What “eating healthy” really means

We hear it all the time: eat healthy. Even our doctors use the phrase. But what does it actually mean?

We’ve been eating food since it flew to us on a spoon with airplane noises. Our bodies need the nourishment to survive and as a result, our lives are tied to it. Sometimes, our emotions are too.

While our parents made most of our food choices when we were growing up, oftentimes those choices become our go-to staples later in life. Certain foods are comfort foods, too, tied to memories, traditions, and feelings. All of this can make changing your diet difficult and even painful, especially if most of what you eat is unhealthy.

Start with the food basics

According to the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a healthy eating plan:

  • emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk products
  • includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts
  • is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars
  • stays within your daily caloric needs
woman shopping for vegetables

Everything the guidelines recommend belong in our basic food groups

These basics can be identified as the food that goes bad quickly — a sign that they have fewer additives and preservatives, and are “real.”

In fact, "real" foods need to be replaced so often that they are kept in easy-to-access sections of the grocery store: outside the aisles, against the walls. This is where you’ll find fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy. Everything in the aisles (in boxes) can last longer because it’s been more processed. This is where you’ll run into added sugars, chemicals, unwanted fats, and nutrient-empty foods.

So, a great first step to eating healthy and losing weight? Shop “outside the aisles” — and steer clear of what they’re selling in the aisles.

More healthy eating tips

If you’re ready to dig deeper into what it means to eat healthy, use some of these tips and tricks:

Change your focus

When you change what you eat, don’t think about what you’re missing. Think about all the new things you’re trying.

Get fresh, frozen, or canned fruits

A fruit is a fruit is a fruit. If it’s not something you typically have in your diet, starting anywhere is great. Don’t put pressure on yourself. You can find more exotic fruits when they’re frozen too! Try out some kiwi and mangoes. If you get fruits in a can, the healthier ones are packed in water or their own juice.

Get fresh, frozen, or canned vegetables

Frozen peas will taste different than canned ones. Which are your favorites? Add spices and herbs, and mix with other vegetables. Get something you’ve never seen before. You can steam them, saute them, roast them. And you may find you like your new veggies without anything added at all. Commit to trying a new vegetable every week.

Read the ingredients before buying

Can you identify most of them? If you can identify all of them, even better! However, the longer the list, chances are it’s less healthy and loaded with more sodium, fats, or chemicals.

Try healthier versions of the recipes you already love

If you love fried fish or chicken, try baking it with panko bread crumbs next time. Maybe instead of a fatty red meat, replace it with lean ground turkey. Is sour cream your favorite dip? Switch it up with plain Greek yogurt and dill.

Do I have to give up comfort food?

No! Comfort food is tied to memories and emotion as much as it is to taste buds.

The key is to enjoy these more unhealthy dishes less often. Experiment with outside-the-aisle recipes. Then, enjoy them with your old standbys. It’s all about balance. Chances are, you’ll discover something new and delicious to add to your recipe book.

Tips for comfort food

Eat smaller amounts

Cut your portions and add vegetables to make up for it.

Eat them less often

If you usually have them five nights a week, cut back to two nights a week and then one.

If they are made with an in-the-aisle box

Try making it from scratch

Jazz up your recipes with your newly discovered, healthier options

Use low-fat milk instead of cream. Throw in tomatoes, fresh spinach, or olives. Take out vegetable oil and replace with a healthier one, like avocado or olive oil.

Eating healthy is about creating a healthier you, one bite-sized fruit at a time. One day, you’ll look back and be amazed at the many small adjustments you’ve made to eat healthy and be healthy.

See other Capital Journal articles that highlight the importance of healthy eating.

For instance, a good diet can help prevent colon cancer, which is one of the most treatable cancers when caught early. Read more about colorectal cancer screenings.

Interested in health and wellness information? Visit the Capital Journal for more articles.

Interested in drug information? Visit our prescription education section.


“Achieve and Maintain a Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Healthline Nutrition.” Healthline.

The information provided is meant for a general audience. Capital Blue Cross and its affiliated companies believe this health education resource provides useful information but does not assume any liability associated with its use.