Maintaining a healthy eating routine is a lifelong pursuit with immense consequence. Nutrition impacts our very being — before our first breath or thought — influencing both our development and our quality of life. As we age, every stage of life requires a different balance of nutrients. Getting the right nutrients at each stage helps us feel better and function with greater ease — physically and mentally — while reducing our risk for a variety of diseases.
Good nutrition means getting the quality nutrients our bodies need. A healthy eating routine is what we eat and drink to make sure we get those quality nutrients.
Despite the critical role that proper nutrition plays in maintaining overall health and well-being, most Americans don’t pay enough attention to nutrition in their everyday lives. And because of today’s nutrition/food environment, most Americans can’t routinely access a healthy diet. Overall, typical American dietary patterns don’t align with the recommendations in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020- 2025. And this isn’t just a recent phenomenon.
From the first iteration of the Dietary Guidelines in 1980 through today, diet-related chronic disease rates, overall, have risen — some markedly — as Americans have continued to fall short of meeting dietary recommendations regardless of the high quality of evidence. Because of many factors, there are enormous disparities in quality nutrition and healthy dietary patterns across the country. These factors include large differences in nutrition literacy, availability of affordable healthy food choices, socioeconomic conditions, and ultimately the ability to understand and act on a healthy diet for oneself and one’s family.
Fortunately, there are some basic steps we can all take toward better maintaining a healthy eating routine. What’s more, it’s never too late to start practicing good nutrition or to start the conversation about it.
The Dietary Guidelines contains guidance and information that can help people develop and maintain healthy eating habits. Best of all, its basic message is a concise one to remember and act upon: “Make Every Bite Count.” That message encapsulates 3 Key Dietary Principles that can help improve eating patterns:
- Meet nutritional needs primarily from nutrient dense foods and beverages
- Choose a variety of options from each food group
- Pay attention to portion size
If you are a public health professional or health care provider, familiarizing yourself with the basic principles and details in the Dietary Guidelines is a key first step in improving nutrition and eating routines for people in your care. Practice understanding the social context of people you serve, and use that understanding to help find opportunities for them to choose healthy foods and beverages. Encourage everyone to choose nutrient-dense foods over less nutritious choices, and support their efforts to stay within personal calorie limits.
Most important, take time to learn about their unique needs and preferences. The Dietary Guidelines is meant to be adaptable to personal preferences, cultural foodways, and budgetary considerations. Learning about people’s eating patterns and food choices can help you better guide more personalized approaches to meet the needs of individuals, families, or communities. There is no single healthy diet — instead, any number of varying dietary patterns can be healthy.
And while access to good nutrition can be challenging, a little homework can make all the difference. Look to local resources. Teaching someone about nutrition is key, but it may not be enough to lead to behavioral change toward a healthy eating routine. People must also be able to meaningfully act upon the guidance, and their ability to do so is highly dependent on their life circumstances.
To further help you, our office, ODPHP — in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) — developed resources for professionals to promote healthy eating across the lifespan. We encourage you to use the resources to learn more about the Dietary Guidelines and help empower people to make healthy food and drink choices throughout their lives. We’re also excited to announce that we recently made many of the professional and consumer Dietary Guidelines resources available in Spanish.
March is National Nutrition Month, which focuses our attention on nutrition — but we should be mindful of nutrition every day throughout the year. Let’s face it: Food is life. It’s also a major factor in the quality of our lives. It is the sustenance that fuels our every step. The foods we eat help maintain our bodies and allow for our continued healthy functioning. It only follows, then, that diet and nutrition must occupy a more prominent place in our shared concept of what it means to be healthy, to be well, and to thrive.
Practicing good nutrition through a healthy eating routine not only is attainable but also can be delicious and fun. It does, however, require a little guidance, some routine thought on how to weave such practices into daily life, and the opportunity to access affordable healthy food and drink choices. Individually, and as a society, it is time that we work to ensure such mindfulness about nutrition and to improve the nutrition/food environment for everyone.
Together, we can “Make Every Bite Count” for everyone.
Yours in health,
Paul Reed, MD
Rear Admiral, U.S. Public Health Service
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health
Director, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
In Officio Salutis