In addition to dietary recommendations for the general population, there are many specific diets that have primarily been developed to promote better health in specific population groups, such as people with high blood pressure (as in low sodium diets or the more specific DASH diet), or people who are overweight or obese (in weight control diets). However, some of them may have more or less evidence for beneficial effects in normal people as well.
A new twist on an old favorite ― if your favorite recipe calls for frying fish or breaded chicken, try healthier variations using baking or grilling. Maybe even try a recipe that uses dry beans in place of higher-fat meats. Ask around or search the internet and magazines for recipes with fewer calories ― you might be surprised to find you have a new favorite dish!
Apples contain pectin, an ingredient that naturally slows digestion and encourages feelings of fullness. Studies show that eating a whole apple with your meal (as opposed to apple juice or applesauce) is a natural appetite suppressant, helping you consume fewer overall calories without feeling deprived. Sass likes using shredded apple in slaws and stir-fry, or mixing them into burger patties to add moisture.
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.
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.
To set yourself up for success, try to keep things simple. Eating a healthier diet doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, for example, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients whenever possible.
A study in the journal Metabolism found that eating half a grapefruit before meals may help reduce visceral fat and lower cholesterol levels. Participants in the 6-week study who ate a Rio Red grapefruit fifteen minutes before each meal saw their waists shrink by up to an inch, and LDL levels drop by 18 points. Though researchers don’t exactly know what makes grapefruit so good at burning fat, they attribute the effects to a combination of phytochemicals and vitamin C found in the tart treat.
Swap plain noodles for this hearty variety (which you may find more easily by looking for soba noodles—just check that they're 100 percent buckwheat before purchasing). Buckwheat noodles contain fiber (12 grams per cup), and unlike most carbs, they contain protein, too, (24 grams per cup) making it more filling, aka harder to overeat than the regular stuff.
Though we singled out quinoa above, whole grains in general (we’re talking cereal, rice, pasta, and more) are conducive to weight loss, especially when they’re used in place of refined—white—grains. In fact, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that substituting whole grains for refined grains in the diet increases calorie loss by reducing calories retained during digestion and speeding up metabolism. Unlike refined grains, whole grains are packed with satiating, heart-healthy fiber.
Challenge yourself to come up with two or three dinners that can be put together without going to the store—utilizing things in your pantry, freezer, and spice rack. A delicious dinner of whole grain pasta with a quick tomato sauce or a quick and easy black bean quesadilla on a whole wheat flour tortilla (among endless other recipes) could act as your go-to meal when you are just too busy to shop or cook.
Carbs are not the nutritional Voldemort. Actually, certain healthy carbs can help you lose weight—and air-popped popcorn is one of them. “Portion-wise, it has a lower calorie per unit volume than many other snacks,” Lauren Harris-Pincus, M.S., R.D.N., and owner of Nutrition Starring You, told SELF in a previous article. You get more bang for your caloric buck, and since popcorn is made up of complex carbs, it’ll digest more slowly, keeping you fuller longer.
^ 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.
The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) is a diet promoted by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (part of the NIH, a United States government organization) to control hypertension. A major feature of the plan is limiting intake of sodium, and the diet also generally encourages the consumption of nuts, whole grains, fish, poultry, fruits, and vegetables while lowering the consumption of red meats, sweets, and sugar. It is also "rich in potassium, magnesium, and calcium, as well as protein".
Coconut oil is having a moment right now: it can be used as a butter or olive oil substitute in everything from baked goods to salad dressing, and can even be used as an alternative to milk in lattes (yes, really). Sass is a fan of the heart-healthy oil whipped into smoothies, and you can also use it to sauté veggies, sear fish, or as an olive oil replacement in soups and stews. (It's also a must-add to your beauty routine, and makes a wonderful natural moisturizer for skin and hair.)
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.
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.
Food processing isn’t always a bad thing: Cooking and preparing raw ingredients at home is also processing them. But the word “processed” is almost always reserved for commercial foods, usually packaged. Highly processed foods are industrially formulated mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal sources—everything from hot dogs and margarine to ice cream, candy, and many packaged snack foods. Such foods, which supply more than half the daily calories in most U.S. households, lack key nutrients and fiber and are high in sugars and sodium.
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.
^ 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.
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.
“The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating fish at least twice a week, and I think salmon is the perfect food to incorporate into your weekly meal plan,” says Rizzo. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for your heart and can lower inflammation to aid in weight loss and combat water retention. Plus, eating healthy fat keeps you full. The bonus is that salmon has vitamin D to improve mood, she says.
Calcium and vitamin C team up well to boost metabolism, and broccoli is just one of several healthy foods that contain both nutrients. What sets broccoli apart from the others, however, is that the green veggie also contains kind of fiber that’s been shown to increase the digestion, absorption and storage of food, also known as the thermic effect of food or TEF. Combine a revved up metabolism with an increased TEF and you get a match made in weight loss heaven!
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.
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.