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Does the 80/20 Rule Work for Healthy Eating?

April 26, 2016 by Adrienne Ngai, Registered Dietitian

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What is the 80/20 rule in nutrition?

You might have heard about the 80/20 rule for healthy eating, but you might also be confused by what it really means and whether it’s good advice to follow. Read on to get the answers.

What is the 80/20 rule and how does it apply to healthy eating, dieting and weight loss?

The 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto principle) has been applied to economics, management, science and other areas of study. When applied to healthy eating it suggests you make healthy food choices 80 per cent of the time, while allowing for up to 20 per cent of choices to be less healthy foods, like sugary drinks, sweets and snack foods.

What’s the science behind it?

There is no scientific research backing up the 80/20 approach to healthy eating and no clear guides for how to apply it to your daily food choices. Many people wonder how to include less healthy food choices in an overall healthy eating pattern. At best, the 80/20 rule is a good reminder that what you eat most of the time will determine the healthfulness of your diet.

On the other hand, the balanced approach to healthy eating shown in Canada’s Food Guide is well researched. Use these tools to help you move in the direction of a balanced diet:

What are some strategies to help make healthy food and drink choices?

Choosing healthy food and drinks most of the time isn’t always easy. Here are some scientifically proven ways you can increase your chance for success:

  • Enjoy meals together. This makes eating a social activity, allowing you more time to savour meals and catch-up with family and friends. Studies have shown that eating while doing other activities, like driving, watching TV or surfing the internet can lead to overeating.
  • Practise mindful eating. Slow down when you eat and pay attention to what you’re eating. Listen to your body’s signals of hunger and fullness. Identify the time of day or situation when you’re most likely to make unhealthy food choices and prepare a healthy alternative. Learn more.
  • Out of sight, out of mind. Give your kitchen and office desk a makeover so healthier choices are visible and convenient. Keep fruit on the kitchen counter or on your office desk and have cut fruit and vegetables at eye-level in the fridge for easy access.
  • Keep meals balanced. Use this plate model for help structuring your meals.
  • Plan ahead and get organized. Make a shopping list for the week before visiting the grocery store and organize meals and snacks ahead of time. Learn more.

If you have questions about the 80/20 rule in nutrition or any other diets you’ve heard about, call 8-1-1, toll free, Monday to Friday, from 9 am to 5 pm or send an email to connect with a registered dietitian at HealthLink BC.


Related blogs

Sugary Drinks
Kitchen Makeover: Healthy Eating Starts in the Kitchen
Making Family Meals Enjoyable
Dear Self;
Picture of a Balanced Diet
Planning – Get Organized. Plan Ahead. Make a List.

Recommended resources

Canada’s Food Guide
My Food Guide Servings Tracker
Dietitians of Canada’s eaTracker
My Food Guide Mobile Application
Carrot Rewards

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