What is a Healthy Diet?
A healthy diet includes a variety of foods from the four food groups: protein foods, starchy foods, fruits and vegetables and dairy products (see below). All healthy diets follow the National Institute of Medicine's (NIM) guidelines for carbohydrate, protein, and fat intakes (see below). These guidelines allow for a great deal of flexibility and individual variation in nutrient intake. Diets with nutrient intakes outside these guidelines are usually unhealthy for children and adolescents.
While some popular diets are based on healthy nutrient intakes, many are not. The problem is that most people do not know how to tell which diets are healthy and effective and which are not. For credible weight loss information, see the web sites on page 7 or consult a physician or dietitian.
The Food Groups
- Protein Foods: Meat, fish, eggs, milk, cottage cheese, hard cheeses, peanuts and lentils, soup beans, tofu (bean curd)
- Starchy Foods: Breads, grains, cereals, pasta, milk, corn, peas, potatoes, winter squash, soup beans
- Fruits and Vegetables: All fruits, fruit juices, vegetable juices, and low starch, low calorie vegetables. For a list of these vegetables, see "Starchy and Low Calorie Vegetables".
- Dairy or soy products: Milk, yogurt, cheese, puddings, ice cream, fortified soy products
The National Institute of Medicine Guidelines for Nutrient Intakes
Carbohydrate: 45 - 65% of total calories
Protein: 10 - 35% of total calories
Fat: 20 - 35% of total calories
Reduced Fat, Reduced Carbohydrate or Reduced Protein Diets - Which Are Best?
Calories in the diet come from three nutrients: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. When any one (or more than one) of these nutrients is reduced in the diet, calories will be reduced. Any diet that reduces total calories will promote weight loss. So, for weight loss, it does not matter which of these three nutrients are reduced, and it does not matter how much the nutrient is reduced.
But for general health and heart health, how calories are reduced does matter. For adolescents, diets that are too low in fat, carbohydrates or protein can interfere with optimal growth and development. While some adults can "get away" with diets that fall outside NIM guidelines, adolescents should never be put in this position. The key is moderation. A reduced fat diet may be healthy for adolescents, but a very low fat diet is not. A reduced carbohydrate diet may be healthy for some adolescents, but a very low carbohydrate diet is not.
Some popular diets are based on healthy nutrient intakes, but many are not. The problem is that most people do not know how well to tell which diets are healthy and effective and which are not. Fro credible weight loss information, parents should consult physicians or dietitians, or go to websites with credible information (see below).