^ Wang, X; Ouyang, Y; Liu, J; Zhu, M; Zhao, G; Bao, W; Hu, FB (Jul 29, 2014). "Fruit and vegetable consumption and mortality from all causes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer: systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of prospective cohort studies". BMJ (Clinical Research Ed.). 349: g4490. doi:10.1136/bmj.g4490. PMC 4115152. PMID 25073782.
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.
Apples contain pectin, an ingredient that naturally slows digestion and encourages feelings of fullness. Studies show that eating a whole apple with your meal (as opposed to apple juice or applesauce) is a natural appetite suppressant, helping you consume fewer overall calories without feeling deprived. Sass likes using shredded apple in slaws and stir-fry, or mixing them into burger patties to add moisture.
“This green veggie is a weight loss superstar and easy to incorporate into almost anything you're eating like smoothies, salads, and wraps. Spinach is low in carbs and high in fiber,” says Michalcyzk. You can eat a large volume of it for few calories, and the nutritional value hits all the marks to ensure you meet your daily requirements for weight loss.
Swap plain noodles for this hearty variety (which you may find more easily by looking for soba noodles—just check that they're 100 percent buckwheat before purchasing). Buckwheat noodles contain fiber (12 grams per cup), and unlike most carbs, they contain protein, too, (24 grams per cup) making it more filling, aka harder to overeat than the regular stuff.
If you want to sip your way to a faster metabolism, pour yourself a cup of green tea. The beverage is filled with powerful antioxidants that can help fight inflammation, burn fat, and increase energy. According to one study, drinking five cups a day could help you lose twice as much weight, mainly in your midsection. And drinking green tea could also reduce risk of Parkinson's disease, as well as ovarian, colorectal, skin, and prostate cancers.
These foods—notably vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains—should supply about 20 to 35 grams of dietary fiber a day, depending on your calorie needs. (Aim for 14 grams of fiber for every 1,000 calories, as advised by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.) Fiber slows the absorption of carbohydrates, so they have less effect on insulin and blood sugar, and it provides other health benefits. Try to fill three-quarters of your plate with produce, legumes, and whole grains—leaving only one-quarter for meat, poultry, or other protein sources.
Drinking enough water can help you stay slim, too. Research from the American Chemical Society in Boston found that having two 8-ounce glasses of water before a meal while also reducing portion sizes could help you lose weight and keep it off. Not to mention, water fills you up, curbing your appetite: "In addition to slightly boosting your metabolism, drinking water before meals has been shown to help you eat less without trying," says Sass.
What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. For many of us, moderation means eating less than we do now. But it doesn’t mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner—but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza.
Calcium and vitamin C team up well to boost metabolism, and broccoli is just one of several healthy foods that contain both nutrients. What sets broccoli apart from the others, however, is that the green veggie also contains kind of fiber that’s been shown to increase the digestion, absorption and storage of food, also known as the thermic effect of food or TEF. Combine a revved up metabolism with an increased TEF and you get a match made in weight loss heaven!
At least half your grains should be whole grains, such as whole wheat, oats, barley, or brown rice. Whole grains retain the bran and germ and thus all (or nearly all) of the nutrients and fiber of the grain. One sure way of finding whole grains is to look for a product labeled “100% whole wheat” or “100%" of some other whole grain. You can also look for a whole grain listed as the first ingredient, though there still may be lots of refined wheat in the product. Another option is to look for the voluntary “Whole Grain Stamp” from the Whole Grains Council. Or try this tip: Look for less than a 10-to-1 ratio of “total carbohydrates” to “fiber” on the nutrition label.
There are countless ways to enjoy the fruit (yes, technically it is one), but you can't beat the classic combination of whole-wheat toast with mashed avocado, lemon juice, and sunflower seeds. Sass also recommends whipping avocado into a smoothie, pureeing it with herbs and citrus juice to make a creamy salad dressing, or adding it to a veggie omelet.
Lentils and beans are great foods for weight loss, but chickpeas also belong in your pantry. They contain a whopping 39 grams of protein per cup, which nearly meets your recommended daily amount from the USDA, so you're guaranteed to stay full for awhile after noshing on these beauties. Most eat them in hummus form, but you could also toss them in seasonings and roast in the oven, which you can then sprinkle into meals or eat alone for a crunchy snack.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean condiment that's made with fermented cabbage and is a great source of vitamins A, B, and C. Because it's fermented (like sauerkraut), kimchi contains tons of those good probiotics that aid the body in digestion. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that maintaining healthy bacteria in your gut can improve gut lining, which in turn could help reduce fat mass and inflammation.
A big reason to incorporate more strawberries into your diet: not only do they taste delicious, but a study from Harvard Medical School found that an increased intake of flavonoid-rich fruits, like strawberries, could help prevent weight gain. Stock up on the seasonal fruit in summer, but don't shy away from grabbing the frozen variety once colder temps hit — fruit is frozen at its nutrient peak, so you'll still nab most of the same health benefits.
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."
Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create—and stick to—a tasty, varied, and nutritious diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
Artichokes are delicious when marinated in a little olive oil, thrown on a salad, or added to lightened pasta dishes. “This vegetable has more fiber than any other vegetable, making it one of the best choices when you're looking to boost your fiber intake,” says Zigler. Artichokes are also loaded with antioxidants, which can lower inflammation to promote weight loss.
Blueberries are lousy with antioxidants, satiating fiber, potassium, and more, and according to researchers at the University of Michigan, the colorful fruits may also encourage weight loss. In a study of laboratory rats, scientists found that after 90 days the rats who consumed blueberry-enriched powder as 2 percent of their diet had less abdominal fat, lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol, and improved fasting glucose and insulin sensitivity, than the rats who didn’t consume any blueberry-enriched powder.
Yogurt is protein-packed and full of probiotics, which are good for gut health and may help your weight-loss efforts. Your gut health can impact your weight, and eating more fiber and probiotics helps keep your gut bacteria happy, which can be good for your metabolism (read more about your gut-weight connection). Go Greek for more protein; plus, research from Appetite found that consumption of Greek yogurt was associated with reduced appetite and increased satiety. Just keep an eye on added sugars in flavored yogurts, which only add calories. Instead, use fresh fruit to sweeten plain yogurt.
Water is a weight loss ally in a number of ways. For starters, if sipped prior to a meal it can help ensure you eat less. A British study published in the journal Obesity that asked participants to chug 16 ounces of H2O prior to eating found said participants lost an average of 2.87 pounds in 90 days—which translates to nearly 12 pounds in a year! Water helps you blast even more fat because it is a much better beverage choice than diet soda or fruit juice, both of which are full of artificial sweeteners that can pack on belly fat super fast.
Losing weight isn't all about exercise – what you eat matters too. But nobody wants to eat diet food that makes them feel like they're going to gnaw their arm off before dinner. That's why registered dietitians say it's important to up your intake of veggies, grains, nuts, and other foods that are full of fiber, protein, and other pound-dropping nutrients. These options will help you prevent cravings and keep you full straight through your usual afternoon snack.
A new twist on an old favorite ― if your favorite recipe calls for frying fish or breaded chicken, try healthier variations using baking or grilling. Maybe even try a recipe that uses dry beans in place of higher-fat meats. Ask around or search the internet and magazines for recipes with fewer calories ― you might be surprised to find you have a new favorite dish!
Sure, nuts aren’t known for being low in calories, but they have an array of other properties—namely a high protein and fiber content—that makes them ideal for weight loss. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Circulation, found that consuming 1.5 ounces of almonds daily (as opposed to a carb-dense muffin) along with a heart-healthy diet, helped to improve cholesterol and lipid profiles among the research participants. The study also found that eating almonds reduces belly fat, too.