Overall eating patterns are most important for healthful eating

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper “Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating,” the overall pattern of food that a person eats is more important to a healthy diet than focusing on single foods or individual nutrients.

February 11, 2013

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics position paper “Total Diet Approach to Healthy Eating,” the overall pattern of food that a person eats is more important to a healthy diet than focusing on single foods or individual nutrients. According to the position paper: “In contrast to the total diet approach, classification of specific foods as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ is overly simplistic and may foster unhealthy eating behaviors.” The Academy’s position paper stresses that moderation, portion size, and exercise are the key concepts for balancing food and beverage intakes. The position paper has been published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

The Academy’s position paper has been updated to reflect the most current nutrition guidance, such as the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the USDA’s MyPlate food guidance system; the White House’s Let’s Move! campaign to reduce childhood obesity; and Healthy People 2020. Each of these public policies and dietary patterns supports the total diet approach.

According to the position paper, while studies including the Academy’s “Nutrition and You” national consumer survey show Americans are “conscious of the importance of healthy diets and physical activity,” most people do not meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines. For example, large majorities do not eat fruit (68%) or vegetables (74%) more than twice a day, and a substantial number (36%) engage in no leisure-time physical activity. In that environment, according to the Academy: “Labeling specific foods in an overly simplistic manner as ‘good foods’ and ‘bad foods’ is not only inconsistent with the total diet approach, but it may cause many people to abandon efforts to make dietary improvements.”

The position paper adds: “In 2011, 82% of U.S. adults cited not wanting to give up foods they like as a reason for not eating healthier. For these reasons, the concepts of moderation and proportionality are necessary components of a practical, action-oriented understanding of the total diet approach.”

The position paper contains advice and recommendations for health professionals as well as consumers. It explains how food and nutrition practitioners can use behavioral theories and models to develop effective nutrition communications; and how food and beverage choices are affected by multiple factors that influence people’s ability to make use of expert advice on healthy eating. Updated sections of the position paper look at new indicators of nutrient quality, such as the Nutrient Rich Food Index, the European Union Nutrient Profiling System, and the Overall Nutrient Quality Index. In addition, the Social Ecological model, used in the Dietary Guidelines, is incorporated into the Academy’s position as “a guide for understanding why we eat what we do.”

Position paper

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