Diet-boosting foods nourish you without adding a lot of extra calories from sugar and saturated fat. Compared to diet-busting foods, these healthy options are high in nutrients and take longer to digest, so you stay full longer.
Fruit and Vegetables
Any healthy diet includes fruit and vegetables every day. Foods that grow on farms, in gardens, or on trees are loaded with nutrients and fiber. They fill you up and give you a steady flow of energy.
Ways to eat fruit. Keep a fruit bowl stocked in your kitchen for a quick, healthy snack. If you are short on time, use frozen fruit that comes pre-sliced. Check to make sure there is no added sugar. The ingredient list should only include fruit. Other serving suggestions include:
- Berries over nonfat yogurt
- Fruit smoothie with nonfat yogurt
- Citrus salad with walnuts
- Watermelon salad with balsamic vinegar
- Grilled pineapple, peaches, or nectarines
- Poached pears
- Spinach and pear salad
Ways to eat vegetables. Cut raw veggies like carrots or bell peppers into sticks so you can snack on them throughout the day. You can also eat them in a salad. Like fruit, many vegetables come pre-cut and frozen. Again, check the label to make sure the ingredient list only includes vegetables. Try these vegetable recipe ideas:
- Stir-fried broccoli over brown rice
- Collard greens with a fried egg
- Roasted beets with fennel and orange slices
- Corn and tomato salad
- Grilled veggie kabobs or roasted vegetables
- Store-bought low-sodium soups with added frozen veggies
- Frozen vegetables stirred into boiling pasta during the last 5 minutes of cooking
Ways to eat beans. If you do not have time to pre-soak and cook dry beans, canned beans will save you time. Just be sure you buy beans that are low in salt (sodium). You can also reduce the sodium content by rinsing and draining canned beans. Here are some tasty ways to eat more beans:
- Vegetarian chili with kidney beans
- Black-eyed pea salsa
- Hummus made with garbanzo beans
- Lentil soup with carrots and spinach
- Split pea soup
- Brown rice and pinto beans
- White bean salad with lemon and avocado
- Veggie burgers
At least one half of the grains you eat should be whole grains. Whole grains still have most of the nutrients and fiber they started with as plants, because whole grains contain the entire grain kernel. That is why whole-grain bread has texture and white bread is smooth.
Ways to eat whole grains. When choosing foods made with whole grains, check the ingredients list, whole grains should be listed first. Great ways to get more whole grains include:
- Whole-wheat or multigrain toast with avocado
- Oatmeal with berries
- Wild rice and mushroom salad
- Brown rice with stir-fried vegetables
- Whole-grain barley and vegetable soup
- Whole-wheat pizza with grilled vegetables and marinara sauce
- Popcorn with little or no added salt and butter
Low-Fat and Nonfat Dairy Foods
Low-fat and nonfat milk, yogurt, and cottage cheese are healthy sources of calcium, vitamin D, and potassium. Unlike sweetened drinks with extra calories, milk fills you up with nutrients.
Ways to get more dairy. Get creative when adding dairy to your diet:
- Add milk to high-fiber cereal
- Cook your oatmeal with skim milk instead of water
- Eat yogurt alone, with fruit, or drizzled with honey
- Use yogurt-based salad dressing
- Substitute Greek yogurt for sour cream
- Snack on low-fat or nonfat cheese sticks
- Spread low-fat cottage cheese on wheat crackers and top with tomatoes
- Add a spoonful of nonfat cottage cheese to scrambled eggs
Foods to Eat in Moderation
Add limited amounts of these foods to your diet.
Nuts. In small amounts, nuts are a great source of fiber, protein, and healthy fat. But nuts are also high in calories, and they are easy to overeat. Eat them sparingly. Portion nuts out ahead of time, rather than eating them straight from the container. Add nuts to salads and main dishes as a source of protein.
Healthy oils. Oils such as olive oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soft margarine are great replacements for oils that are high in solid fat, like butter and shortening. Many oils that are high in solid fat are bad for your waist and heart.
Use healthy oils instead of butter for cooking and in salad dressings to add richness to your meals. Like nuts, oils are high in calories, so they are healthiest in smaller amounts.
Seafood. Seafood is high in nutrients and heart-healthy fat. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends eating at least one 8-ounce (226 grams) serving of seafood every week. Healthy choices include sardines, herring, tilapia, and trout.
Chicken. Chicken is healthiest when you roast, broil, or grill it. Chicken breasts are lower in fat and calories than chicken thighs. It is fine to cook chicken with the skin on, which helps keep it moist. Remove the skin before eating to save about 50 calories and almost 5 grams of fat.
Fried chicken, chicken wings, or chicken served in cream sauce are a few of the many ways to make chicken unhealthy. You are best off avoiding these chicken options.
Lean cuts of meat. Whether meat is lean or high in fat depends on the part of the animal it came from.
- A serving of pork loin has 3 grams of fat. Spare ribs have 26 grams of fat.
- A top sirloin steak has 7 grams of fat. Prime rib has almost 23 grams of fat.
- Look for ground meat labeled "97% to 99% lean."
It is even healthier to use lean meat as a garnish instead of as a main course. For example, cook some lean ground beef, drain any oil, and add it, along with chopped carrots and zucchini, to a pot of tomato sauce.
Obesity - diet-boosting foods; Overweight - diet-boosting foods
Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics website. Food. www.eatright.org/food. Accessed December 3, 2020.
Despres J-P, Larose E, Poirier P. Obesity and cardiometabolic disease. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann, DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 50.
U.S. Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025. 9th Edition. www.dietaryguidelines.gov/sites/default/files/2020-12/Dietary_Guidelines_for_Americans_2020-2025.pdf. Updated December 2020. Accessed: December 30, 2020.
Review Date 8/17/2020
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.