How to Eat Healthy: 3 Simple Rules for a Better Diet


The way diets usually get talked about these days, simply asking a fundamental question like how to eat healthy can seem a little naive, slightly entry-level. It’s easy to feel like you should be immediately considering something extreme, like intermittent fasting or counting macros, not simply pondering what’s for dinner. 

Yet sometimes the simplest questions are the hardest to answer. “I teach nutrition at a medical school, and every question we get is ‘How do I eat healthy?’ There’s so much mixed messaging,” says Wesley McWhorter, a trained chef, registered dietitian, and professor at the UTHealth School of Public Health in Houston.

Generally, McWhorter says, people know, theoretically, what to eat. “We just don’t know how to follow it,” he says. For example, most adults know that vegetables should be a big part of any diet, but it turns out that 90 percent of American adults don’t eat them on a daily basis.

So here’s actually how to eat healthy, according McWhorter and two other health and nutrition experts.

1. Don’t Diet 

McWhorter’s first piece of advice is to avoid diets of any kind. “Diets are short-term. You get results because you’re cutting out things,” he says. “But diets are dichotomous: We lose weight in the short-term and gain weight in the long-term.”

Instead, he wants people to prioritize a long-term approach to eating, where what you do month after month creates a healthy pattern of eating. The emphasis should be on what you are eating and not what you’re restricting, as you would during a diet. Vegetables and whole foods are the keys, and you can get them in creative ways.

“You can have a beautiful taco meal, with a whole-grain tortilla, black beans or refried beans as your legumes, some animal protein, a salsa and then some cabbage slaw, and then rice on the side,” he says. “This can be a healthy meal.”

Or just break down your dinner plate into different sections: half of it should contain fruits and vegetables, another quarter some kind of whole grain. The last quarter should be protein, which you can get from animal or plant sources. 

Most of all, to help make your healthy-eating pattern stick, make sure that what you’re eating is prepared in a way you enjoy. “If you like French fries, for instance, you’ll probably enjoy roasted vegetables because it has the same texture. Make that flavor part of your dietary pattern,” he says.

2. Build in Variety 

Teresa Fung, a nutrition professor at Simmons University in Boston, says people tend to overlook the diversity of the foods on their plate.“ You need variety in everything,” she says. “We’d like you to have a variety of foods in general.” 

This is is easier to achieve with minimally processed foods. Testing for this is easy: How many hands has the food been touched by before it gets to your plate? Broccoli you pick up at the produce aisle and then steam or roast at home are always going to be preferable to the broccoli you purchase in bags in the frozen food section of the grocery store—and both are better than a frozen chicken and broccoli ready made meal. 

Adding variety should involve getting more plant-based foods—steak with a side of chicken doesn’t count—but eating more vegetables doesn’t necessarily have to mean giving something up altogether. “Maybe instead of reducing frequency, just reduce the quantity,” she says. “And then replace what you’re not eating with some plants.”

3. Diversify Your Proteins 

A good plate, according to registered dietitian Andy De Santis, contains vegetables, high-quality starches like brown rice or sweet potatoes, and then some form of protein. That last bit is where people tend to trip up. Beef and chicken are great sources, but De Santis says more variety is necessary.



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