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.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH, a United States government organization) to control hypertension. A major feature of the plan is limiting intake of sodium, and the diet also generally encourages the consumption of nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables while lowering the consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar. It is also "rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein".
“For weight loss, it’s important to eat foods with plenty of protein and fiber to keep you full throughout the day and prevent you from overeating. I like to recommend opting for plant-based proteins, since they tend to have fewer calories than their meat counterparts,” says Rizzo. A 1/2 cup of cooked lentils has 12 grams of protein for just 140 calories. It's super versatile and can be added to grain bowls, salads, soups, and more.
Fresh, Frozen, or Canned Vegetables ― try something new. You may find that you love grilled vegetables or steamed vegetables with an herb you haven’t tried like rosemary. You can sauté (panfry) vegetables in a non-stick pan with a small amount of cooking spray. Or try frozen or canned vegetables for a quick side dish—just microwave and serve. When trying canned vegetables, look for vegetables without added salt, butter, or cream sauces. Commit to going to the produce department and trying a new vegetable each week.
The weight of evidence strongly supports a theme of healthful eating while allowing for variations on that theme. A diet of minimally processed foods close to nature, predominantly plants, is decisively associated with health promotion and disease prevention and is consistent with the salient components of seemingly distinct dietary approaches. Efforts to improve public health through diet are forestalled not for want of knowledge about the optimal feeding of Homo sapiens but for distractions associated with exaggerated claims, and our failure to convert what we reliably know into what we routinely do. Knowledge in this case is not, as of yet, power; would that it were so.
Similar to Greek yogurt, a study from Nutrition Research showed that eating eggs for breakfast can make you feel more full and help you eat fewer calories throughout the day, meaning they’re quite the secret weapon for weight loss. Nutritionally speaking, one large hard-boiled egg (about 50 grams) contains less than one gram of carbs and remains an excellent source of protein. Eggs are also loaded with amino acids, antioxidants, and healthy fats.
Fears of high cholesterol were frequently voiced up until the mid-1990s. However, more recent research has shown that the distinction between high- and low-density lipoprotein ('good' and 'bad' cholesterol, respectively) must be addressed when speaking of the potential ill effects of cholesterol. Different types of dietary fat have different effects on blood levels of cholesterol. For example, polyunsaturated fats tend to decrease both types of cholesterol; monounsaturated fats tend to lower LDL and raise HDL; saturated fats tend to either raise HDL, or raise both HDL and LDL; and trans fat tend to raise LDL and lower HDL.
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.
As it turns out, almonds aren’t the only superstar nuts around. Studies have shown pistachios aren’t bad to snack on either. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for three months. One group was given 220-calories of pretzels as an afternoon snack, while the other sect munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. About a month into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point and improved their cholesterol and triglyceride levels, while the pretzel-eaters stayed the same.
A complete plant protein boasting all nine essential amino acids, quinoa is a weight loss superfood win. One cup of cooked quinoa has about 220 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 8 grams of protein. “Complex carbohydrates like those in quinoa can help with satiety when eaten with other healthy foods (like heart-healthy avocados for a healthy dose of fats) that inevitably will help with weight loss in the long run,” explains Elizabeth Ann Shaw, MS, RDN, CLT, CPT.
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.
You likely don’t pay much mind to sesame seeds, but research shows that the crunchy little buggers may play a crucial role in weight maintenance. So, you should seriously consider tossing them into a salad or whole wheat noodle dish. Researchers suspect its the lignans—plant compounds—found in sesame seeds (and flax seeds) that makes them so special. In a 2015 study, women who consumed high levels of lignans tended to weigh less and gain less weight over time when compared to women who didn’t consume these compounds in high amounts.
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.
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.
In children, consuming less than 25 grams of added sugar (100 calories) is recommended per day. Other recommendations include no extra sugars in those under 2 years old and less than one soft drink per week. As of 2017, decreasing total fat is no longer recommended, but instead, the recommendation to lower risk of cardiovascular disease is to increase consumption of monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, while decreasing consumption of saturated fats.
^ Sacks, Frank M.; Lichtenstein, Alice H.; Wu, Jason H.Y.; Appel, Lawrence J.; Creager, Mark A.; Kris-Etherton, Penny M.; Miller, Michael; Rimm, Eric B.; Rudel, Lawrence L.; Robinson, Jennifer G.; Stone, Neil J.; Van Horn, Linda V. (15 June 2017). "Dietary Fats and Cardiovascular Disease: A Presidential Advisory From the American Heart Association" (PDF). Circulation. 136 (3): e1–e23. doi:10.1161/CIR.0000000000000510. PMID 28620111.