthy and help ward off disease. The five food groups are fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. Your total number of servings varies based on your age, sex, and activity level. Check out the following table for specific recommendations based on your age and gender.

What’s a general serving size?

  • Fruit: 1 cup of fruit, 1 cup of 100% fruit juice, or ½ cup of dried fruit
  • Vegetables: 1 cup of raw or cooked vegetables, 1 cup of 100% vegetable juice, or 2 cups of leafy greens
  • Whole grains: 1 slice of bread; 1 cup of dry cereal; or ½ cup of cooked cereal, rice, or pasta
  • Protein: 1 ounce of meat, poultry, or fish; ¼ cup of beans; 1 egg; 1 tablespoon of peanut butter; or ½ ounce of nuts or seeds
  • Dairy: 1 cup of dairy milk, yogurt, or soymilk; 1½ ounces of natural cheese; 2 ounces of processed cheese

Serving recommendations based on

Get Moving

One of the key components to good health is exercise. For many people, exercise brings up overwhelming thoughts of going to a crowded, sweaty gym with lots of eyes judging you for being so out of shape. I’m here to tell you to stop playing that tape in your head and making excuses. Exercise doesn’t have to be a negative. The benefits of just a little bit of exercise are astounding—from greater mental clarity to increased energy and improved sleep, just for starters.

The easiest way to add exercise into your life is to schedule a time to go for a walk. All you need is a good pair of walking shoes that provide adequate support and stability. Begin with a 5-minute walk if that’s all the time or energy you have, and then when you’re ready, push it to 10 minutes and so on. Ideally, your goal should be 30 minutes per day for heart health, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Next, you need to begin to monitor your heart rate. Your target heart rate should be between 50 and 70 percent of your maximum heart rate. The simplest way to tell is if you can still carry on a conversation while you’re exercising; if you can’t, your heart rate is too high. Keeping your heart rate in the “zone” helps you burn more calories.


Exercise doesn’t have to equate to running. It can be anything that gets you moving. Check out the calories burned based on a person who weighs 155 pounds and is active for 30 minutes:

  • Walking 4 mph: 167 calories
  • Swimming: 223 calories
  • Raking the lawn: 149 calories
  • Gardening: 167 calories
  • Cooking: 93 calories
  • Food shopping w/cart: 130 calories

Data from the Harvard Heart Letter from Harvard Medical School.

To determine your target heart rate, you must first find out what your resting heart rate is. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the average resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute for adults.

How to take your pulse:

  • Using the tips of your index and middle finger, place them lightly on the opposite wrist on the inside just down from your thumb. Do this first thing in the morning before you get out of bed to get a more accurate result.
  • Count the beats for 10 seconds and multiply by 6 to find your beats per minute. Write that number down. If you’re in the average resting heart rate zone, then calculate your maximum heart rate. If your resting heart rate is above average, you should speak with your doctor as soon as possible.
  • Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. For example, 220 - 35 years old = 185 maximum heart rate.

Now multiply your maximum heart rate by 0.5 (50 percent) to determine the lower end of your target heart rate zone: 185 × 0.5 = 92.5

Next calculate the upper level of your target heart rate range by multiplying by 0.7.

185 × 0.7 = 129.5 or 70 percent of your maximum heart rate

Your range of 92.5–129.5 (or 93–130) is your target zone.

If you haven’t exercised in a long time, it’s a good idea to start out by keeping your target heart rate at 50 percent and then increase your range as you get more fit. However, before you start any exercise program, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor and also keep in mind that some medications can alter your heart rate.

Manage Your Stress

Eating regular nutrient-rich meals can help alleviate stress, especially if they contain foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and flaxseeds, which have been proven to help even out the body’s stress hormones. See Chapter 8 for a list of foods high in omega-3s. There are also other ways to help manage your stress utilizing techniques like meditation and exercise.


Meditation is a practice that helps you find inner peace. It also helps you deal with life stress and has been used for centuries as a way to calm the body. Follow these simple tips to get started today:

  1. Find a quiet place.
  2. Get into a comfortable position either lying down or sitting.
  3. Focus on a word or phrase that’s soothing.
  4. Observe your thoughts as they pass but redirect attention on your focus word or phrase.

Here are some tips to reduce stress:

  • When feeling stressed, take three long deep breaths.
  • Go easy on caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
  • Eat nutrient-dense meals on a regular schedule.
  • Get enough sleep each night.
  • Exercise daily.
  • Schedule downtime to really relax with stress-reducing activities such as meditating, journaling, or reading.

Is Your Health at Risk?

America is suffering from an epidemic of overweight and obesity, and the outlook doesn’t seem to show signs of improvement. Weighing too much or being obese can lead to many diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers. How can you tell if you are at risk? You need to know your numbers:

  • Know your BMI: If it’s greater than 25, you’re overweight
  • Waist size: Women >35 inches or men >40 inches are at greater health risk.
  • Blood pressure: Should be 120/80 mmHg or less.
  • LDL “bad” cholesterol: Should be less than 100mg/dL.
  • HDL “good” cholesterol: More than 40mg/dL women and 50mg/dL men.
  • Triglycerides: Should be less than 150mg/dL.
  • Fasting blood sugar: Should be less than 100mg/dL.

The Keys to Good Nutrition

Nutrition is key to good health because it impacts your whole body and mental status. Not only does it help your body grow and repair itself, it has the potential to make corrections when cells go awry, especially those that can lead to cancer. Nutrition is so important, but unfortunately many people don’t make it a priority until they’re facing a health crisis.

Your approach to good nutrition should be through good foods. You must strive for variety and balance. The kinds of foods you want to build your nutrition base around are mostly derived from plants such as vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. If 75 percent of your diet is from these sources, you’re headed in the right direction. Next, you would fill in the remaining 25 percent with animal-based proteins and dairy or dairy alternatives. This will automatically help you limit convenience and fast foods because you will be so well fed. By eating this way, you’ll feel better, and have more energy and improved mental clarity. This is not to say that you shouldn’t indulge a little every now and then, but it’s important to know what you’re putting into your body.

Reading labels and ingredient lists is vital when you want to focus on creating a healthy diet. You may discover your favorite “go to” food is full of the worst kind of fat and over the top in sodium content. Once you know the facts, the food may not be so appealing anymore. This is where making a rational, informed decision can lead to new eating habits that are better for your health.

Furthermore, good nutrition is about making this new way of eating a lifestyle and moving away from the diet mentality. It’s about making small changes that can last a lifetime. Having the nutrition knowledge is one thing, but putting it into action is what matters most when it comes to your health.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans

Every five years the U.S. government publishes the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). These guidelines provide valuable information on what we should be eating and drinking to promote health, maintain our weight, and ward off health-related diseases like heart disease for all Americans over 2 years of age.

The first edition of Dietary Guidelines was released in 1980, and it reflected scientific evidence about diet and health. In 1985, they established a committee consisting of nutrition and health experts, which they have continued to do with each release. These committee members are appointed with each edition. Subcommittees and workgroups are established and public comments and meetings are held to discuss the relevant issues related to health and nutrition. Visit for the latest information.

While the 2015 recommendations haven't been released as of this book's writing, the key recommendations from the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans on foods and food components to reduce in the diet are as follows:

  • Reduce sodium to 2,300mg or if you are 51 and older, 1,500mg. If you are African American (any age) or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease, reduce your sodium intake to 1,500mg.
  • Consume less than 10 percent of your calories from saturated fat and replace the saturated fat in your diet with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
  • Consume less than 300mg of cholesterol per day.
  • Consume little to no trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils and solid fats.
  • Reduce your intake of solid fats and added sugars.
  • Limit your consumption of refined grains and those with added saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.
  • Consume alcohol in moderation, up to one drink per day for women and two for men.

The foods and nutrients to increase in your daily diet are as follows:

  • Increase vegetable and fruit intake by eating a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green, red, and orange vegetables, and beans and peas.
  • Consume half of all your grains as whole grains and replace refined grains with whole ones.
  • Increase your intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.
  • Choose a variety of protein foods like seafood, lean meats, poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, unsalted nuts, and seeds.
  • Increase your amount and variety of seafood by replacing some meat and poultry items in your diet.
  • Replace protein foods higher in solid fats with those that are lower in fat and calories.
  • Use mono- and polyunsaturated vegetable oils to replace solid fats.
  • Choose foods that provide more potassium, fiber, calcium, and vitamin D.

The Dietary Guidelines also includes specific recommendations for certain population groups. For instance, women who are thinking of becoming pregnant or are pregnant or breastfeeding should:

  • Choose foods high in heme iron and vitamin C–rich foods and eat them at the same meal to enhance iron absorption.
  • Take an iron supplement if pregnant.
  • Consume 400mcg per day of synthetic folic acid from a supplement.
  • Consume 8 to 12 ounces of seafood per week from a variety of sources.
  • Limit seafood sources high in methyl mercury like white (albacore) tuna to 6 ounces per week and avoid tilefish, shark, swordfish, and king mackerel.

Additionally, those age 50 and older should eat foods fortified with B12 or are advised to take a dietary supplement.

Finding a Nutrition Expert and Support

Working with a nutritionist is a great way to help you improve your diet and reach your health goals. Nutritionists can point you in the right direction, keep you on track, and hold you accountable for your actions. They can also make sure you don’t go overboard when trying to make too many changes at once. Most nutritionists specialize in certain areas such as weight loss, food allergies, food coaching, sports nutrition, diabetes, and eating disorders. It’s a good idea to find one that’s experienced in working with people with your specific health issues. Secondly, you need to feel really comfortable with this person, as food is quite personal.

It’s important to realize that there is no legal definition associated with the word “nutritionist,” so be sure to ask questions to determine the person’s qualifications. Here are a few tips:

  • Do they have a degree from a credible university?
  • Have they completed a supervised practice program?
  • Did they pass a national exam?
  • Does their organization require continuing professional education?

A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) meets these qualifications and can be found all over the United States and the world.


A registered dietitian nutritionist (RDN) translates the science of nutrition into practical solutions for health. RDNs have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in science, completed an accredited supervised practice program 6 to 12 months in length, passed a national examination, and are required to meet additional professional education requirements to maintain registration. There are over 70,000 RDNs worldwide. To find a RDN near you, go to

The Least You Need to Know

  • Eating healthy well-balanced meals that include the five major food groups can prevent certain health-related diseases.
  • A food log is a great tool to evaluate your eating patterns.
  • A variety of nutrient-dense foods, physical activity, and a good mental outlook can lead to good health and longevity.
  • Selecting a nutritionist is a personal decision.
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