What Does a Healthy Diet Look Like?
Updated: Oct 11, 2019
A balanced, moderate intake of calories is the best prescription for healthy weight loss. An optimal, balanced diet includes:
An adequate amount of healthy protein and fat.
A minimal amount of sugar or refined grains.
Lots of vegetables.
Some fruit and nuts.
A small amount of starchy carbohydrates (such as sweet potatoes or oatmeal).
It is important to minimize the quantity of processed foods you consume, opting for foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Processed foods are full of the refined grains, sugars, and unhealthy fats you want to avoid.
For some, weight loss will progress quite nicely when most refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats are removed from the diet, and more fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fat are added. So the next step in the process is to do exactly that.
Below are two lists of foods. The Optimal Choices list consists of wholesome, nutritious foods that can move you towards healthy weight loss. Begin adding or increasing these in your food plan.
On the Least Desirable list are the foods that have probably contributed to your weight gain in the past. Remove one or two of these per week.
Use Tapping (also known as Emotional Freedom Technique or EFT) to eliminate cravings for any of the foods you find difficult to let go of. Not familiar with this simple but powerful energy technique? Download my complimentary e-book, Conquer Food Cravings with EFT.
Please remember that healthy eating is about adding selected foods to your diet, and not just taking foods out. For those of you who have been in low-fat mode, there is a good chance that you are not consuming enough protein and healthy fat, and you will need to add more selections from those food groups.
At first, you may find this shift challenging. Rest assured that you will eventually find this manner of eating much more satisfying. Your cravings and your hunger will decrease when you reduce or eliminate the “white stuff”—white flour, rice, pasta, and sugar in all its various forms—and add healthy sources of lean protein and fat.
Vegetables. These are the best foods to add to your diet. Think in terms of color, and eat lots of colorful foods—red, orange, yellow, and especially green. Vegetables provide fiber, nutrients, antioxidants, phytochemicals, and enzymes. Fresh-squeezed vegetable juice is also a great way to ingest more of these nutritionally dense foods.
The following is a partial list of vegetables to choose from:
alfalfa sprouts, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, collard greens, cucumbers, eggplant, kale, leeks, mushrooms, okra, onions, parsnips, peas, peppers (green/red/yellow), snow peas, spinach, tomatoes
Fruit. Aim for two to three servings of fruit a day.
Apples, apricots, grapefruit, pears, and plums are good choices. Blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries are also good. However, fruits should not be treated as an “unlimited” item because many of them are high in sugar. Eating too much of them can cause weight gain. Dried fruits are especially high in sugar.
Whole Grains. We eat certain grains, like rice and oatmeal, in their natural state. Others, like wheat, are the main ingredient in breads, pastas, and some cereals. Although you need to watch the size and number of grain servings, they are a rich source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Some of the most wholesome grains are:
barley, brown and wild rice, bulgur, millet, oatmeal, quinoa, whole wheat berries
Seafood. If you can eat seafood several times a week, that’s great. Not only is seafood a nutrient-packed source of protein, it's one of the richest sources of omega-3 fatty acids, the super-healthy polyunsaturated fat linked to the reduction of heart disease, depression, and stroke.
However, many people are concerned about the amount of mercury in fish, and rightly so. Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, meaning it can affect all brain functions, including thinking, learning, memory, and mood. The risk factors depend upon the amount of mercury ingested and your ability to get rid of it.
The higher the fish is on the food chain, the higher its mercury content. Consequently, the safest kind of fish to eat is farmed trout, wild salmon, summer flounder, and blue crab. The most dangerous are shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and tuna.
Eggs. Eggs are one of the most nutritious foods money can buy. They’re packed with a range of nutrients, including protein, essential vitamins A, D, E, and the B group, as well as the minerals iron, phosphorus and zinc. Eggs have gotten a bad reputation over the last decade, but a very unfair one.
Contrary to popular belief, dietary cholesterol does not raise serum cholesterol. So eat and enjoy them; have a couple a day if you’d like. This includes the yolks, which are a tremendous source of nutrients, including phosphatidylcholine. Phosphatidylcholine is needed to form lecithin, which actually helps prevent cholesterol from being oxidized, and is also a superb nutrient for liver health and brain function.
Whey protein powder. Whey protein is a high-quality protein powder made from cow's milk, and is an excellent source of protein. Shakes made with whey protein are a great way to get protein when you are crunched for time and can’t prepare a full meal. It is inexpensive and can be added to various foods to increase protein content. People who are have allergies or sensitivities to cow’s milk, however, should avoid whey.
Meat and poultry. There are many sources of meat that are easy to incorporate into any meal. Look for lean cuts of beef, lamb, pork, veal, chicken, turkey, and duck.
There is a growing interest in choosing meat that is healthy and humanely raised, i.e., grass-fed, free range, with no antibiotics. For these products, shop at stores that carry organically raised meats and read labels.
Nuts. Nuts can be a great source of protein, essential fatty acids, and minerals. Be careful though; nuts are high in fat and therefore calorically dense. If possible, avoid salted nuts, since they are easy to overeat and high in sodium.
Nevertheless, don’t be afraid to garnish a salad with a small handful of walnuts or to spread a tablespoon of cashew butter on your morning toast.
Pecans, almonds, and walnuts have the best mixture of good fats and minerals. Raw Brazil nuts, cashews, filberts (hazelnuts), and macadamia nuts are also an excellent choice.
Healthy fat sources. Many people who have been following the low-fat diet dogma are woefully under-consuming good fats. Paradoxically, some fats, like the omega-3 fats found in fish and flaxseed, can actually help you lose body fat. These fatty acids “sit” on the cell membrane, encouraging other fats to get into the cell where they can be burned for fuel.
Below is a partial list of healthy fats and foods that contain healthy fats:
avocado, butter, canola oil (cold or expeller-pressed), coconut, coconut oil, flaxseed meal, flaxseed oil (but don’t cook with it), nuts, nut butters, olive oil (cold pressed, extra-virgin), seeds, sesame tahini, and fats found in cold-water fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, and tuna
Water. Involved in every cellular process, water is the best weight-loss drink in the world. I recommend drinking about eight glasses a day, with an additional eight ounces for every 25 pounds you are overweight. Keep in mind, though, that you will need to drink more when it’s hot out. And when you exercise, you definitely need to drink more—12 to 16 additional ounces.
If you currently drink an inadequate amount of water, begin by adding one or two additional glasses a day and increase slowly over time.
Least Desirable Choices
Anything made with white flour and sugar. This includes most commercial breads, bagels, pastas, muffins, cakes, cookies, candies, snack foods, and soda. It also includes most cereals, with the exception of whole grain sources such as slow-cooking oatmeal (also called Old Fashioned), buckwheat groats (kasha), and whole-grain grits.
Sugar and white flour are low in nutrition and fiber. They are also high-glycemic foods, which means they provoke sharp rises in blood sugar and insulin. Thus they can trigger hunger and food cravings, increasing the likelihood that you will overeat. High- glycemic foods also boost your body’s capacity to store food as fat rather than burning it for energy.
A note about whole-wheat products: Once a grain has been pulverized into flour, it becomes a high-glycemic food. So although whole-wheat foods (such as bread and pasta) have more nutrition than their bleached counterparts, they can produce the same consequences as other high-glycemic foods.
A great alternative to bread made with whole-wheat flour is sprouted wheat bread. It is produced by sprouting wheat berries and then grinding them into dough. This creates a product higher in protein and fiber, with a lower impact on blood-sugar levels than most other breads. (A good, organic, sprouted-wheat bread is Ezekiel.)
Beware of sugar, and avoid it as much as possible. Although a few sugars such as honey and molasses have some nutritional and even medicinal value, for all of the reasons stated above, minimize their consumption while you are trying to lose weight.
The amount of sugar in processed foods is often misleading, so read food labels carefully. Below is a list of some of the possible names that may appear on a label. Hint: the words “syrup,” “sweetener,” and anything ending in ose can usually be assumed to be “sugar.”
barley malt, beet sugar, brown rice syrup, brown sugar, cane juice, confectioners’ powdered sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, date sugar, dextrin, dextrose, fructose, fruit juice*, galactose, high- fructose corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, lactose, malted barley, malitol, maltose, mannitol, maple sugar, microcrystalline, molasses, oligosaccharides, polydextrose, raisin juice, raw sugar, sorbitol, sucanant, sugarine, turbinado sugar, unrefined sugar, white sugar
If you are looking for a sugar substitute, Stevia is a safe, whole- some product, made from the small, green stevia rebaudiana plant, an herb found in South America. It has a negligible effect on blood sugar, which is why it is useful for people trying to reduce their sugar intake. Consider trying Stevia if you want a sweetener. However, be aware that not everyone likes the taste.
Fruit juice. Although fruit itself is healthy, once the pulp and fiber have been squeezed out of it, juice itself is not a great choice. It can cause blood sugar and insulin levels to rise dramatically, just as if you had consumed soda. Note that the juices chosen as sweeteners, such as white grape, apple, and pear juices, are among the least nutritious of the juices. By the time they are “concentrated,” very little remains except the sugar.
Refined vegetable oils. These are among the worst items on the list. Don’t eat or cook with them. The common vegetable oils you find in the supermarket are loaded with toxins and have been falsely marketed as healthy. Avoid refined corn oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, and soy oil. These fats have been processed to such a degree that they are no longer healthy food choices.
Margarine. Margarine, sometimes referred to as oleo, is a highly refined, hydrogenated product, usually made with vegetable oils. At one time, it was considered healthier than eating butter. Current research shows, however, that it is a trans fat, making it extremely unhealthy. Trans fats raise your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lower your “good” (HDL) cholesterol. Manufacturers and restaurants are now responding to pressure to stop using hydrogenated oils. Butter is a better choice.
Of Questionable Value
You may have noticed that I have not mentioned dairy products. That is because they are beneficial for some people, but not for others. Although some people tolerate dairy well, an estimated 70% of the world’s population is lactose-intolerant. The promotion of milk as a healthy food has more to do with the political power of the dairy industry than it does with the actual nutritional value of dairy products.
Some people who don’t tolerate milk and cheese well have no problems with yogurt. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that fruit-flavored yogurt is a good idea. “Fruit” in this context is another word for sugar. Eat plain yogurt, add real fruit, and sweeten with Stevia if you want additional sweetness.
When I mention my reservations about milk, the question I most often hear is, “How will I get my calcium?”
According to Dr. Walter Willet, one of the lead authors of the rigorous Nurses’ Health Study, there is no calcium emergency. There’s little evidence that getting high amounts of calcium prevents broken bones in the senior population. Consuming 550 ml daily appears to be adequate, and consuming too much can possibly increase the risk of prostrate and ovarian cancers.
It’s easy to get your required daily amount from these foods:
Calcium in Beans
Cooked soybeans 1 cup: 130 ml
White beans 3/4 cup: 120 ml
Navy beans 3⁄4 cup: 94 ml
Black turtle beans 3/4 cup: 75 ml
Chickpeas (chole, garbanzos) 3/4 cup: 58 ml
Calcium in Nuts
Almonds, roasted 1/4 cup: 93 ml
Almond butter 2 Tbsp: 88 ml
Sesame seeds 1/4 cup: 50 ml
Calcium in Vegetables and Fruits
Cabbage/bok choy 1/2 cup: 190ml
Turnip greens 1/2 cup: 104 ml
Broccoli 1/2 cup: 33 ml
Okra 1/2 cup: 65 ml
Oranges 1/2 cup: 52 ml
Alcohol. Although there are well-documented benefits from moderate alcohol consumption, you may want to take it out of your diet while you’re trying to lose weight, for two reasons: you will be better off without the extra calories, and you might find yourself eating more because of the way alcohol can lower your inhibitions.
Slowly but consistently, increase your consumption of foods from the Optimal Choices list. In addition, begin removing the foods you currently consume from the Least Desirable Choices list.
The effort will be well worth it. Not only will you lose weight, but you will improve your health, increase your energy, and improve your mood.