Introduction to Designing a Healthy Diet


What makes a diet “healthy”? What does the word “healthy” even mean? Each of us might picture something different when we think of a healthy diet, and if you travel around the world, you’ll find even more variation in how people define this term.

Indeed, humans are incredibly flexible when it comes to food. We are omnivores, and we can survive and thrive on a wide variety of different foods. The foods that nourish our bodies are often the same foods that nourish our souls, bringing us together with friends and family, celebrating traditions and conjuring memories of meals past.

We’ll begin our study of nutrition by zooming in on nutrients—the molecules in food that nourish us—to begin to understand what each gives us. Then, we’ll zoom back out to consider some tools for choosing foods that will together provide us with all the nutrients we need. Because whatever the deep and complex meanings that food brings to our lives and our culture, we also want to choose foods that will enable us to be well, to fuel our activities, to prevent disease, and to live long, healthy lives.


Unit Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you should be able to:

  1. Define nutrition, food, and nutrients, and describe how nutrition is related to health, including risk of chronic disease.
  2. Describe the different factors that impact food choices.
  3. Explain the basic structure of molecules and that all nutrients are also chemical molecules.
  4. Describe the 6 types of nutrients and the various ways they are classified.
  5. Explain how the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRI) are determined, what each type of DRI value means, and how they are used.
  6. Use the information in a Nutrition Facts label to understand the nutritional qualities of a food.
  7. Describe concepts that are helpful in planning a healthful diet, including adequacy, balance, moderation, variety, nutrient density, and empty calories.
  8. Use tools for planning a healthful diet, including MyPlate, Harvard Healthy Eating Plate, and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Image Credits:

Person cooking at a table photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash (license information)


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Nutrition: Science and Everyday Application Copyright © 2020 by Alice Callahan, PhD; Heather Leonard, PhD, RDN; and Tamberly Powell, MS, RDN is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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