Developing healthy eating habits isn’t as confusing or as restrictive as many people imagine. The essential steps are to eat mostly foods derived from plants—vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes (such as beans and lentils), and nuts—and limit highly processed foods. If you eat animal foods, you can add in some dairy products, fish, poultry, and lean meat. Studies show that people who eat this way have a reduced risk of heart disease, diabetes, and possibly cancer and other chronic diseases. Here are our guidelines for building a healthy diet.

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If giving up pasta is the hardest part of making changes to help lose weight, zucchini noodles are a healthier alternative, Michalczyk says. "I like to think of them as pasta's lower-carb and higher-in-nutrition cousin because zucchini is a good source of vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium for only about 33 calories per zucchini,” says Michalczyk. You can use in zoodles, much on as is with some dip, roast them, or add to salads.

As found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and plant oils. You should consume these high-fat foods in place of other high-calorie foods; otherwise, you’ll be adding excess calories to your diet. For instance, substitute olive or canola oil for butter, and nuts for chips. Fatty fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and have other benefits, attributed at least in part to their omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.
Prefer water over other beverages. Avoid sugary drinks, and limit intake of juices and milk. Coffee, tea, artificially-sweetened drinks, 100-percent fruit juices, low-fat milk and alcohol can fit into a healthy diet but are best consumed in moderation. Sports drinks are recommended only for people who exercise more than an hour at a stretch to replace substances lost in sweat.[20]
^ Biesiekierski JR (2017). "What is gluten?". J Gastroenterol Hepatol (Review). 32 Suppl 1: 78–81. doi:10.1111/jgh.13703. PMID 28244676. Similar proteins to the gliadin found in wheat exist as secalin in rye, hordein in barley, and avenins in oats and are collectively referred to as “gluten.” Derivatives of these grains such as triticale and malt and other ancient wheat varieties such as spelt and kamut also contain gluten. The gluten found in all of these grains has been identified as the component capable of triggering the immune-mediated disorder, coeliac disease.
If giving up pasta is the hardest part of making changes to help lose weight, zucchini noodles are a healthier alternative, Michalczyk says. "I like to think of them as pasta's lower-carb and higher-in-nutrition cousin because zucchini is a good source of vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium for only about 33 calories per zucchini,” says Michalczyk. You can use in zoodles, much on as is with some dip, roast them, or add to salads.
There's a reason (well actually, many reasons) why lentils are considered one of the world's healthiest foods. With 13 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving, this legume—another member of the pulse family—will keep you feeling full for hours in between meals. They're a great source of fat-burning resistant starch, too, with 3.4 grams in a half-cup serving.
“Pistachios are a great addition to a diet aimed to help one lose weight because they're one of the lowest-fat and lowest-calorie snacks that offer the most nuts per serving (49 pistachios per 1-ounce serving) compared to cashews (18) and walnuts (14 halves),” says Shaw. Get in-shell pistachios because the leftover shells may provide a visual cue for portion control to curb intake.
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body's calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
Avocados are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids, dietary fiber, potassium and phytochemicals. People who eat avocados tend to have lower BMI, body weight and waist circumference than people who skip this green superfood, per a study in Nutrition Journal. While avocados are higher in calories than other fruits and vegetables, their satisfying fat and fiber combo may help you slim down. Add some to your salad, sandwich or taco night for a burst of creaminess and flavor.
No way could we have a “best foods for weight loss” list without this slice of heaven. Dark chocolate contains antioxidants known as flavonoids, which promote good heart health. As a bonus, an ounce of 70-85 percent cacao dark chocolate has 3 grams of fiber and 64 grams of magnesium, which supports nerve and muscle function, immune health, and bone strength. For maximum benefits, reach for a bar with at least 70 percent cacao. “The higher the percentage, the more antioxidant content,” according to Cleveland Clinic Wellness.

For quick weeknight meals, go for the broiler. It preheats in a flash and acts like an upside-down grill, bringing salmon to perfect doneness in just 10 minutes. Don't sweat it if you slightly overcook the salmon. Serve it with a luscious dipping sauce, or drizzle a bit of olive oil over top to bring back instant moisture. Round out the meal with Simple Blistered Broccolini. 
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body's calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
Grapes were basically made to be snacked on, and always having some on hand could be great for your weight loss goals — a study published in PLOS Medicine found the sweet fruit can aid in shedding unwanted pounds. If you're trying to resist a calorie-heavy dessert, try tossing a bunch into the freezer so you can pop a few whenever you're craving something sweet.

Long live the sweet potato, savior to all people looking to cut back on carbohydrates in a healthy way. "Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy," Abbey Sharp, R.D. with Abbey’s Kitchen, told SELF in a previous article. "Enjoying more fiber-rich complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will be more conducive to weight loss and health in general than eating refined ones, which can spike blood sugar quickly." That’s where sweet potato comes in, serving up 41 grams of healthy carbs and 7 grams of fiber (keep the skin on!) per cup.
This often over-looked gem is loaded with protein, filling fats, and calcium to help you build and repair muscles, which can aid in weight loss. “It's fabulous with fruit, on whole grain toast, oatmeal or salads, but the super high protein content [13 grams per 1/2 cup serving!] helps to keep you full in between meals,” says Harris-Pincus. You can also use it in smoothies, in eggs, or in pancake batter. Just be sure to check labels and find a product that’s low in sugar.
It emphasizes both health and environmental sustainability and a flexible approach. The committee that drafted it wrote: "The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet. This pattern of eating can be achieved through a variety of dietary patterns, including the “Healthy U.S.-style Pattern”, the “Healthy Vegetarian Pattern" and the "Healthy Mediterranean-style Pattern".[10] Food group amounts are per day, unless noted per week.
Like peanuts, lentils also contain genistein, but their weight loss powers don’t end there. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that also included four weekly servings of legumes aided weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet sans the pulses. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure. Next time you’re cooking something starchy for dinner, consider eating fiber and protein-packed lentils instead.

Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don’t order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don’t feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy greens or round off the meal with fruit.


“Thirst and hunger cues feel similar, so it’s important to stay hydrated, especially if you’re trying to lose weight,” explains Moon. Yes, plain water is important, but 20 percent of our daily water intake comes from foods, she says. “Watermelon is 92 percent water, plus it is bursting with vitamins A and C and anti-inflammatory nutrients like lycopene,” she explains.
Though we singled out quinoa above, whole grains in general (we’re talking cereal, rice, pasta, and more) are conducive to weight loss, especially when they’re used in place of refined—white—grains. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that substituting whole grains for refined grains in the diet increases calorie loss by reducing calories retained during digestion and speeding up metabolism. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are packed with satiating, heart-healthy fiber.
Calcium. As well as leading to osteoporosis, not getting enough calcium in your diet can also contribute to anxiety, depression, and sleep difficulties. Whatever your age or gender, it’s vital to include calcium-rich foods in your diet, limit those that deplete calcium, and get enough magnesium and vitamins D and K to help calcium do its job. Learn more »
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