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.
^ Hischenhuber C, Crevel R, Jarry B, Mäki M, Moneret-Vautrin DA, Romano A, Troncone R, Ward R (Mar 1, 2006). "Review article: safe amounts of gluten for patients with wheat allergy or coeliac disease". Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 23 (5): 559–75. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2036.2006.02768.x. PMID 16480395. For both wheat allergy and coeliac disease the dietary avoidance of wheat and other gluten-containing cereals is the only effective treatment.
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.
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.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled salmon) will make a positive difference to your health. Switching animal fats for refined carbohydrates, though (such as switching your breakfast bacon for a donut), won’t lower your risk for heart disease or improve your mood.
^ Biesiekierski JR (2017). "What is gluten?". J Gastroenterol Hepatol (Review). 32 Suppl 1: 78–81. doi:10.1111/jgh.13703. PMID 28244676. Similar proteins to the gliadin found in wheat exist as secalin in rye, hordein in barley, and avenins in oats and are collectively referred to as “gluten.” Derivatives of these grains such as triticale and malt and other ancient wheat varieties such as spelt and kamut also contain gluten. The gluten found in all of these grains has been identified as the component capable of triggering the immune-mediated disorder, coeliac disease.
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.
^ 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.

Carbohydrates are one of your body’s main sources of energy. But most should come from complex, unrefined carbs (vegetables, whole grains, fruit) rather than sugars and refined carbs. Cutting back on white bread, pastries, starches, and sugar can prevent rapid spikes in blood sugar, fluctuations in mood and energy, and a build-up of fat, especially around your waistline. Learn more »
“Fish is a great source of satiating protein and is typically lower in calories than other animal proteins,” says Maggie Moon, MS, RD, author of The MIND Diet. “Sardines are a sustainable seafood choice, which are packed with heart-healthy and brain-healthy omega-3 fats,” she says. These healthy fats can help decrease inflammation and improve your mood while dieting.
For quick weeknight meals, go for the broiler. It preheats in a flash and acts like an upside-down grill, bringing salmon to perfect doneness in just 10 minutes. Don't sweat it if you slightly overcook the salmon. Serve it with a luscious dipping sauce, or drizzle a bit of olive oil over top to bring back instant moisture. Round out the meal with Simple Blistered Broccolini. 
Spirulina is a powdered, high-protein seaweed supplement. The dried stuff is about 60 percent protein, and, like quinoa, it’s a complete protein, meaning it can be converted directly into muscle in the body and is thus a great weight loss tool. A tablespoon of the blue-green algae delivers 8 grams of metabolism-boosting protein for just 43 calories, plus half a day’s allotment of vitamin B12, which in and of itself can give you more energy and boost your metabolism. Try tossing some spirulina into a smoothie and watching the pounds melt off. For more skinny smoothie ideas, check out this list of smoothie recipes for weight loss!
The nutritional content of this tasty spread may freak you out, but there's no reason to be afraid of fat! Fat helps make food taste delicious and keep you satiated, so it's actually good news that 1 tablespoon of almond butter has 9 grams of the stuff. Even better, adding almond butter to a carb-based food can help stave off a blood sugar spike thanks to its fat and protein (2 grams per tablespoon).
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.
Like a marathoner stretching before the big run, eating half a grapefruit before a meal can enhance your body’s fat-burning performance. A study published in the journal Metabolism found that this “warm-up” tactic can help whittle your middle—by up to an inch—in just six weeks! The scientists attribute the powerful effects to the grapefruits’ fat-zapping phytochemicals. The fruit can interact negatively with certain medications, so as long as you get the green-light from your M.D, plan to have half of a grapefruit before your morning meal and add a few segments your starter salads to reap the benefits.
How would you like to take all the great weight-loss results you’ve just read about—and double them? That’s what happens when you supplement your diet with a combination of vitamin D and calcium, according to a Nutrition Journal study. Just four weeks into the 12-week experiment, subjects who had taken these two nutrients—found in abundance in some yogurts—lost two times more fat than the other group! To get similar results at home, start your day with one of these best yogurts for weight loss.
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.
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.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: fat is your friend! To be more specific, healthy fats will be your weight loss friends. Consider adding extra virgin olive oil to your diet and you might see the scale start to tip in your favor. One Journal of Women’s Health study discovered that an EVOO-enriched diet helped participants lose more weight than those on a low-fat diet. Like peanuts and avocados, extra virgin olive oil’s belly-blasting abilities are thought to be a result of the monounsaturated fats it contains.
Hello, hydration. Watermelon, which gets its pretty color from the antioxidant lycopene, is a juicy, delicious way to make sure you’re staying hydrated—a key factor in weight loss for various reasons. When you’re drinking enough water, all your systems (including your metabolism) are better able to work at their maximum capacity, Shawn Talbott, Ph.D., a nutritional biochemist, told SELF in a previous article. Plus, proper hydration prevents you from confusing thirst for hunger, which can lead you to overeat throughout the day. And don’t buy into the hype about watermelon being a calorie bomb—1 cup only contains 46 calories.
Coffee jumpstarts your metabolism, making the non-decaf stuff a worthy weight loss ally. According to a study published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, the average metabolic rate of people who drank caffeinated coffee was 16 percent higher than that of those who drank decaf. In addition to caffeinating your coffee, it’s also crucial to keep it black and avoid adding any unhealthy creamers and artificial sweeteners, both of which are enemies of weight loss.
When it comes to condiments, mustard is about as healthy and low cal as it gets, and the pungent yellow stuff that contains about 5 calories per teaspoon has also been found to stimulate weight loss. Scientists at England’s Oxford Polytechnic Institute found that eating just one teaspoon of mustard can boost the metabolism by up to 25 percent for several hours after it’s been consumed. Researchers attribute this to capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanates, phytochemicals that give the mustard its characteristic flavor. So instead of reaching for the sickeningly sweet ketchup, make sure you have mustard on hand at your next BBQ.
Like a marathoner stretching before the big run, eating half a grapefruit before a meal can enhance your body’s fat-burning performance. A study published in the journal Metabolism found that this “warm-up” tactic can help whittle your middle—by up to an inch—in just six weeks! The scientists attribute the powerful effects to the grapefruits’ fat-zapping phytochemicals. The fruit can interact negatively with certain medications, so as long as you get the green-light from your M.D, plan to have half of a grapefruit before your morning meal and add a few segments your starter salads to reap the benefits.
If you’re on a quest to jumpstart weight loss, why not kick your metabolism into overdrive by sneaking spicy foods into your diet. Capsaicin, the active ingredient in cayenne pepper that gives it its spiciness, revs up your metabolism in a way that’s conducive to weight loss. In fact, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, those who supplemented their diet with capsaicin consumed 200 fewer calories during their next meal.

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.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food. You’ll eat fewer calories and avoid the chemical additives, added sugar, and unhealthy fats of packaged and takeout foods that can leave you feeling tired, bloated, and irritable, and exacerbate symptoms of depression, stress, and anxiety.
Kamut is an ancient grain native to the Middle East that is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and fiber, while simultaneously being low in calories. In fact, a half-cup serving of the stuff has 30 percent more protein than regular wheat and just 140 calories. What’s more? A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that eating Kamut reduces cholesterol, blood sugar, and cytokines (which cause inflammation throughout the body). Kamut’s ability to stabilize blood sugar and reduce inflammation make it a great weight loss staple, especially if it is used in place of nutritionally lacking refined grains.
From a psychological and cultural perspective, a healthier diet may be difficult to achieve for people with poor eating habits.[48] This may be due to tastes acquired in childhood and preferences for sugary, salty and/or fatty foods.[49] In the UK, the chief medical officer of the government recommended in December 2018 that sugar and salt be taxed to discourage consumption.[50]
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.
×