This story was updated on Oct. 9.
Healthy eating can be easy if you follow a few simple rules. We guide you through three types of food you should eat more of and three types to avoid. Plus, we follow up each suggestion with an actionable tip from registered dietician Angela Ginn-Meadow.
Here's what to remember:
Nuts and seeds. They contain all the nutrients you need to kick-start the growth of new life. "Nuts and seeds have an incredibly powerful mixture of healthy fats, fiber and probably most importantly trace nutrients," says Dariush Mozaffarian, a cardiologist and the dean of the nutrition school at Tufts University. "These flavonols, these polyphenols, have a range of effects on us, on our gut bacteria, on our livers, on our cellular functions that are incredibly beneficial as we age."
Regularly eating a (portion-controlled) handful of any kind of nut also can help ward off excessive weight gain.
Try this: If you're worried about portion control, try snacking on pistachios that need to be cracked open — this can help you slow down.
Fruits and vegetables. The nutrition mandate to eat more fruits and vegetables should come as no surprise. But these two tips might help you follow the rule more easily. First, they don't have to be fresh to be healthy. "If you get frozen fruits or vegetables, that's great. If you can get canned fruits or vegetables that don't have a lot of sodium or added sugar, that's fine," Mozaffarian says.
Second, fruit is not the bad guy. "Natural sugars that are still packaged in the food that they were intended to be in are good for us," says Ginn-Meadow, the registered dietician. Mozaffarian adds: "In long-term observational studies, people who eat more fruit gain less weight and have lower risk of diabetes."
Try this: If your greens or peppers are starting to go bad, chop them up and throw them in the freezer for later. Now you have ingredients for an omelet or stir-fry. Voila!
Healthy fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids from seafood. Omega-3 fatty acids are great for the brain and heart. "Babies who got more omega-3s in their diets either from formula or from their mothers taking supplements or having fish had better brain function," Mozaffarian says. If you don't eat fish, you can also get omega-3s from flax seeds, walnuts or chia seeds.
There are lots of other healthy fats out there too: nuts, fish, avocados, plant oils, extra virgin olive oil, soybean oil and canola oil.
Try this: Fish can be pricy, but frozen and canned fish like sardines, salmon and tuna can be pretty affordable. Get creative with recipes for tuna salad or salmon cakes.
Processed meat. "There's about 400% more sodium in processed meats than in unprocessed meats," Mozaffarian says. That's because salt is used to process meat. So are nitrates. There's some evidence that nitrates can lead to the formation of compounds that are carcinogenic to us. In particular, eating lots of bacon is linked to a higher risk of colorectal cancer.
Try this: If you have a hankering for that smoky essence of bacon, try layering on other flavors, like caramelized onions or smoked Gouda.
Sugary drinks and refined carbohydrates. "Liquid sugar from soda and energy drinks is, Mozaffarian says, "the worst way to consume sugar." There was a study that found drinking just one sugary drink a day can increase the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by about 20%. Also, refined starch is the hidden sugar, so think twice before eating starchy snacks like crackers and pretzels.
Try this: If you crave starchy snacks like pretzels with the added salt, swap in edamame instead.
Salt, especially in packaged foods. "The most obvious and well-confirmed problem with too much salt is it raises your blood pressure," Mozaffarian says. "And high blood pressure is a clear risk factor for stroke and for heart attacks."
Cutting back on salt can be tricky because it's often hidden in foods where you don't even suspect it, like bread and breakfast cereal. "When you're looking at a snack item," Ginn-Meadow says, "aim for no more than 100 to 150 milligrams of sodium."
Try this: If you pick up a can of beans with high sodium content, rinse them off with tap water to flush out the extra salt.