Healthy Eating

Here Are the 50 Best Healthy-Eating Tips of All Time

Nutrition experts share their best tips to help you live longer, feel better, and shed those extra pounds.

By Michelle Crouch

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Eat sauerkraut if you have a coldiStock/debbismirnoff“When naturally fermented and refrigerated (not pasteurized), sauerkraut, kimchi, yogurt, and kefir contain natural probiotics and help populate your gut with healthy bacteria that can protect you from colds and the flu.”—Justin Sonnenburg, PhD, associate professor of microbiology and immunology at Stanford University and author of The Good Gut

A dash of turmeric can prevent canceriStock/sommail“Many clinical trials have shown it could play a role in preventing or treating heart disease, osteoarthritis, and some cancers. I recommend a quarter teaspoon a day. If you don’t enjoy the taste, buy capsules.” (Here’s how turmeric can soothe stomach problems.) —Michael Greger, MD, a physician who specializes in nutrition and the author of How Not to Die

Canned tuna packs a protein punchiStock/debbismirnoff“It’s one of the most affordable proteins in the supermarket, and it’s packed with omega-3s, vitamin D, and selenium. Snack on it with whole-grain crackers.”—Kate Geagan, MS, RD, nutritionist and author of Go Green, Get Lean

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Stay mentally sharp with a fishy dietiStock/rafalstachura“In one large study, having at least one fish meal a week was associated with a 60 percent reduction in the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease.” Other studies have found that eating fish slashes your chance of dying from heart disease by about a third. —Martha Clare Morris, ScD, director of the Section of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology at Rush University Medical Center

 Dark chocolate (with 70 percent cacao) halts cravingsiStock/bravobravo“This treat has been shown to boost good HDL cholesterol, lower bad LDL cholesterol, reduce blood pressure, boost brain health, and enhance mood. Research also shows it curbs cravings for both sweet and salty foods.” —Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches with Real Food, Real Fast

Make berries your go-to fruitiStock/yulia_davidovich“Berries have high levels of antioxidants that may lower your risk of heart disease, some types of cancer, diabetes, and cognitive decline. Look for black raspberries (in the freezer department of high-end grocery stores), blueberries, cranberries, and black currants.” —David C. Nieman, DrPH, FACSM, director of the Human Performance Lab at Appalachian State University

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When buying cabbage, choose purpleiStock/mamamiapl“It has the same eyesight- and brain-protecting antioxidants as berries do, at a fraction of the cost. Slice off shreds to use as a healthy, colorful garnish.” —Michael Greger, MD

Eat more leafy green veggies as you get olderTed Cavanaugh for Reader's Digest “One study found that seniors who ate at least one serving of leafy greens a day had the cognitive ability of someone 11 years younger.” These salad staples also benefit heart and bone health and help prevent cancer. —Martha Clare Morris, ScD

Beans can help you live longerTed Cavanaugh for Reader's Digest “A cup every day may add years to your life. They’re cheap, they provide way more protein dollar-for-dollar than meat does, they have complex carbohydrates, and they’re full of fiber. Plus beans help the good bacteria in your gut flourish, helping you lose weight and lowering inflammation that causes disease.” —Dan Buettner, a National Geographic Fellow and the author of The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World’s Healthiest People

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Add nuts to your breakfastiStock/creativeye99“Five or more five-ounce servings of nuts throughout the week may cut your risk of heart disease by up to half. It doesn’t matter what kind of nuts: walnuts, almonds, pecans. Sprinkle them on cereal each morning.” —Gary Fraser, MD, PhD, cardiologist and epidemiologist at Loma Linda University

If it sprouts, it’s worth eatingiStock/sandrobassi“Nuts, fruit, beans, and whole grains are all rich in phytochemicals and other anti-inflammatory compounds.” —Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, drph, a cardiologist and an epidemiologist who is dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University

Sprinkle your meals with ground flaxseedsiStock/deeaf“Filled with fiber and omega-3s, flaxseeds may help protect against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and cognitive decline and treat the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Grind them up and add to oatmeal, yogurt, pancakes, waffles, salads, soups, sandwich spreads, and more.”—Angie Eakin, MD, MS, a member of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine and a primary care physician who specializes in nutrition at Barnard Medical Center

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Make wine your alcohol of choiceiStock/carlosandresantos“One or two drinks a day—wine, and perhaps other alcoholic beverages—may help to lower cholesterol and improve heart and brain health. Don’t hold off all week, then live it up on the weekend. More than two and you likely start to do harm.” —Kenneth S. Kosik, MD, neuroscientist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and author of Outsmarting Alzheimer’s

Avoid lunch meats like they’re poisonousiStock/lecic“Processed meats like bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, and sausage were designated by the World Health Organization as carcinogens in 2015. That means they can cause cancer and are in the same category as asbestos and smoking” (though their risk is not as high). —Michael Greger, MD

Don’t grill; marinateiStock/creative_improv“A growing body of evidence shows that barbecued meats cooked at high temperatures or over an open flame may increase your risk of cancer. Lower your risk by marinating your meat and minimizing charring.”—Bruce Lee, MD, executive director of the Global Obesity Prevention Center at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

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Add your own fruit to plain yogurtiStock/peredniankina“Plain yogurt that you add whole fruit to is very healthy; it typically has about seven grams of natural sugar. Guess how many grams of sugar in a strawberry yogurt? Depending on the brand, you could have up to 23 grams. That’s not a health food; that’s dessert.” —Robert Lustig, MD, pediatric endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of Fat Chance

Check the sugar counts before buying packaged foodiStock/alexskopje“Of the 85,000 packaged foods in American grocery stores, 74 percent are spiked with added sugar. Sugar alters our hormones so we don’t register hunger normally; it spikes our dopamine, requiring us to eat more sugar for the same effect; and it affects the liver in the same way that alcohol does.” —Robert Lustig, MD

Counting calories? Don’t use artificial sweetenersiStock/bigredcurlyguy“In one study, fruit flies that had been accustomed to eating the artificial sweetener sucralose ate 30 percent more calories than those that ate sugar. We believe that because the sweetness in sucralose doesn’t correspond to the calories, the brain compensates by making the animal feel more hungry. This may also happen in humans.” (Here’s what can happen if you stop using artificial sweeteners.) —Greg Neely, PhD, associate professor at the University of Sydney

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Boxes and bags are bad signsTed Cavanaugh for Reader's Digest “The more packaging you have to go through to get to a food, the worse it probably is for you.” —Bruce Lee, MD

Avoid bread to lower your sodium intakeiStock/gaus-nataliya“It doesn’t taste like it, but most bread is filled with salt—it’s one of the top sources of salt in the American diet. If you have high blood pressure, be careful with bread.” (These foods are sneaky sodium bombs.) —Marc Gillinov, MD, cardiac surgeon at Cleveland Clinic’s Heart & Vascular Institute and coauthor of Heart 411: The Only Guide to Heart Health You’ll Ever Need

Substitute algae for olive oiliStock/alexey_ds“There’s a new cooking oil made from algae that claims to be even higher in heart-healthy monounsaturated fats than olive oil. Unlike olive oil, it has a neutral flavor and a very high smoke point, so it’s wonderful to cook with. It’s just now getting into stores, but you can order it online for $12 a bottle.” —Keri Gans, RDN, author of The Small Change Diet

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Fruits may be better for you than veggiesTed Cavanaugh for Reader's Digest “People always say to eat your vegetables, but if you look at all the scientific data on long-term health and preventing chronic diseases, fruits have a slightly stronger protective effect than veggies.”—Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

Replace ground meat with mushroomsiStock/dusanmanic“Replacing three ounces of 85 percent lean ground beef with one cup of minced mushrooms cuts almost 200 calories. Mushrooms are also one of the only food-based sources of vitamin D, a key nutrient most people fall short on.” —Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

Flavor sauces with sardinesiStock/photosiber“Sardines are loaded with omega-3s, selenium, vitamin D, and high-quality protein. If eating them out of the tin doesn’t appeal to you, add some sardine paste or chopped-up sardines to salad dressing or tomato sauce.” —Kate Geagan, MS, RD

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Presoak your potatoesiStock/szakaly“Potatoes contain an amino acid that changes into a toxin called acrylamide when exposed to high heat during frying or roasting. Acrylamide makes it tougher for brain cells to communicate with one another. No one knows how much of this toxin the body can safely tolerate, so when possible, boil, steam, or microwave potatoes. If you roast, soak slices in water for 15 to 30 minutes first.” —Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

Healthier food is always in your own fridgeiStock/matt6t6“Every time you go out, you eat about 300 more calories than you would have at home. And restaurant food has much higher levels of sodium, sugar, and saturated fat. To add years to your life expectancy, buy a slow cooker and throw in some beans and vegetables before you head to work; when you come home, you’ll have a healthy dinner.” (Avoid these slow cooker mistakes for a better meal.) —Dan Buettner

Ditch the mayoiStock/wiktory“Try hummus, tahini, mashed avocado, or olive tapenade in place of mayonnaise on sandwiches and in tuna or chicken salad. All four provide creamy texture and lots of flavor while adding bonus nutrients and heart-healthy fat. They also make great dips for fresh-cut veggies in place of ranch dressing.”—Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD

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Try “overnight” oats for a fiber-filled snackiStock/nadianb“Combine old-fashioned oats with milk in a Mason jar. Leave it in the fridge overnight, and the oats soak up the milk. The next morning, add mix-ins like fruit, seeds, nuts, honey, peanut butter, or maple syrup. One serving of oats has 40 grams of whole grains and 4 grams of fiber, plus the milk has protein.”—Rebecca Scritchfield, registered dietitian and author of Body Kindness

Balance your carbs and fiberiStock/elena_danileiko“For every ten grams of carbohydrate in a food, there should be at least one gram of fiber.”—Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

Spread on avocado instead of butteriStock/karinaurmantseva“This swap saves calories and adds vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fiber, and good fats. In brownies or chocolate cakes, the cocoa will mask the green hue of the avocado.” Trade half a tablespoon of avocado for each tablespoon of butter. —Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD (These are more powerhouse benefits of avocado.)

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Snack on easy-to-make DIY popcorniStock/bhofack2“Place kernels inside a brown paper lunch bag. Fold the top down a few times, then microwave for two to three minutes. Voilà. Microwave popcorn without the chemicals and trans fat.” And as snacks go, this one is a real bargain. —Kenneth S. Kosik, MD

Don’t be afraid of fatiStock/julijadmitrijeva“In one study, we put overweight young adults on a low-calorie diet. After they had lost 10 to 15 percent of their weight, we gave some of them a low-fat diet and the others a low-carbohydrate diet with lots of healthy fats, like olive oil, nuts, seeds, and avocado. On the low-fat diet, their metabolism crashed. On the low-carb, high-fat diet, their metabolism didn’t slow at all.” —David Ludwig, MD, PhD, professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and author of Always Hungry

Drink more water to burn more caloriesiStock/diane39Small studies show that drinking more water has the potential to boost metabolism. “It takes calories to process water, because everything we do takes calories. The more water, the more calories you need to expend. I suggest aiming for around two liters a day.”—Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, founder of

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Coffee and green tea can boost metabolismiStock/jejaIn a study of eight men, caffeine increased energy expenditure by 13 percent. Even better, “brewed tea also raises metabolism rates. Be careful not to cancel out the health benefits: If you like sugar in your tea, use one teaspoon or less.” —Lisa Stollman, MA, RDN, CDE, CDN, author of The Trim Traveler

Spread your protein throughout the dayiStock/cirano83Most people “can absorb only about 25 to 35 grams of protein at a time for muscle building and repair.” The rest will turn to fat. As a guide, 30 grams is equivalent to five eggs, four ounces of chicken, or 20 ounces of low-fat yogurt. —Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN

Some things aren’t good in moderationiStock/marilyna“What you really want to do is eat more of the good things (fruits, beans, seeds, nuts, etc.) and less of the bad things (processed meats, refined starch, added sugar, trans fats, sugar-sweetened beverages).”—Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

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Full-fat dairy may be better than low-fatiStock/vinicef“Studies suggest that people eating low-fat dairy either gained more weight or were at a higher risk for diabetes and heart disease than those eating equal portions of full-fat dairy.” —David Ludwig, MD, PhD

Be wary of the phrase “whole grain”iStock/kajakiki“Just because a bread or cracker package says ‘made with whole grains,’ it doesn’t mean it’s 100 percent whole grain. In fact, it could be only 1 percent whole grain. Look for the black-and-gold Whole Grain Stamp.” —Sara Baer-Sinnott, president of Oldways, a food education nonprofit

Several small meals only make you eat moreiStock/gmvozd“In some clinical trials, people who are told to eat five or six small meals a day overeat the wrong things five or six times a day. Instead, I recommend two meals a day, plus a snack like a nut bar.” —Valter Longo, PhD, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California

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Pasta actually doesn’t raise blood sugariStock/xsandra“Because pasta is extruded to make shapes, it takes longer to digest, so even though it has the same ingredients as white bread, it doesn’t cause a rapid sugar spike.” Overcooking or overeating pasta, though, will still raise blood sugar. —Sara Baer-Sinnott

Organic isn’t the healthiest optioniStock/jeffbergen“You may have environmental or economic reasons to look for organic or local foods, but there’s little science showing that these relate to health.” —Dariush Mozaffarian, MD, DrPH

Salt is not the enemyiStock/marccophotoSalt may be less of a risk than scientists thought. “If you don’t have high blood pressure, you can be more liberal with salt.” Hypertension patients should still follow their doctors’ sodium advice. —Marc Gillinov, MD

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Base your diet on carbsiStock/dny59“The cornerstone of every longevity diet in the world is complex carbohydrates: whole grains, brown rice, sweet potatoes, and beans.” —Dan Buettner

Eggs don’t really impact cholesteroliStock/munandme“We now know your cholesterol level is determined largely by the mix of fats you eat, not how much cholesterol you eat. So it’s OK to have eggs.” —Marc Gillinov, MD

Stop looking for healthy smoothiesiStock/azmanjaka“Many smoothie places use mixes with added sugar, other additives, and no real fruit. Ask what they actually put in their smoothies. Or make one at home.”—Bruce Lee, MD

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Shrink your day’s last mealiStock/veranikasmirnaya“Your first meal of the day should be big, whether it’s at 6 a.m. or 10 a.m. Your lunch should be middle-size, and your dinner should be small. A big breakfast fuels your muscles and brain for the day. A small dinner allows digestion to rest overnight and won’t saturate your system with calories your body is more likely to store than to burn.” —Dan Buttoner

Fast for 12 hours at least twice a weekiStock/courtneyk“If you eat at 7 a.m., make sure you are done eating for the day by 7 p.m. [Intermittent fasting] puts your body into a fasting mode, which small clinical trials and animal studies have shown could slow aging in the brain, help you sleep better, and keep you from gaining weight.” —Valter Longo, PhD

Don’t eat based on one studyiStock/fotografiabasica“Remember that one study doesn’t make a truth. It takes years and a whole body of evidence before scientists can make a solid nutritional recommendation.” —Sara Baer-Sinnott

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The origin of your food makes a differenceiStock/rawpixel“We put 20 African Americans on a high-fiber African diet and 20 rural Africans on a low-fiber Western diet. After just two weeks, the biomarkers for cancer risk in the Americans dropped significantly, while those in the Africans jumped significantly.”—Stephen O’Keefe, MD, MSC, gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh

Small diet changes are better than noneiStock/rez-art“The data shows that some improvement is better than none. Even if you make only one change—drink soda twice a week instead of every day—it will make a difference.”—Teresa Fung, ScD, RD, professor of nutrition at Simmons College

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