Healthy eating is not about strict dietary limitations, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, improving your health, and boosting your mood. If you feel overwhelmed by all the conflicting nutrition and diet advice out there, you’re not alone. It seems that for every expert who tells you a certain food is good for you, you’ll find another saying exactly the opposite. But by using these simple tips, you can cut through the confusion and learn how to create—and stick to—a tasty, varied, and nutritious diet that is as good for your mind as it is for your body.
A better approach is to make a few small changes at a time. Keeping your goals modest can help you achieve more in the long term without feeling deprived or overwhelmed by a major diet overhaul. Think of planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eggs are rich in high-quality protein, fats and essential nutrients, like vitamin D and choline. It's the protein, and the time of day we tend to eat them, that especially makes them a powerhouse for weight loss. Eating a high-protein breakfast promotes weight loss, because protein increases satiety while regulating hunger and appetite hormones, helping fend off your hunger until lunchtime. One study found that eating eggs for breakfast left people feeling more satisfied than those who had bagels—which helped them eat less throughout the day.
A fat-burning superfood, grapefruit contains a compound that can lower the fat-storage hormone insulin, which in turn can lead to weight loss. In fact, eating half a grapefruit before each meal could help you lose up to a pound a week—even if you don't change anything else about your diet. Because grapefruits are 90% water, which fills you up, they also act as a natural appetite suppressant.
^ 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.