How should I eat? It’s a question I get asked a lot. But the thing people don’t realize is that the answer is different for everyone. So rather than tell you what’s best for me or what to look for in food, here’s a list of tips which should help you to answer that question yourself. There is nothing more important to your health and well-being than what you eat. From what I hear, we should all be eating less sugars and trans fats, more fruits, veggies and whole grains — and exercising more frequently.
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?
Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating a variety of healthy foods each day. This includes eating plant-based foods more often and choosing highly-processed or ultra-processed foods less often.
A healthy diet includes:
1. Eating lots of vegetables and fruit
- This is one of the most important diet habits. Vegetables and fruit are packed with nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre) and help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full longer.
- Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at every meal and snack.
2. Choosing whole grain foods
- Whole grain foods include whole grain bread and crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. They are prepared using the entire grain. Whole grain foods have fibre, protein and B vitamins to help you stay healthy and full longer.
- Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains like white bread and pasta.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grain foods.
3. Eating protein foods
- Protein foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fortified soy beverage, fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean red meats including wild game, lower fat milk, lower fat yogurts, lower fat kefir and cheeses lower in fat and sodium.
- Protein helps build and maintain bones, muscles and skin.
- Eat protein every day.
- Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week, and choose plant-based foods more often.
- Dairy products are a great source of protein. Choose lower fat, unflavoured options.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with protein foods.
4. Limiting highly and ultra-processed foods
- Highly processed foods — often called ultra-processed — are foods that are changed from their original food source and have many added ingredients. During processing, often important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed while salt and sugar are added. Examples of processed food include: fast foods, hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, deli meats, white rice and white bread.
- Some minimally processed foods are okay. These are foods that are slightly changed in some way but contain few industrially made additives. Minimally processed foods keep almost all of their essential nutrients. Some examples are: bagged salad, frozen vegetables and fruit, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, brown rice, oil and dried herbs. We are not referring to these minimally processed foods when we are advising you not to eat processed foods.
- Heart & Stroke funded research found that ultra-processed foods make up almost half of Canadians’ diets.
5. Making water your drink of choice
- Water supports health and promotes hydration without adding calories to the diet.
- Sugary drinks including energy drinks, fruit drinks, 100% fruit juice, soft drinks and flavored coffees have lots of sugar and little to no nutritional value. It is easy to drink empty calories without realizing, and this leads to weight gain.
- Avoid fruit juice, even when it is 100% fruit juice. Although fruit juice has some of the benefits of the fruit (vitamins, minerals), it has more sugar than the fruit and less fiber. Fruit juice should not be consumed as alternative to fruits. Canadians should eat their fruits, not drink them.
- When safe drinking water is not available, quench your thirst with coffee, tea, unsweetened lower-fat milk, and previously boiled water.
Tips for healthy eating
The key to a healthy diet is to eat the right amount of calories for how active you are so you balance the energy you consume with the energy you use.
If you eat or drink more than your body needs, you’ll put on weight because the energy you do not use is stored as fat. If you eat and drink too little, you’ll lose weight.
You should also eat a wide range of foods to make sure you’re getting a balanced diet and your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
It’s recommended that men have around 2,500 calories a day (10,500 kilojoules). Women should have around 2,000 calories a day (8,400 kilojoules).
Most adults in the UK are eating more calories than they need and should eat fewer calories.
1. Base your meals on higher fibre starchy carbohydrates
Starchy carbohydrates should make up just over a third of the food you eat. They include potatoes, bread, rice, pasta and cereals.
Choose higher fibre or wholegrain varieties, such as wholewheat pasta, brown rice or potatoes with their skins on.
They contain more fibre than white or refined starchy carbohydrates and can help you feel full for longer.
Try to include at least 1 starchy food with each main meal. Some people think starchy foods are fattening, but gram for gram the carbohydrate they contain provides fewer than half the calories of fat.
Keep an eye on the fats you add when you’re cooking or serving these types of foods because that’s what increases the calorie content – for example, oil on chips, butter on bread and creamy sauces on pasta.
2. Eat lots of fruit and veg
It’s recommended that you eat at least 5 portions of a variety of fruit and veg every day. They can be fresh, frozen, canned, dried or juiced.
Getting your 5 A Day is easier than it sounds. Why not chop a banana over your breakfast cereal, or swap your usual mid-morning snack for a piece of fresh fruit?
A portion of fresh, canned or frozen fruit and vegetables is 80g. A portion of dried fruit (which should be kept to mealtimes) is 30g.
A 150ml glass of fruit juice, vegetable juice or smoothie also counts as 1 portion, but limit the amount you have to no more than 1 glass a day as these drinks are sugary and can damage your teeth.
3. Eat more fish, including a portion of oily fish
Fish is a good source of protein and contains many vitamins and minerals.
Aim to eat at least 2 portions of fish a week, including at least 1 portion of oily fish.
Oily fish are high in omega-3 fats, which may help prevent heart disease.
Oily fish include:
Non-oily fish include:
You can choose from fresh, frozen and canned, but remember that canned and smoked fish can be high in salt.
Most people should be eating more fish, but there are recommended limits for some types of fish.
4. Cut down on saturated fat and sugar
You need some fat in your diet, but it’s important to pay attention to the amount and type of fat you’re eating.
There are 2 main types of fat: saturated and unsaturated. Too much saturated fat can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.
On average, men should have no more than 30g of saturated fat a day. On average, women should have no more than 20g of saturated fat a day.
Children under the age of 11 should have less saturated fat than adults, but a low-fat diet is not suitable for children under 5.
Saturated fat is found in many foods, such as:
- fatty cuts of meat
- hard cheese
Try to cut down on your saturated fat intake and choose foods that contain unsaturated fats instead, such as vegetable oils and spreads, oily fish and avocados.
For a healthier choice, use a small amount of vegetable or olive oil, or reduced-fat spread instead of butter, lard or ghee.
When you’re having meat, choose lean cuts and cut off any visible fat.
All types of fat are high in energy, so they should only be eaten in small amounts.
Regularly consuming foods and drinks high in sugar increases your risk of obesity and tooth decay.
Sugary foods and drinks are often high in energy (measured in kilojoules or calories), and if consumed too often can contribute to weight gain. They can also cause tooth decay, especially if eaten between meals.
Free sugars are any sugars added to foods or drinks, or found naturally in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices and smoothies.
This is the type of sugar you should be cutting down on, rather than the sugar found in fruit and milk.
Many packaged foods and drinks contain surprisingly high amounts of free sugars.
Free sugars are found in many foods, such as:
- sugary fizzy drinks
- sugary breakfast cereals
- pastries and puddings
- sweets and chocolate
- alcoholic drinks
Food labels can help. Use them to check how much sugar foods contain.
More than 22.5g of total sugars per 100g means the food is high in sugar, while 5g of total sugars or less per 100g means the food is low in sugar.
5. Eat less salt: no more than 6g a day for adults
Eating too much salt can raise your blood pressure. People with high blood pressure are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.
Even if you do not add salt to your food, you may still be eating too much.
About three-quarters of the salt you eat is already in the food when you buy it, such as breakfast cereals, soups, breads and sauces.
Use food labels to help you cut down. More than 1.5g of salt per 100g means the food is high in salt.
Adults and children aged 11 and over should eat no more than 6g of salt (about a teaspoonful) a day. Younger children should have even less.
6. Get active and be a healthy weight
As well as eating healthily, regular exercise may help reduce your risk of getting serious health conditions. It’s also important for your overall health and wellbeing.
Read more about the benefits of exercise and physical activity guidelines for adults.
Being overweight or obese can lead to health conditions, such as type 2 diabetes, certain cancers, heart disease and stroke. Being underweight could also affect your health.
Most adults need to lose weight by eating fewer calories.
If you’re trying to lose weight, aim to eat less and be more active. Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Check whether you’re a healthy weight by using the BMI healthy weight calculator.
Start the NHS weight loss plan, a 12-week weight loss guide that combines advice on healthier eating and physical activity.
If you’re underweight, see underweight adults. If you’re worried about your weight, ask your GP or a dietitian for advice.
7. Do not get thirsty
You need to drink plenty of fluids to stop you getting dehydrated. The government recommends drinking 6 to 8 glasses every day. This is in addition to the fluid you get from the food you eat.
All non-alcoholic drinks count, but water, lower fat milk and lower sugar drinks, including tea and coffee, are healthier choices.
Try to avoid sugary soft and fizzy drinks, as they’re high in calories. They’re also bad for your teeth.
Even unsweetened fruit juice and smoothies are high in free sugar.
Your combined total of drinks from fruit juice, vegetable juice and smoothies should not be more than 150ml a day, which is a small glass.
Remember to drink more fluids during hot weather or while exercising.
8. Do not skip breakfast
Some people skip breakfast because they think it’ll help them lose weight.
But a healthy breakfast high in fibre and low in fat, sugar and salt can form part of a balanced diet, and can help you get the nutrients you need for good health.
A wholegrain lower sugar cereal with semi-skimmed milk and fruit sliced over the top is a tasty and healthier breakfast.
Building a Healthy and Balanced Diet
Make most of your meal vegetables and fruits – ½ of your plate.
Aim for color and variety, and remember that potatoes don’t count as vegetables on the Healthy Eating Plate because of their negative impact on blood sugar.
Go for whole grains – ¼ of your plate.
Whole and intact grains—whole wheat, barley, wheat berries, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and foods made with them, such as whole wheat pasta—have a milder effect on blood sugar and insulin than white bread, white rice, and other refined grains.
Protein power – ¼ of your plate.
Fish, poultry, beans, and nuts are all healthy, versatile protein sources—they can be mixed into salads, and pair well with vegetables on a plate. Limit red meat, and avoid processed meats such as bacon and sausage.
Healthy plant oils – in moderation.
Choose healthy vegetable oils like olive, canola, soy, corn, sunflower, peanut, and others, and avoid partially hydrogenated oils, which contain unhealthy trans fats. Remember that low-fat does not mean “healthy.”
Drink water, coffee, or tea.
Skip sugary drinks, limit milk and dairy products to one to two servings per day, and limit juice to a small glass per day.
The red figure running across the Healthy Eating Plate’s placemat is a reminder that staying active is also important in weight control.
The Best Times to Eat
When the clock strikes noon, are you headed to lunch starving because you haven’t eaten breakfast? Do you fast all day long, waiting to eat a large dinner? Audra Wilson, RD, LDN, a dietitian at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital Metabolic Health and Surgical Weight Loss Center, says the key to avoiding overeating because you are overly hungry is to plan when you will eat. Set yourself up for mealtime success with these tips and learn why eating your meals at regular intervals throughout the day can help you manage dramatic hunger pains and mood swings.
What Time to Eat
Breakfast is all about breaking the “fast” of a night without eating. It also sets the stage for your nutrition for the entire day and gives you the energy you need to face what the day will bring. Starting the day on an empty tank can leave you feeling drained and reaching for a candy jar or bag of chips by mid-morning. Plan to eat breakfast within an hour of waking. This way, your breakfast doesn’t blend into a mid-morning snack or grazing followed closely by lunch.
Lunch should be about four to five hours after breakfast. For example, if you ate breakfast at 7 am, eat lunch between 11 am and noon. If it is not possible for you to eat lunch until 2 pm on a particular day, then plan a snack in between those two meals.
If you need to eat a snack, include a mix of protein and carbohydrates. For example, eat a low-fat cheese stick with an apple, or one to two cups of vegetables with one-fourth cup of hummus. The goal is to prevent becoming overly hungry between meals, which can lead to snack time beginning the moment you get home from work.
Many people tend to overeat at dinner because they have not eaten enough throughout the day. Dinnertime should follow the same schedule as your earlier meals, making sure there is no more than a four- to five-hour window between lunch and dinner. Some people will need to eat a snack between lunch and dinner because eating dinner at 4 or 5 pm is not always realistic.
Healthy foods to eat every day: 6 of the best
Experts suggest that there are certain foods that people should eat every day. These include lean protein and a variety of vegetables. Additionally, including foods such as olive oil, nuts, and berries can help people lower their risk of certain chronic conditions.
Consuming a healthy diet that includes all the food groups can help a person improve their intake of essential nutrients.
Many people eat repetitive diets and the same foods every week. However, incorporating the following foods into weekly meal plans can help them stay healthy and perform at their best.
For example, a person could try a 2-week rotating meal plan and vary their protein sources, vegetables, and berries. This adds variety and a range of nutrients.
This article looks at some of the healthiest foods to include in the diet every day. It explores what the research says about their health benefits and offers some tips for consuming them.
1. Lean protein
People need protein for healthy growth and development and to maintain muscle mass.
Eating protein at each meal can help balance blood sugar levels and avoid the spikes that may happen when eating carbohydrates on their own. This approach can help people maintain their energy levels and concentration.
The amount of protein a person needs depends on factors such as their sex, age, and weight. Additionally, protein requirement varies according to how much and what type of activity the person does and if they are pregnant or nursing.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) suggests that most people in the U.S. eat enough protein but need to select leaner varieties of meat and poultry and increase the variety of protein foods they eat, choosing meats less often.
According to the USDA, adults need 5–7 ounces (oz) of protein each day. The following are examples of common healthy protein foods and their protein content:
- 1 sandwich slice of turkey = 1 oz
- 1 small chicken breast = 3 oz
- 1 can of tuna, drained = 3–4 oz
- 1 salmon steak = 4–6 oz
- 1 egg = 1 oz
- 1 tablespoon of peanut butter = 1 oz
- 1 cup of lentil soup = 2 oz
- 1 soy or bean burger patty = 2 oz
- one-quarter of a cup of tofu = 2 oz
People should try to vary their protein sources to consume a wide variety of amino acids and other essential nutrients.
2. Broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables
Cruciferous vegetables contain sulfurous compounds called glucosinolates. These are beneficial to health.
According to one 2020 review, glucosinolates regulate cell pathways and genes and may have anticancer and anti-inflammatory effects.
The compounds may also be beneficial for treating and preventing metabolic syndrome, but scientists need to conduct more research to prove this.
The following is a list of cruciferous vegetables that people can aim to eat every day:
- broccoli sprouts
- Brussels sprouts
Also, as well as sulfur compounds, cruciferous vegetables are a rich source of fiber and many essential vitamins and minerals.
Leafy greens such as arugula and watercress also contain beneficial sulfur compounds.
3. Different colored vegetables
Health experts including the American Heart Association (AHA) recognize the Mediterranean diet as one of the healthiest ways to eat.
Diets that emphasize vegetables, such as plant-based diets and the Mediterranean diet, can help lower the risk of chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Eating a range of different colored vegetables every day helps ensure an intake of a wide range of phytonutrients, which are beneficial plant compounds.
The USDA’s MyPlate resource recommends that adults eat 2–4 cups of vegetables per day depending on their sex, age, weight, and activity levels.
The USDA also advises that people eat different colored plant foods, including leafy greens, beans, and lentils.
Consuming berries can help people achieve some of their daily nutrient goals.
For example, one 2015 study suggested that eating a 100-gram portion of raspberries, blackberries, or blueberries could provide more than 50% of someone’s daily requirement for manganese, vitamins such as vitamin C and folate, and phytochemicals.
Berries are excellent sources of bioactive compounds such as phenolic acids, flavonoids, and anthocyanins. Because these compounds act as antioxidants, they may help prevent cardiovascular disease and lower the risk of some cancers.
Some berries to eat every day include the following:
Fresh or frozen berries are better than dried types, which only have 20% as many phytonutrients.
Research indicates that eating nuts every day can be beneficial for health.
For example, a 2019 prospective study involving over 16,217 adults with diabetes found that people who ate 5 or more servings of nuts each week had a lower risk of coronary heart disease, cardiovascular disease, and mortality than those who ate fewer than 1 serving of nuts per month.
Specifically, tree nuts were more beneficial than peanuts in preventing chronic conditions.
One 2020 study suggested that some people may be reluctant to eat nuts because of their high fat content.
However, the authors pointed out that nuts are nutrient dense foods that do not have an adverse effect on body weight. Indeed, when they replace other less healthy foods in the diet, they may help reduce body weight.
Some people are unable to eat nuts because of an allergy. For those who can eat nuts, choosing plain, unflavored, and unsalted nuts is a healthy option. All nuts contain essential minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and zinc.
Brazil nuts are one of the best dietary sources of the mineral selenium, with a single nut providing 95.8 micrograms (mcg). This is significantly more than the daily adult requirement of 55 mcg.
6. Olive oil
Olive oil is a key ingredient in the Mediterranean diet. Olives are rich in polyphenols. These act as antioxidants, protecting the body against oxidative damage.
One 2018 study suggested that the phenolic compounds in olive oil have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties in test tube studies.
Although scientists need to conduct more human research, the authors of this study suggested that people who consume less olive oil may benefit from increasing their intake.
Extra virgin and unfiltered olive oil contain the highest levels of beneficial polyphenols. However, quality olive oil is usually more expensive, so people can reserve this for drizzling over salads and vegetables. Using standard olive oil for cooking may be more cost effective.