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.
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.
Diets to promote weight loss are divided into four categories: low-fat, low-carbohydrate, low-calorie, and very low calorie. A meta-analysis of six randomized controlled trials found no difference between the main diet types (low calorie, low carbohydrate, and low fat), with a 2–4 kilogram weight loss in all studies. At two years, all of the diets in the studies that reduced calories caused equal weight loss regardless of whether changes in fat or carbohydrate consumption were emphasized.
Good news, wine drinkers. Thanks to resveratrol, an antioxidant found in grape skin, drinking red wine in moderation can be part of a healthy diet. Some studies suggest that people who drink wine have smaller waists and less abdominal fat than those who drink mainly liquor. And having one glass of red wine can increase your body's calorie burn for up to 90 minutes afterwards. The antioxidants in wine might even help your body prevent cancer and improve heart health. Just be sure to stick to no more than a glass a day—the calories can add up fast.
There's a reason (well actually, many reasons) why lentils are considered one of the world's healthiest foods. With 13 grams of protein and 11 grams of fiber per serving, this legume—another member of the pulse family—will keep you feeling full for hours in between meals. They're a great source of fat-burning resistant starch, too, with 3.4 grams in a half-cup serving.
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.
The American Heart Association, World Cancer Research Fund, and American Institute for Cancer Research recommend a diet that consists mostly of unprocessed plant foods, with emphasis a wide range of whole grains, legumes, and non-starchy vegetables and fruits. This healthy diet is full of a wide range of various non-starchy vegetables and fruits, that provide different colors including red, green, yellow, white, purple, and orange. They note that tomato cooked with oil, allium vegetables like garlic, and cruciferous vegetables like cauliflower, provide some protection against cancer. This healthy diet is low in energy density, which may protect against weight gain and associated diseases. Finally, limiting consumption of sugary drinks, limiting energy rich foods, including “fast foods” and red meat, and avoiding processed meats improves health and longevity. Overall, researchers and medical policy conclude that this healthy diet can reduce the risk of chronic disease and cancer.
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.
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 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.
Fruit gets a bad rap sometimes because it naturally contains sugar. But eating fruit can help you lose weight, especially when you swap in fresh fruit for processed foods or other unhealthy snacks. You'll get a naturally sweet treat, plus reap the benefits of fiber and antioxidants. A recent study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that higher fruit consumption was associated with lower risk of becoming overweight or obese, independent of vegetable or fiber intake—though including fruit as part of a healthy diet overall is always the best strategy.
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.
Long live the sweet potato, savior to all people looking to cut back on carbohydrates in a healthy way. "Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of energy," Abbey Sharp, R.D. with Abbey’s Kitchen, told SELF in a previous article. "Enjoying more fiber-rich complex carbs like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables will be more conducive to weight loss and health in general than eating refined ones, which can spike blood sugar quickly." That’s where sweet potato comes in, serving up 41 grams of healthy carbs and 7 grams of fiber (keep the skin on!) per cup.
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.
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.
Yes, peanut butter is high in calories, but if you stick the real stuff—a tasty combo of peanuts and maybe a touch of salt—the legumes can earn a place as one of the best foods for weight loss. In addition to providing you with belly-slimming monounsaturated fats, tummy-filling fiber, and metabolism-boosting protein, peanuts also contain genistein, a compound that helps turn down the genes for obesity and reduces your body’s ability to store fat.