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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.
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.
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.
“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.
Welcome to the Best Foods For Weight Loss Treasure Trove. Contrary to popular opinion, slashing as many calories from your diet as possible is not the optimal way to lose weight. Instead, you should be loading your diet with whole, healthy foods that fill you up (making you less likely to go overboard on less healthy options), boost your energy so you can crush it at the gym, and provide enough calories to keep your metabolism chugging right along.
Kimchi is a spicy Korean condiment that's made with fermented cabbage and is a great source of vitamins A, B, and C. Because it's fermented (like sauerkraut), kimchi contains tons of those good probiotics that aid the body in digestion. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science found that maintaining healthy bacteria in your gut can improve gut lining, which in turn could help reduce fat mass and inflammation.
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.
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.