Monthly Health Message:

Choosing Healthy Foods: Getting a Bang for Your Buck

June 2010

Karen Ensle EdD, RD, FADA, CFCS
Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Union County

Are you missing out on important nutrients because you choose what you like to eat and what tastes good? Choosing nutrient-rich foods helps people get more nutrition for the calories they are consuming, resulting in a healthier diet that contains fewer calories. Shifting to a diet that includes foods high in nutritional quality will help those who are overweight AND undernourished.

Unfortunately, the health of many Americans is currently at risk due to poor food choices, not enough physical activity, too much screen time (e.g., television and computers), and the consumption of too many calories. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is necessary if we want to avoid heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer. Approximately 66% of U.S. adults over age 20 and 32% of children and adolescents aged 2 through 19 years are overweight or obese.

So, what's the answer?

According to 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans research, Americans do not meet recommended intakes of dietary nutrients. These include: fiber, Vitamins A, C, and E, calcium, potassium, and magnesium for the general population, and vitamins D and B-12, iron, and folic acid for certain groups including those with darker skin, older individuals, and women of child-bearing age. Instead of counting calories, Americans should choose to eat foods that pack a lot of nutrition into each bite.

Taking small steps to a healthier food intake will help to meet these nutrient deficits and give people more "bang for their buck" so they can maintain improved health. Using a "total diet approach" and adding physical activity and a lifestyle that includes more movement and less sitting like watching TV, playing video games, or on a computer, is the desired goal.

Nutrient-rich foods contain less saturated fat, salt, and sugar. Healthful foods offer a positive foundation for overall wellness and will help to keep a person's body weight in a normal range to meet their personal health needs over a lifetime.

To make healthier food choices, make sure your daily food choices include the basic food groups:

  • Colorful fruits and only 100% fruit juice
  • Dark green leafy, yellow, red, orange, purple, etc. veggies, both raw and cooked
  • Whole grain and fortified fiber-rich grain foods like bread, crackers, rice, pasta, cereals, etc.
  • 1% low-fat or fat-free milk, cheese, yogurt, etc.
  • Lean meat, poultry, and fish, eggs, beans, and nuts in small amounts, only 5-6 ounces daily for total intake.
Try to limit snack foods and in-between eating. Drink water daily as your beverage of choice and limit sugar-sweetened beverages to once "in a blue moon." Consume small portions of all foods and increase your activity level daily.

Taking small steps to eat more nutrient-dense foods will help you maintain a healthy weight. Start today and get more nutrition for the bucks you spend. Add a healthier diet to a daily exercise program and you are well on your way to a healthier body and lifestyle.


  1. Rutgers
  2. Executive Dean of Agriculture and Natural Resources
  3. School of Environmental and Biological Sciences