A Foundational Guide on Good Nutrition

fit-diet-and-exerciseHealthy eating can reduce the risk of numerous health issues, including heart attack, stroke, cancer, etc. Basic healthy eating is also associated with increased energy, improved mood, and better productivity. Overall, individuals in recovery from substance use disorders can benefit greatly from eating healthy.

It is no secret that nutrition is an important factor in a healthy lifestyle, and most people have been exposed to information touting the numerous benefits of good nutrition. However, many individuals still believe that a program of good nutrition relies on fad diets, megavitamin supplementation, organic foods, etc., according to Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating. According to this book, most of these fad diets are not actually any healthier than simply following some basic nutritional rules, and there is no substantial empirical evidence to suggest that the use of organic foods or megavitamin supplementation has any significant benefit compared to simply eating sensibly and including the right amount of important food groups in one’s diet.

The authors of the book suggest that there are several simple rules one can follow in order to establish a good program of sound nutrition. These include:

Include the following food groups in one’s daily diet:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Beans and legumes
  • Seeds and nuts
  • Whole grains
  • Fish (ideally some type of oily fish with omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Poultry (preferably skinless)
  • Fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Non-tropical oils and healthy fats

Limit the following foods:

  • Salt (sodium)
  • Sweets, including foods that have added sugar (e.g., soda and other drinks with added sugar such as “health drinks” or “recovery drinks”)
  • Saturated fats (e.g., fatty beef, pork, lamb, poultry with the skin on it, cream, butter, cheese, other dairy products, some baked goods, and fried foods)
  • Processed meats, such as hotdogs, baloney, salami, etc.

Avoid partially hydrogenated oils and trans fats (e.g., partially hydrogenated oils that occur in processed foods).

Eating healthy does not require one to be a fanatic. It simply is a matter of making good and sensible choices.


The American Heart Association (AHA) suggests that individuals look to the labels of the foods they buy to determine what a “portion” should consist of. For instance, a can of green beans may state on its label the nutritional specifications associated with one serving and then specify what amount of the product one serving is.

According to AHA, the following servings of foods should be eaten in order to promote a healthy diet:

Four servings of fresh, frozen, canned, or dried fruits per day; examples include:

  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • ¼ cup dried fruit
  • ½ cup cut fruit
  • ½ cup 100% fruit juice

Five servings of fresh, frozen, canned, or dried vegetables per day; examples include:

  • ½ cup cooked peas or beans
  • 1 cup raw leafy green vegetables
  • ½ cup cutup vegetables
  • ½ cup 100% vegetable juice

Six servings per day of whole grains; examples of a serving include:

  • 1 slice wheat bread
  • 1 small tortilla
  • 1 cup ready-to-eat cereal
  • 1 ounce of uncooked pasta or uncooked rice (approximately 1/8 of a cup)
  • ½ cup cooked rice, cereal, or pasta
  • ½ cup of popped popcorn

Three servings of unsaturated fats per day; examples of one serving include:

  • 1 tablespoon soft margarine
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil (any of the following: olive oil, soybean oil, canola oil, corn oil, or safflower oil)
  • 1 tablespoon of light salad dressing
  • 1 tablespoon of low-fat mayonnaise

Three servings per day of low-fat or fat-free dairy products; examples of a serving include:

  • 1 cup yogurt
  • 1 cup milk
  • 5 ounces of cheese

Five servings of nuts, seeds, beans, and legumes per week; examples of one serving include:

  • ¼ cup cooked beans or peas
  • 2 tablespoons of nuts or seeds (approximately ½ ounce)
  • 1 tablespoon of peanut butter

Eight to nine servings per week of poultry (with skin and any visible fat removed), lean meat, or eggs; examples of one serving include:

  • 1 egg or 2 egg whites
  • 3 ounces cooked poultry or meat

Two or three servings of fish/seafood per week; an examples of one serving is:

  • 3 ounces cooked fish or other seafood

In addition, individuals are encouraged to drink plenty of water.


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Food Supplements

Both AHA and the authors of the above cited book suggest that if one is concerned about receiving the proper amount of vitamins and minerals in their diet, one should eat a variety of foods and a balanced diet. Using vitamin supplements can be helpful, but often, many people take far more vitamin supplements than they actually require. Taking a multivitamin once a day probably does not hurt.

According to an article in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine, the bulk of the research on vitamin and mineral supplementation has not been positive. Taking megavitamin supplements is often a waste of money unless they are prescribed for medical reasons. In some cases, megavitamin supplementation may be prescribed for individuals with severe nutritional issues or other problems, but megavitamin supplementation is not encouraged by the medical profession except in these cases. In some cases, the use of megavitamins can actually result in negative health issues.

Other Suggestions

According to sources like the book No-fad Diet: A Personal Plan for Healthy Weight Loss, one should engage in the following practices:

  • Read labels on foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires that manufacturers and processors list ingredients on foods. It is important to know what you are buying. Read labels and understand what you are getting.
  • Use a mindful approach to eating. Even with so-called “health foods,” the content of the ingredients in and nutritional value of different foods can vary substantially. Know what you are getting.
  • Watch what you eat. Keep portions sensible. Most people eat far more food than they need to eat. To maintain a healthy weight, a person should only eat as many calories as they burn during a 24-hour period. To lose weight, one must eat fewer calories than one burns.
  • Cook at home: In the majority of cases, foods people prepare at home are much healthier than those eaten out at restaurants.
  • Eat from all the recommended food groups: Try not to skip food groups. Eating a variety of foods ensures balanced nutrition and also keeps one from getting bored with one’s diet.

In the final analysis, good nutrition simply requires establishing simple habits, adhering to some basic principles, paying attention to what one eats, and avoiding the latest trends or fads.

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