Characteristics of a Nutritious Diet

Health organizations and registered dietitians are always encouraging consumption of a nutritious diet to help stay healthy and prevent disease. Although it is an ubiquitous topic, it is not always easy to successfully implement a nutritious diet on a regular basis. Becoming familiar with the characteristics of a nutritious diet can help.

Limited in Fat and Cholesterol

Monitoring fat intake is necessary for a nutritious diet. Fat does not have to be avoided, simply limited. The focus should be on eating healthier monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats rather than saturated and trans fats. The American Heart Association recommends that total fat should not exceed 25 to 35 percent of daily calories, saturated fat be less than 7 percent of daily calories, and trans fat should be less than 1 percent of daily calories. For example, if you consume 1,800 calories daily, total fat calories should range from 450 to 630, and should mainly come from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. The American Heart Association also recommends that cholesterol intake be less than 300mg per day, and less than 200mg per day for persons with high cholesterol levels or heart disease.

High in Whole Grains and Fiber

Grains are important as they provide carbohydrate, a fuel source for the body and brain. Health organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) My Food Guide Pyramid recommend that half of the grains you eat should be from whole grains. These are grains in which the entire kernel is still present—not stripped away from milling—such as whole wheat, bran or oats. Whole grains have vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, reduce the risk of heart disease, and may reduce constipation. Eating 3-oz. equivalents of whole grains daily may help with weight management. The nutrition label of the food should indicate that it has 100 percent of the type of whole grain. Dietary fiber can also be found in other foods such as lentils, beans, legumes and produce.

Plentiful in Produce

Packing your diet with fruits and vegetables adds a boost of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants to your health. Eating colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way to get a variety of nutrients. Antioxidants in produce are natural disease-fighting chemicals in food. The American Cancer Society recommends at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Daily Balance

A nutritious diet requires balance. Meals should not be skipped, and three meals should be eaten daily. Eating the right number of calories daily is important to keep weight in control. You can figure the daily calories you need based on height, weight and activity level using a basal metabolic rate calculator available online at several health organization websites, such as Mayo Clinic. Eating foods from each group in the Food Guide Pyramid at each meal helps provide balance of nutrients. You can use the interactive Food Guide Pyramid to help choose healthy foods for each meal. Once you start implementing these tools, you can start eating a nutritious diet.

About this Author

Paragi Mehta is a registered dietitian and creator of, a nutrition, health and wellness site. She is also a freelance writer, and has been published in print magazines in the Dallas area. She is a graduate of Kansas State University with a Bachelor of Science degree in dietetics, and has practiced in areas of acute care, public health, consulting and education.