General Nutrition

Nutritious foods to eat for a healthy diet

May 21, 2024

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Medically reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

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Key Points

  • You should eat a wide variety of foods to support a healthy diet. 
  • There are certain tips and guidelines you can follow to check that your daily diet is healthy and supporting your health goals. 
  • Try to limit added sugars, saturated fats, alcohol, and processed snacks. 

What makes food "healthy?"

While there is no singular definition of health, healthy foods tend to be whole-food ingredients rich in vitamins and minerals. These kinds of foods confer a health benefit, helping your body to stay strong and run smoothly, supporting the active and engaged lifestyle you like to lead.

Health isn't defined by a singular diet like low fat, gluten free, or keto/low carb, either. In fact, many people find it liberating to focus on individual foods rather than a specific diet, choosing to prioritize certain nutrients and looking at the overall balance of their intake.

Let's talk about the healthiest foods you can eat and how to get started with healthy eating.

10 nutritious food for health

  1. Cruciferous vegetables. These nutrition powerhouses are part of the cabbage family and include broccoli, cauliflower, arugula, kale, and more. They are full of phytonutrients that can help with immune health and detoxification. Many of them contain vitamin C, which helps the body absorb other nutrients like iron.
  2. Fatty fish. Oily fish are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which support heart health, brain function, and healthy joints. Fish with the highest omega-3 content include salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout, anchovies, and sardines. These are also all great sources of protein.
  3. Legumes. Think: black beans and lentils. Legumes are packed with fiber, folate, and plant-based protein, supporting digestion and promoting a sense of fullness.
  4. Fermented foods. Yogurt, kimchi, and sauerkraut all contain probiotics, which support gut health. A daily dose of probiotics can help keep your bowel movements regular and keep digestion running smoothly.
  5. Leafy greens. Dark, leafy greens are a good source of vitamin A, vitamin C, and calcium. Just like cruciferous vegetables, they add fiber into the diet too. These greens include spinach, Swiss chard, kale, collard greens, and mustard greens.
  6. Berries. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, golden berries, and more are all rich in antioxidants and fiber. Antioxidants help fight again cell damage and support whole-body health.
  7. Whole grains. These come in whole ingredient forms, like oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa, or in products like whole wheat pasta or bread. Be sure that these products only have a few ingredients and aren't full of filler ingredients to ensure you get the maximum benefit. Not only are whole grains full of fiber and nutrients, but they also help with high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, and more.
  8. Seeds. Packed with healthy fats, fiber, and minerals, seeds are a tiny but mighty addition to any healthy diet. Chia seeds, flaxseeds, and pumpkin seeds are all great options.
  9. Eggs. Eggs are easy to digest and full of amino acids, making them an ideal source of protein. They also contain healthy fats and improve skeletal health, which supports a multitude of systems throughout the body. Due to their protein and fat content, they are great for weight loss as well, as they promote sateity.
  10. Tea. It's not quite a food, but tea has so many benefits, it deserves a mention on here anyway. With so many different varieties available, there's a tea for everyone, both in terms of taste and in health benefit. They are rich in antioxidants and low in calories, making them a great beverage option if you're bored with water. Some studies have even found that tea can lower mortality rates and improve blood pressure and cholesterol.

How to pick healthy foods

To eat healthy, you need to develop healthy habits. One important skill for healthy living is to know how to pick healthy foods that support your goals. Here are some tips to support your healthy eating journey.

Prioritize produce. Fruits and vegetables will always be some of the most nutritious foods you can pick up. They should play a central role in your diet, particularly leafy greens. Another good rule of thumb is to eat produce seasonally. While most foods are available year-round thanks to our global economy, fruits and vegetables are the most nutritionally dense when they're grown locally and seasonally. You can check what's in season based on where you live using this tool.

Focus on whole grains. If most of your carbohydrates come from whole grains, fruits, and starchy vegetables, you're in a good place. Whole grains contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This means that they provide long-lasting energy, as opposed to the crash you might experience after eating processed snacks high in sugar and refined flours. Great options include sweet potatoes, rice, lentils, whole-grain bread, and oats.

Check your plate. "One of the best gut checks to see if you're eating right is to look at your plate breakdown," says Rita Faycurry, RD. "Half your plate should be fruits and vegetables, a palm-size serving of protein, a serving of whole grains, and a small serving of dairy and/or healthy fats." You can learn more about the plate system with MyPlate.

Fit in healthy fats. Be sure to include a few servings of nuts, avocado, oily fish like salmon, chia seeds, olive oil, or sardines each day. Monounsaturated fats are great for heart health and also support cellular development.

Foods to limit

Just as important as knowing what healthy foods to eat is knowing what foods to limit. Here are some foods you should consume in moderation:

  • Saturated fat is found in fried food, fatty cuts of meat, cured meats, processed cakes, and more. In excess, saturated fat can cause heart issues and raise your cholesterol levels.
  • Added sugar can sneak its way into plenty of foods you might not expect, like ketchup, salad dressing, bread, and pasta sauce. Current dietary guidelines recommend limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of your total daily intake. Added sugars aren't always called "sugar," so be sure to read up on all the different kinds that you can check for on nutrition labels.
  • Alcohol can cause increased blood pressure, liver damage, cancer, and several other health conditions. It is also a source of extra calories that have no benefit for your overall health. If you choose to drink, keep it to one drink per day or just a few drinks per week.
  • Processed snacks are usually full of added sugar, saturated fat, and other subpar ingredients. If you need a quick pick-me-up, consider whole fruit or something with protein to keep you. full until the next meal rolls around.

Learn to make better food choices

If you're looking to get better at healthy eating and improve your overall health, working with a registered dietitian is a great place to start. An RD can help you find substitutes for your favorite foods and support you every step of the way, even when things get challenging and you're struggling to stick to your eating plan. Your RD is there to educate, support, and be your cheerleader as you improve your eating habits and learn to make healthy choices.

Finding a dietitian is easy with Fay, where you can get connected to a board-certified RD who is covered by your health insurance. This means you get access to top-quality care while paying as little as $0 per session.

Click here to get started with a Fay dietitian.

The views expressed by authors and contributors of such content are not endorsed or approved by Fay and are intended for informational purposes only. The content is reviewed by Fay only to confirm educational value and audience interest. You are encouraged to discuss any questions that you may have about your health with a healthcare provider.

  • Mayo Clinic - Nutrition and healthy eating
  • Harvard Health Publishing - 10 superfoods to boost a healthy diet
  • Mayo Clinic - Whole grains: Hearty options for a healthy diet
  • The Nutrition Source - Harvard School of Public Health - Tea
  • American Heart Association - Monounsaturated Fats
  • American Heart Association - Saturated Fats
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - The Scoop on Added Sugars
  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics - Eat Right and Drink Responsibly

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Maeve Ginsberg

Written by Maeve Ginsberg

Maeve Ginsberg is a health and wellness writer with a personal passion for fitness. As an ACE Certified Personal Trainer and former powerlifter, she loves combining her interests in health with her writing. Maeve has a Bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University. 

Rita Faycurry, RD

Medically Reviewed by Rita Faycurry, RD

Rita Faycurry, RD is a board-certified Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in clinical nutrition for chronic conditions. Her approach to health is centered around the idea that the mind and body are intimately connected, and that true healing requires an evidence-based and integrative approach that addresses the root cause of disease. In her books and articles, Rita offers practical tips and insights on how to care for your body, mind, and spirit to achieve optimal health and wellness.