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.
Riffing off the flavor of a Greek gyro, these turkey burgers cook up fast in a cast-iron skillet or grill pan. Lemony, olive-studded yogurt sauce adds more Middle Eastern–inspired flavor and is a tasty alternative to ketchup and mustard. Piled high with arugula, cucumber, and red onion, these are filling enough to be called dinner. Or, round out the meal with roasted potato fries. For the juiciest burgers, go for 93% lean ground turkey (a combination of white and dark meat).
You’ll want to add a pop of blue to your meals with this berry delicious fruit. “Research has linked eating a diet rich in fruits and non-starchy vegetables with weight loss, but I really like blueberries because they're packed with antioxidants and are available all year round in the frozen aisle,” says Rizzo. Add to yogurt, oatmeal, and salads, or use for sweetness in smoothies, sauces, and dressings.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
Steel-cut and rolled varieties of oats have up to 5 grams of fiber per serving, making them the most filling choice. (Instant oats contain 3 to 4 grams per serving—if you're opting for that kind, make sure to skip the versions with added sugar.) And as a complex carb, they can help with weight loss. "Your body needs to break down complex carbohydrates because they’re a complicated mesh of molecules,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Nutrition Starring You, told SELF in a previous article.
Coconut oil may be high in saturated fat, but that doesn’t mean you should write it off completely, especially when it comes to weight loss. In fact, a study of 30 men published in Pharmacology found that just two tablespoons per day reduced waist circumference by an average of 1.1 inches over the course of a month. What’s more? At roughly 117 calories per tablespoon, coconut oil (which has a versatile high smoke point) is an ideal cooking companion so long as you don’t use it every day and rotate in other cooking oils such as heart-healthy EVOO.
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.
A squeeze of lemon adds instant freshness to everything from drinks to salads to fish without additional calories, making it an ideal way to flavor food if you're watching your weight. Plus, the pectin fiber in lemons can help fill you up and fight off hunger cravings. And while it hasn't been scientifically proven, some experts believe that the citrus fruit can aid in weight loss, as well.
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 »
Popular diets, often referred to as fad diets, make promises of weight loss or other health advantages such as longer life without backing by solid science, and in many cases are characterized by highly restrictive or unusual food choices.:296 Celebrity endorsements (including celebrity doctors) are frequently associated with popular diets, and the individuals who develop and promote these programs often profit handsomely.:11–12
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.
Beans are a great weight loss food that can help boost feelings of fullness and manage blood sugar levels, making them an excellent ally in your weight loss battle. In fact, a recent study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found eating one serving a day of beans, peas, chickpeas or lentils could contribute to modest weight loss. And if you need another reason to bulk up on beans, remember that the fiber and protein-rich legumes are other excellent sources of genistein—the same compound found in peanuts and lentils that aids weight loss.
A 2016 study found that garlic powder reduces body weight and fat mass among people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Recent studies have also shown that garlic supports blood-sugar metabolism, and helps control lipid levels in the blood. What’s more? Eating garlic can help boost your immune system, help ward off heart disease, fight inflammation, increase memory retention, and lower blood pressure, so consider adding some to your next meal. At the very least, it is preferable over salt, which can lead to water weight gain and bloating.
Try a lower-calorie version. Use lower-calorie ingredients or prepare food differently. For example, if your macaroni and cheese recipe uses whole milk, butter, and full-fat cheese, try remaking it with non-fat milk, less butter, light cream cheese, fresh spinach and tomatoes. Just remember to not increase your portion size. For more ideas on how to cut back on calories, see Eat More Weigh Less.
Another condiment worth utilizing in place of sugary dressings and marinades is apple cider vinegar. According to a study published in Bioscience, Biotechnology, & Biochemistry, consuming apple cider vinegar each day can lead to weight loss, reduced belly fat, waist circumference, and lower blood triglycerides. More specifically, the study of obese Japanese participants found that those who consumed 1 tablespoon of ACV over a three month period lost 2.6 pounds, and those who consumed 2 tablespoons lost 3.7 pounds in the same time frame. Go ahead and toss a tablespoon or two of this calorie, fat, and sugar-free stuff in your next salad dressing, sauce, or smoothie.