What Is a Healthy Recipe?

Here's a guide to help you understand how we choose the recipes we feature in our healthy sections and what "healthy" food means to us.

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Photo by: Sharon Lapkin/Getty

Sharon Lapkin/Getty

The "H" word is a loaded one. Healthy, by definition, means "beneficial to one's physical, mental, or emotional state; conducive to or associated with good health or reduced risk of disease," according to the Mirriam-Webster Dictionary. However, that can be defined in a myriad of ways depending on your individual health concerns, whether or not you follow a specific diet and how different foods affect your individual body. That being said, there are some general guidelines we like to use to suss out healthful food from the rest of the pack.

We count things like calories and fat, carbs, sugar and sodium, but it's worth noting that just because something is low-calorie that doesn't make it healthy. Healthy food is defined by more than just a calorie count. For example, our guidelines allow for up to 600 calories in a healthy meal because that can pack in a lot of good nutrition. We take into account the most up-to-date nutrition data when determining if a dish is healthy or not.

Here's a general breakdown of our nutrition guidelines for healthy foods on FoodNetwork.com.

Main Dishes (includes one-pot, complete meals and smoothies)

  • Calories: 600 or less per serving
  • Total Fat: 35 grams or less per serving
  • Saturated Fat: 15 grams or less per serving
  • Sodium: 1000 mg or less per serving

Sides, Snacks and Beverages (excluding smoothies)

  • Calories 300 or less per serving
  • Total Fat: 20 grams or less per serving
  • Saturated Fat: 10 grams or less per serving
  • Sodium: 1000 mg or less per serving

Desserts

  • Calories 400 or less per serving
  • Total Fat: 20 grams or less per serving
  • Saturated Fat: 10 grams or less per serving
  • Sodium: 1000 mg or less per serving

We use these counts when determining healthy recipes for the average consumer, but we also recognize the need for even more categorization within the healthy food category. That's why we break down our labels even further for needs like low calorie, high protein, low carb and more.

Here's a breakdown of the healthy recipe labels you might find while searching for recipes on FoodNetwork.com.

Low Carb: Recipes with 15 grams or less of carbohydrates per serving

Diabetes Friendly: Recipes with 30 grams or less of carbohydrates per serving

Heart Healthy

Main Dish/Entrée with:

  • Calories: 400 or less per serving
  • Total fat: 15 grams or less per serving
  • Saturated fat: 10 grams or less per serving
  • Cholesterol: 60 milligrams or less per serving
  • Trans fat: 0 grams per serving

Side, soup, salad, beverage, snack, dessert:

  • Calories: 250 or less per serving
  • Total fat: 10 grams or less per serving
  • Saturated fat: 5 grams of less per serving
  • Cholesterol: 45 milligrams or less per serving
  • Trans fat: 0 grams

High Fiber: Recipes with 5 grams or more of fiber per serving

High Protein: Recipes with 15 grams or more of protein per serving

Lower Calorie

Main Dish/Entrée:

  • Calories: 400 or less per serving

Side, soup, salad, beverage, snack, dessert:

  • Calories: 250 or less per serving

Lower Fat

Main Dish/Entrée:

  • Total fat: 15 grams or less per serving

Side, soup, salad, beverage, snack, dessert:

  • Total Fat: 10 grams or less per serving

Gluten-Free

  • Contains ingredients without gluten or processed foods that can easily be found as “gluten free”
  • As manufacturers continually change processing plants and methods, check labels on all ingredients before purchasing to ensure that particular brand is in fact gluten free.

Lower Sodium

Main Dish/Entrée:

  • Sodium: 350 milligrams or less per serving

Side, soup, salad, beverage, snack, dessert:

  • Sodium: 250 milligrams or less per serving

Low Cholesterol: Recipes with 60 milligrams or less of cholesterol and 4 grams or less of saturated fat per serving.

Of course, we allow for a little "wiggle room" (no more than 10 percent above these guidelines). And we always aim to choose recipes that call for fresh, wholesome ingredients and avoid overly-processed, sugar- and salt-laden foods as much as possible.

*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.

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