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 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.
Your favorite childhood snack is good for your grown-up self, too. Because peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy fats, it can curb hunger and keep you feeling full long after you're finished eating. Having small snacks during the day that include a lean protein such as peanut butter with complex carbs (like an apple or banana) can also help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
Speaking of things you find in the sea, oysters have also been shown to contribute to weight loss thanks to their impressive zinc content. One study found that obese people who consumed 30 milligrams of zinc per day—the equivalent of just six raw oysters—had lower BMIs, weighed less, and showed improvements in blood cholesterol levels. If oysters aren’t your thing, spinach, pumpkin seeds, and mushrooms are also excellent sources of zinc.
Cabbage is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C but extremely low in calories (just 22 per cup), so you can fill your plate with the leafy green guilt-free. And while you're probably familiar with the infamous Cabbage Soup Diet, there are plenty of alternate ways to eat this veggie that won't leave you feeling hungry. It's delicious in a variety of slaws or salads, and makes a crunchy garnish atop tacos or burgers.

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.


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Since avocados are packed with nutrients and healthy fats that can stimulate weight loss, it’s no surprise that avocado oil acts in a similar fashion. When Penn State University researchers compared those who consumed monounsaturated-rich oils (like high-oleic canola oil or avocado oil) with those who consumed a flax-safflower oil blend, they found that those who used just three tablespoons of the monounsaturated-rich oil daily lost nearly two percent of their belly fat in just one month.

“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.
Serve up this plant-based feast in just 20 minutes. Using a food processor will have your patties ready in a snap. Cremini mushrooms, often called baby bellas, are what give the burgers their meaty texture and earthy flavor—opt for these over milder button mushrooms. Ground flaxseeds add body and texture to these burgers. The cool and creamy yogurt and avocado mixture is a great go-to spread; slather it inside pita pockets or on your morning toast.

As found in nuts, seeds, fish, avocados, and plant oils. You should consume these high-fat foods in place of other high-calorie foods; otherwise, you’ll be adding excess calories to your diet. For instance, substitute olive or canola oil for butter, and nuts for chips. Fatty fish may reduce the risk of heart disease and have other benefits, attributed at least in part to their omega-3 polyunsaturated fats.


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.
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.
Your favorite childhood snack is good for your grown-up self, too. Because peanut butter is a great source of protein and healthy fats, it can curb hunger and keep you feeling full long after you're finished eating. Having small snacks during the day that include a lean protein such as peanut butter with complex carbs (like an apple or banana) can also help keep your metabolism running smoothly.
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.
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.
Is there anything avocados can't do? This creamy superfood (loaded with monounsaturated fats, potassium, magnesium, folate, and vitamins C and E) has been linked to improved vision, good heart health, and a reduced risk of certain cancers. And avocados can also help whittle your middle: according to one study, people who regularly consume them weigh less and have smaller waists than those who do not. Another study found that women who eat half an avocado at lunchtime might experience reduced food cravings later in the day.
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.
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.
Losing weight isn't all about exercise – what you eat matters too. But nobody wants to eat diet food that makes them feel like they're going to gnaw their arm off before dinner. That's why registered dietitians say it's important to up your intake of veggies, grains, nuts, and other foods that are full of fiber, protein, and other pound-dropping nutrients. These options will help you prevent cravings and keep you full straight through your usual afternoon snack.
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).
What if we told you that you could make 20 percent of your belly disappear this year—poof, just gone? Penn State University researchers compared those who consumed avocado oil with those who consumed a flax-safflower oil blend. Those on the canola oil diet—just three tablespoons daily did the trick—lost nearly 2 percent of their belly fat in just one month. For more ways to enjoy big, bold flavors, burn flab with these healthy fats.
Stephen Colbert may be on to something. UCLA Center for Human Nutrition researchers divided study participants into two groups, each of which were fed a nearly identical low-cal diet for 12-weeks. The only difference between the groups was what they were given to eat as an afternoon snack. One group ate 220-calories of pretzels while the other group munched on 240-calories worth of pistachios. Just four weeks into the study, the pistachio group had reduced their BMI by a point, while the pretzel-eating group stayed the same, and their cholesterol and triglyceride levels showed improvements as well.
For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, aim for 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit a day. If you consume more calories, aim for more produce; if you consume fewer calories, you can eat less. Include green, orange, red, blue/purple, and yellow vegetables and fruits. In addition to the fiber, the nutrients and phytochemicals in these foods may help protect against certain types of cancer and other diseases. Legumes, rich in fiber, can count as vegetables (though they have more calories than most vegetables). For more fiber, choose whole fruits over juice.

If giving up pasta is the hardest part of making changes to help lose weight, zucchini noodles are a healthier alternative, Michalczyk says. "I like to think of them as pasta's lower-carb and higher-in-nutrition cousin because zucchini is a good source of vitamins A and C, fiber and potassium for only about 33 calories per zucchini,” says Michalczyk. You can use in zoodles, much on as is with some dip, roast them, or add to salads.
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.
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