It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that the total diet or overall pattern of food eaten is the most important focus of a healthful eating style. All foods can fit within this pattern, if consumed in moderation with appropriate portion size and combined with regular physical activity. The American Dietetic Association strives to communicate healthful eating messages to the public that emphasize a balance of foods, rather than any one food or meal. Public policies that support the total diet approach include the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, MyPyramid, the DASH Diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension), Dietary Reference Intakes, and nutrition labeling. The value of a food should be determined within the context of the total diet because classifying foods as "good" or "bad" may foster unhealthful eating behaviors. Alternative approaches may be necessary in some health conditions. Eating practices are dynamic and influenced by many factors, including taste and food preferences, weight concerns, physiology, lifestyle, time challenges, economics, environment, attitudes and beliefs, social/cultural influences, media, food technology, and food product safety. To increase the effectiveness of nutrition education in promoting sensible food choices, food and nutrition professionals should utilize appropriate behavioral theory and evidence-based strategies. A focus on moderation and proportionality in the context of a healthful lifestyle, rather than specific nutrients or foods, can help reduce consumer confusion. Proactive, empowering, and practical messages that emphasize the total diet approach promote positive lifestyle changes.