- How much food should I eat each day?
- How much do we need each day
- More information on this topic:
- How to Eat a Healthy Diet
- What are the most healthful foods?
- Nuts, pulses, and grains
- Fruits, vegetables, and berries
- Fish, meat, and eggs
- Balance and moderation
- 10 Tips: Healthy Eating for an Active Lifestyle
- 10 Tips: Healthy Eating for an Active Lifestyle
- The Evolution of Diet
- 8 Healthy Foods You Should Eat Every Day
- Black Beans
- What Should I Be Eating Everyday?
How much food should I eat each day?
This is a reference amount to help us determine how much of the four groups of foods we should consume each day. Look at the examples below:
Share on PinterestHalf a regular-sized can of vegetables such as chickpeas constitutes one serving.
- Fruit and vegetables: 1 piece of fruit, half a cup of fruit juice, half a cup of canned or frozen fruit or vegetables, 1 cup of leafy raw vegetables or salad
- Grains: Half a bagel, 1 slice of bread, half a tortilla, half a pitta, half a cup of cooked couscous, rice or pasta, one ounce of cold cereal, three-quarters of a cup of hot cereal
- Milk and alternatives: 1 cup milk, 1 cup of soy drink, three-quarters of a cup of yogurt, 1 and a half ounces of cheese
- Meat and alternatives: 2 and a half ounces of cooked fish, lean meat, poultry or lean meat, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons of peanut butter
Consuming fruit and vegetables: Experts say you should consume at least one dark green and one orange colored vegetable each day. Examples of dark green vegetables include spinach, kale, and broccoli.
Go for fruit and vegetables with either no sugar, salt, or fat, or at least as little as possible. It is recommended to steam, bake, or stir fry the vegetables. Limit or avoid foods that are deep fried. Whole fruit and vegetables are a better choice than their juices, as they provide more nutrients and fiber. They are also more filling which can deter overeating.
Consuming grains: Health authorities say we should aim for whole grains for at least half our grain consumption. Go for variety, including wild rice, quinoa, oats, brown rice, and barley. Whole grain pasta, oatmeal, and breads are better than those made from refined cereals.
A good grain should not have a high sugar, salt, or fat content. Alternatives to grains that contain many of the same nutrients are beans, legumes, quinoa, and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and peas.
Consuming milk (and alternatives): Consume 2 cups per day for good vitamin D and calcium intake. If you don’t drink milk, have fortified drinks. Limit your intake of milk with added sugars and other sweeteners. Low-fat milk may be recommended if you are limiting your total fat or saturated fat intake for heart health reasons.
Meat and alternative: Make sure you are eating alternatives, such as tofu, lentils, and beans regularly. It is recommended to have fish at least twice a week. Beware of certain types of fish for mercury exposure. Opt for lean meats, such as chicken or turkey.
Rather than frying, try roasting, baking, or poaching. If you are eating processed or prepackaged meat, select low-salt and low-fat ones. Limit your overall intake of processed meats since you may have an increased risk for cancer with regular intake.
When eating carbohydrates, choose unrefined carbs, such as whole grains, which are high in fiber and release energy slowly, so that you feel full for longer.
Limit saturated fats and avoid trans fats as much as possible. It is recommended to consume not more than 10 percent of your total calories from saturated fat. Plant oils, fish, and nuts are the best sources.
Make sure to get plenty of fiber. When eating fruit and vegetables, eat a variety of colors. If you are not a great milk-drinker, make sure your consumption of calcium is adequate.
If your main concern is to know how much food you should eat, you still have to be aware of their calorie values. With high-calorie foods, the quantity will have to be less, while with lower-calorie ones you can eat more.
How much do we need each day
The Australian Dietary Guidelines inform people of different ages, life stages and gender, the minimum number of serves from each food group they need to eat each day, to make sure they get the full amount of nutrients their body needs.
Most people who want to lose weight should stick to the minimum number of serves. However, people in their healthy weight range, who are taller than average or more physically active, may find they need extra serves from the five food groups.
Ideally, most of the extra serves should be chosen from the vegetables, fruit and grain (cereals) food groups but some extra choices can be made from milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or alternatives, the lean meat and poultry, fish, eggs and/or alternative group, and including less often, unsaturated fats/oils/spreads. Discretionary choices are often an enjoyable part of the Australian diet, and can be included occassionally if your energy needs allow this.
Often people find that to get enough serves from all the food groups they need to:
- swap discretionary choices for foods from the five food groups
- make breads or grains part of at least two meals most days
- include vegetables at least twice a day, particularly important if you would like to lose weight
- make vegetables take up at least one third of meals and half the meal if you are trying to lose weight. So it’s important to serve vegetables or salad as a side dish even when eating meals like pasta, lasagne or risotto. By eating more vegetables in your meals, serves of other foods will be smaller and the overall meal will have fewer kilojoules.
- include lean meat or meat alternative as part of at least one meal a day
- add fruit to at least two meals or use as snacks or desserts
- include a serve of low fat milk, yoghurt or cheese as a significant part of at least two meals or snacks.
It’s also good for your health to include:
- fish meals every week
- meals with legumes every week
- a wide variety of different coloured vegetables every day.
More information on this topic:
- What is a serve?
- Serve sizes
- Putting it all together
- Recommended number of serves for children and adolescents
- Recommended number of serves for adults
- Sample meal plan for men
- Sample meal plan for women
- Sample meal plan for children
How to Eat a Healthy Diet
If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”
Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks
The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:
- 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
- 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
- 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
- 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
- Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.
Healthy Diet: Eat Right and the Right Amount
How many calories you need in a day depends on your sex, age, body type, and how active you are. Generally, active children ages 2 to 8 need between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Active teenage girls and women can consume about 2,200 calories a day without gaining weight. Teenage boys and men who are very active should consume about 3,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you’re not active, you calorie needs drop by 400 to 600 calories a day.
The best way to know how much to eat is to listen to your body, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “Pull away from the table when you’re comfortable but not yet full. Wait about 20 minutes,” he says. “Usually your body says, ‘That’s good.’ If you’re still hungry after that, you might want to eat a little more.”
Healthy Diet: Exercise Is Part of the Plan
At the bottom of the new USDA food pyramid is a space for exercise. Exercise is an important component of a well-balanced diet and good nutrition. You can reap “fabulous rewards,” says Dr Novey, just by exercising and eating “a healthy diet of foods that nature provides.”
Learn more in the Everyday Health Healthy Living Center.
What are the most healthful foods?
This article lists the 15 foods that sources and studies across the United States and Western Europe deem the most healthful.
It is vital to have awareness of the most healthful foods to ensure a wide a range of nutrients in the diet.
A balanced diet is the secret to healthful eating. This article will cover the 15 most healthful foods and their benefits.
Nuts, pulses, and grains
Share on PinterestA healthful diet can help ensure that the body gets all the nutrients it needs.
Nuts, pulses, and grains are all highly nutritious. The following are some of the most healthful:
Almonds provide plenty of nutrients, including:
- vitamin E
One 2019 meta-analysis found that consuming almonds significantly reduced total cholesterol levels.
2. Brazil nuts
Brazil nuts (Bertholletia excelsa) are some of the most healthful nuts available.
They are an excellent source of both protein and carbohydrates, and they also provide good amounts of vitamin B-1, vitamin E, magnesium, and zinc.
Brazil nuts also contain more selenium than many other foods. Selenium is a vital mineral for maintaining thyroid function, and it is a great antioxidant for the human body.
These nuts come in a hard shell and are usually available ready to eat, making them a quick, nutritious snack.
Learn more about Brazil nuts here.
A lentil is a pulse that features prominently in many food cultures around the world, including those of Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka.
Lentils provide good amounts of fiber, magnesium, and potassium.
They tend to require a long cooking time. However, manufacturers can sprout the seeds, making them a delicious, healthful, ready-to-eat snack.
Adding a container of sprouted lentils to a lunchbox or picnic basket, perhaps with some chili powder or pepper for flavoring, makes for a delicious and healthful snack.
Learn more about the health benefits of lentils here.
Interest in oatmeal has increased considerably during the past 20 years because of its health benefits.
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) agreed that foods with high levels of rolled oats or oat bran could include data on the label about their cardiovascular health benefits as part of a low fat diet. This led to a surge in oatmeal’s popularity.
Research has found that the cereal’s soluble fiber content helps lower cholesterol levels and reduce cardiovascular risk factors.
Oats contain complex carbohydrates, as well as water-soluble fiber. These slow down digestion and help stabilize levels of blood glucose. Oatmeal is also a good source of folate and potassium.
People can make oatmeal from rolled or ground oats. Coarse or steel-cut oats contain more fiber than instant varieties.
5. Wheat germ
Wheat germ is the part of wheat that grows into a plant. It is essentially the embryo of a seed. Germ, along with bran, is a byproduct of milling. Refining cereals often removes the germ and bran content.
Whole grain products, however, still contain the germ and bran. This makes them a more healthful choice.
Wheat germ is high in several vital nutrients, including:
- vitamin E
- folic acid
- fatty alcohols
- essential fatty acids
Fruits, vegetables, and berries
Fruits, vegetables, and berries are easy to incorporate into the diet. The following are some of the most healthful:
Broccoli provides good amounts of fiber, calcium, potassium, folate, and phytonutrients. Phytonutrients are compounds that reduce the risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers.
Broccoli also provides essential antioxidants such as vitamin C and beta-carotene. In fact, a single half-cup serving of broccoli can provide around 85% of a person’s daily vitamin C value.
Another compound in broccoli, called sulforaphane, may have anticancer and anti-inflammatory qualities, according to one 2019 study.
However, overcooking broccoli can destroy many of its key nutrients. For this reason, it is best to eat it raw or lightly steamed.
Learn more about the nutritional impact of broccoli here.
Apples are an excellent source of antioxidants, which combat free radicals. Free radicals are damaging substances that the body generates. They cause undesirable changes in the body and may contribute to chronic conditions, as well as the aging process.
However, some studies have suggested that an antioxidant in apples might extend a person’s life span and reduce the risk of chronic disease.
Learn more about apples here.
Kale is a leafy green vegetable that offers a wide range of different nutrients. For example, this powerfully nutritious plant is an excellent source of vitamins C and K.
People can cook or steam kale. They can also blend it into smoothies or juices for a nutritional kick.
Learn more about how to include kale in the diet here.
Blueberries provide substantial amounts of fiber, antioxidants, and phytonutrients. Unlike minerals and vitamins, phytonutrients are not essential for survival. However, they may help prevent disease and maintain vital bodily functions.
In a 2019 review of 16 studies, the authors suggest that consuming blueberries may help protect against cognitive decline, which may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. They also found that blueberries might help prevent cardiovascular disease.
Another 2019 study, this time in mice, found that blueberry polyphenols reduced obesity and certain metabolic risk factors. They also improved the composition of gut bacteria.
According to a 2015 clinical trial, eating 22 grams of freeze dried blueberries every day for 8 weeks led to a significant decrease in blood pressure among women with stage 1 hypertension.
Discover the nutritional power of blueberries.
Some people avoid consuming avocados due to their high fat content. However, avocados provide healthful fats, as well as B vitamins, vitamin K, and vitamin E. Avocados are also a good source of fiber.
In one 2018 review of studies, avocados increased levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol. This type of cholesterol removes more harmful cholesterol from the bloodstream.
Avocados might also have anticancer properties. A 2019 test tube study of avocados showed that colored avocado seed extract reduced the viability of breast, colon, and prostate cancer cells. However, the study did not indicate whether or not the effects would be the same in humans.
Avocados may also have associations with improved nutrient absorption, better overall diet, and fewer metabolic risk factors, according to one 2013 study.
Avocados are highly nutritious and very filling. Learn more about them here.
11. Leafy green vegetables
One 2019 study in rats showed that consuming leafy greens for 6 weeks led to a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk factors.
Spinach is an example of a leafy green with antioxidant content, especially when it is raw, steamed, or very lightly boiled. It is a good source of the following nutrients:
- vitamins A, B-6, C, E, and K
Learn about the many benefits of spinach here.
12. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes provide dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin B-6, and potassium.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest compared the nutritional value of sweet potatoes with that of several other vegetables.
Sweet potatoes ranked number one for their vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, protein, and complex carbohydrate content.
Fish, meat, and eggs
When it comes to fish, meat, and eggs, many healthful options are available. For example:
13. Oily fish
Some examples of oily fish include salmon, trout, mackerel, herring, sardines, and anchovies. These types of fish have oil in their tissues and around their gut.
Their lean fillets contain high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. These oils may provide benefits for the heart and nervous system, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS).
The ODS also suggest that omega-3 fatty acids can help with inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. They are also plentiful in vitamins A and D.
One 2014 study suggested that fatty acids can significantly reduce the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Chicken is a cost effective and healthful meat. Free-range chicken serves as an excellent source of protein.
However, it is important to remember that preparation and cooking methods affect how healthful chicken is. This means that people should limit their intake of deep-fried chicken and always remove the skin before consumption. Chicken skin has high levels of saturated fat.
Eggs are another source of protein that people can easily incorporate into a balanced diet, as they are highly versatile.
Eggs contain vitamins including B-2 and B-12, both of which are important for preserving energy and generating red blood cells. Eggs are also a good source of the essential amino acid leucine, which plays a role in stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Eggs also provide a good amount of choline, which is important for cell membranes.
The yolk contains most of the egg’s vitamins and minerals, as well as the fat and cholesterol. However, one 2017 review found that eating up to seven eggs per week does not increase the risk of heart disease. That said, the authors mention that people with cardiovascular disease or diabetes should seek medical consultation about including eggs in the diet.
Indeed, one study found higher rates of cardiovascular disease in people who consumed more cholesterol from eggs.
Consuming fat in moderate amounts is healthful as part of a balanced, nutritious diet.
Learn more about eggs here.
Balance and moderation
Including these 15 foods in the diet can provide notable health benefits. However, it is important for people to have a balanced diet that does not focus on one specific type of food.
People should remember that having an occasional treat is not going to be harmful to overall health, as long as they ensure a regular and varied intake of nutrients.
I want to follow a vegan diet. Can I still obtain all the healthful proteins I need?
People who follow a vegan diet can obtain healthful proteins from plant sources, but not all plant sources contain all of the essential amino acids that animal sources of protein do.
Therefore, pairing certain plant foods together is important to ensure that the person consumes all of the essential amino acids they need. Quinoa and tofu contain all essential amino acids.
Beans and rice, hummus and pita, and whole grain bread with peanut butter are examples of pairs of plant-based foods that provide all the essential amino acids.
Natalie Olsen, R.D., L.D., ACSM EP-C Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
10 Tips: Healthy Eating for an Active Lifestyle
10 Tips: Healthy Eating for an Active Lifestyle
Tips for combining good nutrition and physical activity
For youth and adults engaging in physical activity and sports, healthy eating is essential for optimizing performance. Combining good nutrition with physical activity can lead to a healthier lifestyle.
Maximize with nutrient-packed foods
Give your body the nutrients it needs by eating a variety of nutrient-packed food, including whole grains, lean protein, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat or fat-free dairy. Eat less food high in solid fats, added sugars, and sodium (salt).
Energize with grains
Your body’s quickest energy source comes from foods such as bread, pasta, oatmeal, cereals, and tortillas. Be sure to make at least half of your grain food choices whole-grain foods like whole-wheat bread or pasta and brown rice.
Power up with protein
Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle. Choose lean or low-fat cuts of beef or pork, and skinless chicken or turkey. Get your protein from seafood twice a week. Quality protein sources come from plant based foods, too.
Mix it up with plant protein foods
Variety is great! Choose beans and peas (kidney, pinto, black, or white beans; split peas; chickpeas; hummus), soy products (tofu, tempeh, veggie burgers), and unsalted nuts and seeds.
Vary your fruits and vegetables
Get the nutrients your body needs by eating a variety of colors, in various ways. Try blue, red, or black berries; red and yellow peppers; and dark greens like spinach and kale. Choose fresh, frozen, low-sodium canned, dried, or 100 percent juice options.
Don’t forget dairy
Foods like fat-free and low-fat milk, cheese, yogurt, and fortified soy beverages (soymilk) help to build and maintain strong bones needed for everyday activities.
Balance your meals
Use MyPlate as a reminder to include all food groups each day.
Stay hydrated by drinking water instead of sugary drinks. Keep a reusable water bottle with you to always have water on hand.
Know how much to eat
Calculate your MyPlate Plan to get personalized nutrition information based on your age, gender, height, weight, current physical activity level, and other factors.
Reach your goals
The Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+), a program of the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness & Nutrition (PCSFN), promotes physical activity and good nutrition. PALA+ an 8-week program to help you manage and reach your health goals.
Using Harvard’s Healthy Eating Plate as a guide, we recommend eating mostly vegetables, fruit, and whole grains, healthy fats, and healthy proteins. We suggest drinking water instead of sugary beverages, and we also address common dietary concerns such as salt and sodium, vitamins, and alcohol. It’s also important to stay active and maintain a healthy weight.
The main message: Focus on diet quality
- The type of carbohydrate in the diet is more important than the amount of carbohydrate in the diet, because some sources of carbohydrate—like vegetables (other than potatoes), fruits, whole grains, and beans—are healthier than others.
- The Healthy Eating Plate also advises consumers to avoid sugary beverages, a major source of calories—usually with little nutritional value—in the American diet.
- The Healthy Eating Plate encourages consumers to use healthy oils, and it does not set a maximum on the percentage of calories people should get each day from healthy sources of fat. In this way, the Healthy Eating Plate recommends the opposite of the low-fat message promoted for decades by the USDA.
The Healthy Eating Plate summarizes the best evidence-based dietary information available today. As nutrition researchers are continually discovering valuable information, The Healthy Eating Plate will be updated to reflect new findings.
Want to learn more? Use the Healthy Eating Plate & Healthy Eating Pyramid, both created by the Department of Nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health, as your guides for choosing a healthy diet and creating healthy meals. To get started, here are 10 tips for healthy eating!
The contents of this website are for educational purposes and are not intended to offer personal medical advice. You should seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The Nutrition Source does not recommend or endorse any products.
The Evolution of Diet
The real Paleolithic diet, though, wasn’t all meat and marrow. It’s true that hunter-gatherers around the world crave meat more than any other food and usually get around 30 percent of their annual calories from animals. But most also endure lean times when they eat less than a handful of meat each week. New studies suggest that more than a reliance on meat in ancient human diets fueled the brain’s expansion.
Year-round observations confirm that hunter-gatherers often have dismal success as hunters. The Hadza and Kung bushmen of Africa, for example, fail to get meat more than half the time when they venture forth with bows and arrows. This suggests it was even harder for our ancestors who didn’t have these weapons. “Everybody thinks you wander out into the savanna and there are antelopes everywhere, just waiting for you to bonk them on the head,” says paleoanthropologist Alison Brooks of George Washington University, an expert on the Dobe Kung of Botswana. No one eats meat all that often, except in the Arctic, where Inuit and other groups traditionally got as much as 99 percent of their calories from seals, narwhals, and fish.
So how do hunter-gatherers get energy when there’s no meat? It turns out that “man the hunter” is backed up by “woman the forager,” who, with some help from children, provides more calories during difficult times. When meat, fruit, or honey is scarce, foragers depend on “fallback foods,” says Brooks. The Hadza get almost 70 percent of their calories from plants. The Kung traditionally rely on tubers and mongongo nuts, the Aka and Baka Pygmies of the Congo River Basin on yams, the Tsimane and Yanomami Indians of the Amazon on plantains and manioc, the Australian Aboriginals on nut grass and water chestnuts.
“There’s been a consistent story about hunting defining us and that meat made us human,” says Amanda Henry, a paleobiologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. “Frankly, I think that misses half of the story. They want meat, sure. But what they actually live on is plant foods.” What’s more, she found starch granules from plants on fossil teeth and stone tools, which suggests humans may have been eating grains, as well as tubers, for at least 100,000 years—long enough to have evolved the ability to tolerate them.
The notion that we stopped evolving in the Paleolithic period simply isn’t true. Our teeth, jaws, and faces have gotten smaller, and our DNA has changed since the invention of agriculture. “Are humans still evolving? Yes!” says geneticist Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Pennsylvania.
One striking piece of evidence is lactose tolerance. All humans digest mother’s milk as infants, but until cattle began being domesticated 10,000 years ago, weaned children no longer needed to digest milk. As a result, they stopped making the enzyme lactase, which breaks down the lactose into simple sugars. After humans began herding cattle, it became tremendously advantageous to digest milk, and lactose tolerance evolved independently among cattle herders in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Groups not dependent on cattle, such as the Chinese and Thai, the Pima Indians of the American Southwest, and the Bantu of West Africa, remain lactose intolerant.
Humans also vary in their ability to extract sugars from starchy foods as they chew them, depending on how many copies of a certain gene they inherit. Populations that traditionally ate more starchy foods, such as the Hadza, have more copies of the gene than the Yakut meat-eaters of Siberia, and their saliva helps break down starches before the food reaches their stomachs.
These examples suggest a twist on “You are what you eat.” More accurately, you are what your ancestors ate. There is tremendous variation in what foods humans can thrive on, depending on genetic inheritance. Traditional diets today include the vegetarian regimen of India’s Jains, the meat-intensive fare of Inuit, and the fish-heavy diet of Malaysia’s Bajau people. The Nochmani of the Nicobar Islands off the coast of India get by on protein from insects. “What makes us human is our ability to find a meal in virtually any environment,” says the Tsimane study co-leader Leonard.
Studies suggest that indigenous groups get into trouble when they abandon their traditional diets and active lifestyles for Western living. Diabetes was virtually unknown, for instance, among the Maya of Central America until the 1950s. As they’ve switched to a Western diet high in sugars, the rate of diabetes has skyrocketed. Siberian nomads such as the Evenk reindeer herders and the Yakut ate diets heavy in meat, yet they had almost no heart disease until after the fall of the Soviet Union, when many settled in towns and began eating market foods. Today about half the Yakut living in villages are overweight, and almost a third have hypertension, says Leonard. And Tsimane people who eat market foods are more prone to diabetes than those who still rely on hunting and gathering.
For those of us whose ancestors were adapted to plant-based diets—and who have desk jobs—it might be best not to eat as much meat as the Yakut. Recent studies confirm older findings that although humans have eaten red meat for two million years, heavy consumption increases atherosclerosis and cancer in most populations—and the culprit isn’t just saturated fat or cholesterol. Our gut bacteria digest a nutrient in meat called L-carnitine. In one mouse study, digestion of L-carnitine boosted artery-clogging plaque. Research also has shown that the human immune system attacks a sugar in red meat that’s called Neu5Gc, causing inflammation that’s low level in the young but that eventually could cause cancer. “Red meat is great, if you want to live to 45,” says Ajit Varki of the University of California, San Diego, lead author of the Neu5Gc study.
Many paleoanthropologists say that although advocates of the modern Paleolithic diet urge us to stay away from unhealthy processed foods, the diet’s heavy focus on meat doesn’t replicate the diversity of foods that our ancestors ate—or take into account the active lifestyles that protected them from heart disease and diabetes. “What bothers a lot of paleoanthropologists is that we actually didn’t have just one caveman diet,” says Leslie Aiello, president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research in New York City. “The human diet goes back at least two million years. We had a lot of cavemen out there.”
In other words, there is no one ideal human diet. Aiello and Leonard say the real hallmark of being human isn’t our taste for meat but our ability to adapt to many habitats—and to be able to combine many different foods to create many healthy diets. Unfortunately the modern Western diet does not appear to be one of them.
8 Healthy Foods You Should Eat Every Day
Dieting is hard, but eating is easy. Right? That means the easiest way to drop pounds and slim down is to do exactly what you’re already doing: eat! Just make sure you’re getting in the right foods. Below, we uncover which nutrient-rich foods deserve a place in your diet daily and how to sneak them into your meals. To double down on your health-improving efforts, replace those refined carbs you’ve been eating with these fat burning foods.
Substitutes: Kale, bok choy, romaine lettuce
It may be green and leafy, but spinach is no nutritional wallflower. This noted muscle builder is a rich source of plant-based omega-3s and folate, which help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke, and osteoporosis. It’s also one of the 10 salad greens healthier than kale. Bonus: Folate also increases blood flow to the nether regions, helping to protect you against age-related sexual issues. And spinach is packed with lutein, a compound that fights macular degeneration. Aim for 1 cup fresh spinach or 1/2 cup cooked per day.
Make your salads with spinach; add spinach to scrambled eggs; drape it over pizza; mix it with marinara sauce and then microwave for an instant dip.
Substitutes: Kefir, soy yogurt
Various cultures claim yogurt as their own creation, but the 2,000-year-old food’s health benefits are not disputed: Fermentation spawns hundreds of millions of probiotic organisms that serve as reinforcements to the battalions of beneficial bacteria in your body. That helps boost your immune system and provides protection against cancer. Not all yogurts are probiotic, though, so make sure the label says “live and active cultures.” Aim for 1 cup of the calcium and protein-rich goop a day. We did the legwork to find the healthiest yogurt so all you have to do at the store is grab and go.
Yogurt topped with blueberries, walnuts, flaxseed, and honey is the ultimate breakfast—or dessert. Plain low-fat yogurt is also a perfect base for creamy salad dressings and dips.
Substitutes: Red watermelon, pink grapefruit, Japanese persimmon, papaya, guava
There are two things you need to know about tomatoes: Red are the best, because they’re packed with more of the antioxidant lycopene, and processed tomatoes are just as potent as fresh ones, because it’s easier for the body to absorb the lycopene. Studies show that a diet rich in lycopene can decrease your risk of bladder, lung, prostate, skin, and stomach cancers, as well as reduce the risk of coronary artery disease. Aim for 22 mg of lycopene a day, which is about eight red cherry tomatoes or a glass of tomato juice.
Pile on the ketchup and Ragú; guzzle low-sodium V8 and gazpacho; double the amount of tomato paste called for in a recipe.
Substitutes: Sweet potato, pumpkin, butternut squash, yellow bell pepper, mango
Most red, yellow, or orange vegetables and fruits are spiked with carotenoids—fat-soluble compounds that are associated with a reduction in a wide range of cancers, as well as reduced risk and severity of inflammatory conditions such as asthma and rheumatoid arthritis—but none are as easy to prepare, or have as low a caloric density, as carrots. Aim for 1/2 cup a day.
Raw baby carrots, sliced raw yellow pepper, butternut squash soup, baked sweet potato, pumpkin pie, mango sorbet, carrot cake
Substitutes: Acai berries, purple grapes, prunes, raisins, strawberries
Host to more antioxidants than any other North American fruit, blueberries help prevent cancer, diabetes, and age-related memory changes (hence the nickname “brain berry”). Studies show that blueberries, which are rich in fiber and vitamins A and C, also boost cardiovascular health. Aim for 1 cup fresh blueberries a day, or 1/2 cup frozen or dried.
Blueberries maintain most of their power in dried, frozen, or jam form.
Substitutes: Peas, lentils, and pinto, kidney, fava, and lima beans
All beans are good for your heart, but none can boost your brain power like black beans. That’s because they’re full of anthocyanins, antioxidant compounds that have been shown to improve brain function. A daily 1/2-cup serving provides 8 grams of protein and 7.5 grams of fiber. It’s also low in calories and free of saturated fat.
Wrap black beans in a breakfast burrito; use both black beans and kidney beans in your chili; puree 1 cup black beans with 1/4 cup olive oil and roasted garlic for a healthy dip; add favas, limas, or peas to pasta dishes.
Substitutes: Almonds, peanuts, pistachios, macadamia nuts, hazelnuts
Richer in heart-healthy omega-3s than salmon, loaded with more anti-inflammatory polyphenols than red wine, and packing half as much muscle-building protein as chicken, the walnut sounds like a Frankenfood, but it grows on trees. Other nuts combine only one or two of these features, not all three. A serving of walnuts—about 1 ounce, or 7 nuts—is good anytime, but especially as a postworkout recovery snack.
Sprinkle on top of salads; chop and add to pancake batter; spoon peanut butter into curries; grind and mix with olive oil to make a marinade for grilled fish or chicken.
Substitutes: Quinoa, flaxseed, wild rice
The éminence grise of health food, oats garnered the FDA’s first seal of approval. They are packed with soluble fiber, which lowers the risk of heart disease. Yes, oats are loaded with carbs, but the release of those sugars is slowed by the fiber, and because oats also have 10 grams of protein per 1/2-cup serving, they deliver steady, muscle-friendly energy.
Eat granolas and cereals that have a fiber content of at least 5 grams per serving. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp. ground flaxseed on cereals, salads, and yogurt.
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What Should I Be Eating Everyday?
There’s so much talk of what NOT to eat, that we sometimes forget to talk about what TO eat. How much we need to eat depends largely on:
- Age (calorie requirements go down with age)
- Sex (Males need more calories than females)
- Physical activity level (whether you’re sedentary, moderately active, or very active)
But what we need to eat to give our bodies essential nutrients is pretty much the same across the board (unless you have a chronic disease or food allergy). For more specific info about what you should be eating from each food group, based on your age, sex, and activity level check out USDA’s MyPlate.
If you’re looking for general guidelines, here are my recommendations:
- As many vegetables and fruits as you want, but at least 3-4 servings of vegetables and 2-3 servings of fruit
- Veggie serving = 1/2 cup chopped or pieces, 1 medium tomato or similar-sized whole veggie, 1 cup leafy greans, 1/4 cup veggie-based sauce, salsa, or soup
- Fruit serving = 1/2 cup chopped or sliced; 1 cup grapes or cherries or similar-sized fruit; 1 medium whole fruit like apple, peach, banana; 2-3 small fruits like apricots or small plums
- A serving of protein at every meal or snack
- Meals = 3 oz fish or lean meat, 1/2 cup tofu or soy product, 2 eggs
- Snacks = 1/4 cup nuts, 2 Tbsp nut butter, 1 oz reduced-fat cheese, 6 oz yogurt, 1 cup milk or plain soymilk, 1 egg, 1/2 cup cottage cheese
- About 3-4 servings of whole grain carbohydrates
- 1 piece whole wheat (or other 100% whole grain) bread
- 1/2 cup dry oats or 1/3 cup dry oat bran
- 3/4 cup whole grain cereal
- 1/2 cup cooked brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat couscous, pasta
- One source of dietary fat at each meal or snack (keep in mind that the fat may be naturally occurring in whatever food you’re eating, like cheese, nuts, yogurt, etc)
- Meals = 1 Tbsp oil; 1 Tbsp butter or mayonnaise; 1 oz cheese; having a fattier meat like steak, salmon, or bone-in chicken
- Snacks = 1 oz cheese; 1/4 cup nuts; 1 Tbsp nut butter; 1 “bar” like Kind, Luna, or Corazonas snack bar
- A serving of legumes (beans, lentils, etc) a few times a week
- 1/2 cup beans or lentils
- If you’re vegetarian, you’ll need more like one serving legumes everyday
Keep in mind that some foods, like nuts, fatty meats and fish, soybeans, cheese, whole milk products — fall into more than one category (protein + fat) so if you choose these, count them in both places and then choose leaner options at your next meal or snack. Most mixed foods that you eat fall into more than one of these categories too, so you’ll have to think about what ingredients are present in a recipe or meal to see which groups you’re eating.
Everything else — packaged snack foods, refined carbohydrates, sweets, baked goods, processed or prepared foods, alcoholic beverages — should be eaten only occasionally. Aim for one “splurge” per day. Plan your splurge ahead of time (for example, think about if you’ll want dessert after dinner, if you’re going out for cocktail with friends, if you’ll be grazing on bread & cheese at a dinner party, etc) so that one splurge doesn’t turn into 2 or 3 or more.