This story was updated on October 9.
Healthy eating can be easy if you follow a few simple rules. We walk you through three types of foods you should eat more and three types to avoid. Plus, we follow up on every suggestion with actionable advice from dietitian Angela Ginn-Meadow.
Here’s what to remember:
Nuts and seeds. They contain all the nutrients you need to start growing new life. “Nuts and seeds contain an incredibly potent blend of healthy fats, fiber, and probably most importantly trace minerals,” says Dariush Mozaffarian, cardiologist and dean of the School of Nutrition at Tufts University. “These flavonols, these polyphenols, have a range of effects on us, on our gut bacteria, on our liver, on our cellular functions that are incredibly beneficial with age.”
Eating a handful (controlled portions) of any type of nuts on a regular basis can also help prevent excessive weight gain.
Try that: If you’re worried about portion control, try snacking on pistachios that need to be split open, this can help slow you down.
Fruits and vegetables. The nutritional mandate of eating more fruits and vegetables should come as no surprise. But these two tips might help you follow the rule more easily. First, they don’t have to be fresh to be healthy. âIf you get frozen fruit or veg, that’s great. If you can get canned fruit or veg that doesn’t have a lot of sodium or added sugar, that’s fine,â Mozaffarian says.
Second, the fruits are not the bad guys. âThe natural sugars that are still packaged in the foods they were intended for are good for us,â says Ginn-Meadow, the registered dietitian. Mozaffarian adds, âIn long-term observational studies, people who eat more fruit gain less weight and have a lower risk of diabetes.
Try that: If your greens or peppers start to deteriorate, chop them up and toss them in the freezer for later. You now have the ingredients for an omelet or stir-fry. There !
Healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for the brain and heart. âBabies who got more omega-3s in their diets, whether from infant formula or from their mothers taking supplements or having fish, had better brain function,â says Mozaffarian. If you don’t eat fish, you can also get omega-3s from flax seeds, walnuts, or chia seeds.
There are many other healthy fats as well: nuts, fish, avocados, vegetable oils, extra virgin olive oil, soybean oil, and canola oil.
Try that: Fish can be expensive, but frozen and canned fish like sardines, salmon, and tuna can be quite affordable. Get creative with recipes for tuna salad or salmon cakes.
To eat less
Processed meat. âThere is about 400% more sodium in processed meats than in unprocessed meats,â Mozaffarian explains. This is because the salt is used to process the meat. Nitrates too. There is some evidence that nitrates can lead to the formation of carcinogenic compounds for us. In particular, eating a lot of bacon is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Try that: If you’re craving that smoky essence of bacon, try layering other flavors, like caramelized onions or smoked gouda.
Sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates. “Liquid sugar from sodas and energy drinks is, according to Mozaffarian,” the worst way to consume sugar. One study found that drinking just one sugary drink a day can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 20%. Refined starch is the hidden sugar, so think twice before eating starchy snacks like crackers and pretzels.
Try that: If you crave starchy snacks like pretzels with added salt, replace them with edamame.
Salt, especially in packaged foods. âThe most obvious and confirmed problem with too much salt is that it increases your blood pressure,â Mozaffarian explains. “And high blood pressure is a clear risk factor for stroke and heart attack.”
Cutting back on salt can be tricky because it’s often hidden in foods you wouldn’t even know about, like breads and breakfast cereals. “When looking at a snack,” says Ginn-Meadow, “don’t aim for more than 100 to 150 milligrams of sodium.”
Try that: If you have a can of beans that are high in sodium, rinse them in tap water to remove the extra salt.