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.
Dig in to eggs, yolks and all: They won't harm your heart. “The [USDA] Dietary Guidelines sees eggs as a healthy source of protein, and groups them with meat and poultry,” Caroline Kaufman, R.D., told SELF in a previous article about what people get wrong about cholesterol. "Don’t stress about dietary cholesterol; focus on saturated and trans fats."
^ 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.
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Stephen Colbert may be on to something. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for 12-weeks. The only difference between the groups was what they were given to eat as an afternoon snack. One group ate 220-calories of pretzels while the other group munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. Just four weeks into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point, while the pretzel-eating group stayed the same, and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed improvements as well.
The latest Dietary Guidelines no longer give a daily cap for dietary cholesterol (previously it was 300 milligrams), because there’s abundant evidence that dietary cholesterol (found only in animal foods) has little if any effect on most people's blood cholesterol. Rather, saturated fats raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol does. But don't go overboard with cholesterol-rich foods, since many of them are also high in saturated fats. And if you have cardiovascular disease or diabetes, ask your doctor if you should limit dietary cholesterol.
An apple a day might not always keep the doctor away, but they can help keep unwanted pounds at bay. According to a study published in the journal Nutrition, researchers found adding three apples into your daily meal plan can result in weight loss thanks to all that added fiber. Consumer Reports found that most people don't get enough of the daily nutrient, so consider this an easy way to up your tally.
It’s time to focus on your lentil health. In one four-week Spanish study, researchers found that eating a calorie-restricted diet that includes four weekly servings of legumes aids weight loss more effectively than an equivalent diet that doesn’t include beans. Those who consumed the legume-rich diet also saw improvements in their “bad” LDL cholesterol levels and systolic blood-pressure. To reap the benefits at home, work lentils, chickpeas, peas and beans into your diet throughout the week.
When it comes to eating for weight loss, fiber is the number one nutrient that belongs on your radar. The Cleveland Clinic says women should aim for the recommended 25 to 30 grams per day, and one of the easiest ways to do that is by loading your plate with broccoli. The veggie contains 16 grams per bunch! If you don't like eating it solo, sneak it into the dishes you already love, like this Fusilli with Broccoli Pesto recipe.
Although white potatoes offer some potassium and fiber, sweet potatoes reign supreme in the nutrition department, meaning you should consider adding sweet potatoes to your diet. A large sweet potato contains around 4 grams of satiety-boosting protein, 25 percent of the day’s belly-filling fiber, and 11 times the recommended daily intake of vitamin A. What’s more? It’s less than 200 calories.
Cabbage is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C but extremely low in calories (just 22 per cup), so you can fill your plate with the leafy green guilt-free. And while you're probably familiar with the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet, there are plenty of alternate ways to eat this veggie that won't leave you feeling hungry. It's delicious in a variety of slaws or salads, and makes a crunchy garnish atop tacos or burgers.

Excess sodium, found in many processed foods and restaurant meals, raises blood pressure in some people and can have other adverse effects. The Dietary Guidelines recommend a limit of 2,300 milligrams a day for the general population; people with hypertension or prehypertension can benefit from a further reduction to 1,500 milligrams per day. As you cut back on sodium, eat more potassium-rich foods, which help lower blood pressure. These include citrus fruits, bananas, beans, avocados, some fish, and dairy products.
Supplements can't substitute for a healthy diet, which supplies other potentially beneficial compounds besides vitamins and minerals. Foods also provide the synergy that many nutrients require to be efficiently used in the body. Still, for many people a basic multivitamin/mineral pill can provide some of the nutrients they may fall short on. Certain people may also need supplements of folic acid, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin D (see next slide).
These support bone health and have other possible benefits. Dairy products are the best sources of calcium, but you can also get it from fortified foods as well as canned salmon, sardines, dark leafy greens, and most tofu. If you can’t get the recommended 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day from food, take a calcium supplement. It’s hard to consume enough vitamin D from foods (the RDA is 600 to 800 IU a day, though other experts advise more). Thus, many people—especially those who are over 60, live at northern latitudes, or have darker skin—should consider taking a supplement.
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