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.
For many people, food is a chore, a challenge, even a source of dread, as they try to overcome poor eating habits. But eating should be a joy and a centerpiece of family life. Many cultures around the world emphasize the enjoyment of food, which includes cooking and eating with others, as an integral component of good health. The latest Dietary Guidelines say that eating healthfully involves “enjoying food and celebrating cultural and personal traditions through food.” According to some research, shared mealtimes, especially during childhood, may help protect against nutrition-related health problems as well as increase prosocial behavior in adulthood.
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". Food group amounts are per day, unless noted per week.
Salmon boasts significant anti-inflammatory properties thanks to its rich omega-3 fatty acid content, meaning it’s an excellent source of protein for those looking to jumpstart their weight loss. In fact, one International Journal of Obesity study that examined the effects of weight loss and seafood consumption showed that when men ate three 5-ounce servings of salmon per week for a month as part of a low-calorie diet, it resulted in approximately 2.2 pounds more weight loss than following an equicaloric diet that didn’t include fish. According to a study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, fishy fatty acids may also signal thyroid cells in the liver to burn more fat.
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."
The saturated fats in animal foods generally boost levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and have other adverse effects. To limit your intake, choose lean meats, skinless poultry, and nonfat or low-fat dairy products. It’s also a good idea to replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats (see next slide). Keep in mind, though, that not all saturated fats are bad for you; those in chocolate, milk, and cheese, for example, are more neutral in their effect on blood cholesterol. Trans fats from partially hydrogenated oils are even worse than saturated fats, but FDA regulations have now nearly phased them out of the food supply.
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.
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!
Salmon is a rich source of high-quality protein and provides plenty of "good" fats: omega-3 fatty acids. A diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids helped people feel more satisfied when they were watching their calories, per a study in Appetite. Eating salmon can be a delicious and versatile way to get your recommended two weekly servings of heart-healthy fish.
A 2012 CDC study found that the average adult consumes about 100 calories worth of alcohol daily, but favoring a glass of wine instead of beer or sugary cocktails can drastically reduce that figure and make your waistline slimmer. In addition to having fewer calories than most alcoholic beverages, red wine, in particular, is a good source of those waist-shrinking flavonoids that are also found in red fruits. Resveratrol, a particular flavonoid found in red wine, is believed to have heart health benefits because it helps prevent blood vessel damage and reduces your ‘bad cholesterol.’ Just remember to imbibe in moderation.
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.