2 Nutrition and Your Health


  • The connection between diet and health
  • Components of a balanced diet
  • Factors that influence your health and food choices
  • How MyPlate can help you create healthy meals
  • Eat to help prevent disease


Good nutrition will help you feel better, think more clearly, and be healthier. By making a conscious effort to regularly choose healthier foods, you can help your body fight off disease. Who wouldn’t want that? This chapter will explore what a healthy diet looks like, how to use the MyPlate tool to make healthier choices, and how your lifestyle and behaviors impact your health. Be sure and complete the activities in each of the blue text boxes.

What Should I Eat to be Healthy?

Everyone knows how to eat, but knowing what to eat takes a bit more thought.  A healthy diet focuses on fresh whole foods that have been sustaining people for generations. The term whole foods mean food prepared as close to their natural state as possible. For example, an apple is a whole food, while apple juice is not. Whole foods supply more nutrients that the body needs, such as vitamins, minerals, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and fiber essential to good health. Commercially prepared and fast foods lack nutrients and often have a lot of sugar, salt, saturated and trans fats, all of which are associated with developing diseases such as atherosclerosis, heart disease, stroke, cancer, obesity, diabetes, and other illnesses.

Do You Know?

Achieving a healthy diet is a matter of balancing the quality and quantity of food that is eaten. There are five key factors to a healthy diet:

  1. A diet must be adequate by providing enough nutrients, fiber, and calories.
  2. A balanced diet has the appropriate ratios of nutrients.
  3. A balanced diet also contains about as many calories as you burn each day.
  4. Moderation means no extreme eating; not too much or too little.
  5. Variety means regularly eating different foods from each of the food groups.


An adequate diet is one that favors nutrient-dense foods and provides at least adequate levels of nutrients. Nutrient-dense foods are defined as foods containing many essential nutrients per calorie, such as fruits and vegetables, lean meats, poultry, fish, low-fat dairy products, and whole grains. Nutrient-dense foods are the opposite of nutrient-poor foods, such as sugary carbonated beverages, which only provide calories without nutrients.

Balanced Nutrients and Calories

Achieving balance in your diet entails not consuming one nutrient at the expense of another. For example, calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones, but too much calcium will interfere with iron absorption. Most foods that are good sources of iron are poor sources of calcium, so to get the necessary amounts of calcium and iron from your diet, a proper balance between food choices is important.  Additionally, it would be best to balance how many calories you consume with how many you burn every day.


To eat in moderation is crucial for optimal health and survival. Eating nutrient-poor foods every day will eventually lead to poor health. Does that mean you should never eat a cookie? Absolutely not! Cookies are delicious, but they should be eaten in moderation along with nutrient-rich foods.


Variety involves eating different foods from all the food groups. Eating a varied diet helps ensure that you consume and absorb adequate amounts of all the essential nutrients required for health. One of the major drawbacks of a monotonous diet is the risk of consuming too much of some nutrients and not enough of others. Trying new foods can also be a source of pleasure—you never know what foods you might like until you try them.

Do You Know?

My Plate:  The Website and App to Help You Eat Healthier

How do we know what is good for us?  Through quality research.  The US government has created Dietary Guidelines based on research and updates these guidelines every 5 years.

What does the research tell us?  Research has shown that consuming seven or more fruits and vegetables will reduce cardiovascular disease and overall deaths attributable to cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that insufficient fruit and vegetable intake is linked to approximately 14 percent of gastrointestinal cancer deaths, about 11 percent of heart attack deaths, and 9 percent of stroke deaths globally.  According to the WHO, 2.7 million deaths could be avoided annually by increasing fruit and vegetable intake. These preventable deaths place an economic, social, and mental burden on society. This is why, in 2003, the WHO and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations launched a campaign to promote fruit and vegetable intake worldwide.

Guidelines aren’t terribly user friendly, so the US government created My Plate, an easy to use website and app to help people eat healthier (https://www.choosemyplate.gov). Food groups are divided into five categories: fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy foods. Each category provides important nutrients your body needs to be healthy.

Let’s explore what counts as a serving for each food group and the types of nutrients your body receives by eating these foods. The number of servings from each group depends on your age and how many calories you need every day.


watermelon and berries
Watermelon and Berries

Fruits provide essential nutrients like vitamin C and folate, the mineral potassium and dietary fiber, and phytonutrients.

Total Number of Servings per day:  2 servings

1 serving of fruits counts as

  • 1 cup raw or cooked fruit

  • ½ cup of dried fruit

  • 1 cup 100% fruit juice



Vegetables provide essential nutrients like Vitamin A, C, and folate, along with potassium, dietary fiber, and phytonutrients.

Total Number of Servings per day:  2.5 servings

1 serving of vegetable counts as

  • 1 cup raw or cooked vegetables

  • 2 cups leafy salad greens

  • 1 cup 100% vegetable juice


Wheat in field
A Field of Wheat Growing

Grains provide a variety of B vitamins and minerals like iron, magnesium, and selenium. Whole grains also contain Dietary fiber.

Total Number of Servings per day:  6 servings

1 serving of grains counts as

  • 1 slice bread

  • 1-ounce ready-to-eat cereal

  • ½ cup cooked rice, pasta, or cereal grain


Chef Joshua Moore, Executive Chef & Managing Partner of Volare Restaurant in Louisville, Kentucky, receives fresh fish each week. Chef Moore is holding a Moonfish from Hilo, Hawaii.

Protein provides essential amino acids, which are the building block of your body.

Total Number of Servings per day:  5.5 servings

1 serving of protein counts as

  • 1-ounce lean meat, poultry, or seafood

  • 1 egg

  • 1 Tbsp. peanut butter

  • ¼ cup cooked beans or peas

  • ½ ounce nuts or seeds

Category:  Dairy

Calcium is the key mineral found in dairy products, along with potassium, zinc, magnesium, selenium, choline,  Vitamin A & D, and some B vitamins. These nutrients help build your bones.

Total Number of Servings per day:  3 servings

1 serving of dairy counts as

  • 1 cup milk

  • 1 cup yogurt

  • 1 cup fortified soy beverage

  • 1.5 ounces natural cheese like cheddar or 2 ounces processed cheese

Cows Milk

Some people may avoid eating one of these important nutrient groups due to a food allergy or personal choice; however, it is important to develop an alternative plan to ensure that your body does not miss out on those vital nutrients. For example, a dairy allergy is one of the most common food allergies. If you were following the 2000 calorie plan above, you would need to determine what other foods you could include each day to obtain all of those nutrients provided by the dairy group, especially calcium.

Watch the Video

Learn how dairy intolerance differs from a dairy allergy by watching the video below and then answer the question.

The Nutrition Partnership:  Food, Activity, & Mental Health

Eating foods that are good for you will only take you so far on your good health journey. Genetics, your activity level, and mental health all contribute to making a healthier you.  You can’t change your genes, but let’s explore how to improve fitness and mental health.

Physical Activity- 20 Minutes a Day Makes a Difference!

Physical activity helps support your health by decreasing your risk of chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Additionally, being active improves your mental state by elevating your mood, decreasing stress levels, and improving your sleep quality. With all these wonderful benefits, why doesn’t everyone get active?  Unfortunately, physical activity is not high on the to-do list for most Americans; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends adults engage in 150 minutes of activity each week.  That is only about 20 minutes/day, but it can make a difference in your health.  Here are some ideas for activities:

  • Recreational swimming & water aerobics

  • Walking briskly 2.5 miles per hour or faster

  • Bicycling slower than 10 mph on level ground

  • Tennis (doubles)

  • Power yoga

  • Line dancing

  • General housework, gardening, home repair & cleaning

swim icon

Bike icon

gardening icon

Mental Health- De-stress!

Are you stressed out? You are not alone. Americans reportedly have higher stress levels than people in other countries, according to the Gallup 2019 Global Emotions Report. What you eat also impacts your mental health:  certain nutrients like Omega 3 fatty acids (found in salmon and flaxseed) help your brain help your body deal with stress. Additionally, practicing meditation, deep breathing, journaling, and regular exercise also helps support your mental health.  In today’s technological world, you are exposed to constant data streams, which can be stressful. Everyone needs a way to unplug, relax, and destress daily. How do you relax?

Activity – How to Decrease Stress

 Try this simple breathing technique now to de-stress

  1. Sit comfortably and close your eyes.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose.
  3. Breathe out slowly through pursed lips, limiting the airflow coming out of your mouth.
  4. Repeat two more times.

How do you feel?

Learning Objectives

  • Define a balanced diet and describe why variety is a key component. (MCCCD Competency 4)
  • Describe what MyPlate is and the five food groups that it contains. (MCCCD Competency 1)
  • Describe how healthful eating and physical movement can reduce the risk of disease. (MCCCD Competency 9)
  • Define the recommended physical activity guidelines. (MCCCD Competency 9)
  • Discuss the relationship between diet and health. (MCCCD Competency 1)
  • Identify key components that are important for a healthy diet. (MCCCD Competency 1)
  • Discuss the differences between a food allergy and a food sensitivity. (MCCCD Competency 10)


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Nutrition Essentials Copyright © 2020 by Stephanie Green and Kelli Shallal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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