Physical wellness is foundational to your well-being. And, the foods you eat are a critical piece of your physical wellness.

What you put in your body determines the health of your body, and if your food habits are poor, your health will be too. 

Choosing what to eat can be challenging in this age of fad diets, fast food, global food markets, and aisles upon aisles of food products. It seems every food is trying to convince you it is a healthy choice. So how do we cut through the noise and make good food decisions?

Here are four principles of healthy eating that can guide you in choosing foods that contribute to your physical wellness. Instead of a rigid step-by-step manual, these principles provide a framework for learning how to eat well. Once you understand what healthy food looks like, it is easier to shop, cook and eat with confidence.

Four Principles of Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating

There are many different diets out there, each with its own philosophy and rules. They serve a purpose and can be very useful if someone has specific nutritional needs.

However, if your goal is to eat well and maintain a healthy weight for life, what you need is not a diet; it’s a framework for making good food choices. These four principles are meant to guide you on your journey to health, and they are flexible enough to meet you wherever you are.

Eat Plant Food in Abundance

Plant foods are any foods that are grown. These include fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, grains, and beans. 

Foods that come from plants should be the foundation of your diet and make up the bulk of your calories. Plants provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that you can’t get anywhere else. They also tend to be high in fiber to promote satiety and digestive health. 

Put your focus on getting more plants on your plate at each meal.

Choose Unprocessed Foods

Healthy Eating

Processed foods are any food that has been changed from its original form. (1) For example, a whole apple is unprocessed, but a bag of prepackaged, sliced apples is processed food.

Pretty much every food gets processed at some point in its life before landing on our plate—however, the location and type of processing matter.

Ideally, you should purchase foods in as “whole” a form as possible and then process it at home yourself as needed. The type of processing you are likely to do at home will not include adding any non-food ingredients or preservatives. And the cooking methods you use will result in better nutrient preservation than what would occur in a processing plant.

When you process foods yourself, you preserve their nutritional value and prevent exposure to all the extra salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats that come along with the processed foods you find in the store.

Limit Sugar

Most of us eat way too much sugar. Unfortunately, sugar is found in more foods than we might expect.

Following the principle of choosing unprocessed foods will go a long way in limiting extra sugar in your diet. However, sweets are such a ubiquitous part of the standard American diet that it’s important to be mindful of your sugar intake.

Consumption of sugar is linked to a higher risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. (2) Sugar can also be addictive, which makes it a hard eating habit to kick. But, optimal physical wellness requires limiting sugar.

Choose Seasonal and Local Foods

Healthy Eating

Eating more plant food goes hand in hand with finding local foods in season. The freshest, most nutritious foods will be the ones that are grown in your area. Unfortunately, when foods have to travel a distance, they are often lower quality, less tasty, and lose valuable nutrients in the process. 

Shopping farmer’s markets or joining a CSA or food co-op are inexpensive ways to access your local food market. And when you eat locally, you will naturally be eating seasonally as your farmers will only be selling what is currently growing. It’s a win-win.

Eating to be Your Best Self

The foods you eat should make you feel good. They should give you energy and contribute to longevity and more years of disease-free life.

Food should also bring you joy. Eating is pleasurable and an important part of our social wellness too. But, there are many ways to enjoy food that don’t require highly processed, sugar-laden choices. All it takes is practice and reframing our thinking.

These healthy eating principles are an excellent place to start. When you shop, cook, and eat, let these principles guide you to the best options available. Your food choices don’t have to be perfect, but they should make an overall contribution to your physical wellness.

The better you eat, the better you will feel. Solid physical health is a foundation for a life of wellness.