Takeaway: Eating healthy can help you reach your weight loss goals, reduce your risk of cancer, and improve your heart health. Staying hydrated, focusing on nutrients over calories, and checking nutrition labels are some of the most effective ways to improve your eating habits.
For most of us, it can be hard to understand not only when but also how to start eating healthy. With today’s trendy fad diets, superfoods, and aesthetically pleasing menu options, eating healthy can seem like quite the chore.
The truth is, developing healthy eating habits does not have to be this confusing, convoluted, painful process that takes up a majority of time in our day. If we learn and stick to the basics, it can be a simple, straightforward, and satisfying part of our daily life.
What are the Benefits of Eating Healthy?
Whether you’re looking to shed a few pounds or to improve your health in general, a healthy diet is the best weapon in your arsenal. Fueling up on the right whole foods has been linked to both physical and mental benefits. The benefits of eating healthy can range from the optimal performance of the heart and brain, better moods and clearer thoughts, to stabilized blood sugar levels, ultimately reducing cravings and the need for excess snacking. Eating well has been shown to better performance in the workplace.
Below is a list of the many benefits associated with eating healthy — some which have nothing to do with weight loss:
1. Weight Loss
The most noted benefit of eating healthy is weight loss, or in some cases, weight maintenance. Weight loss can reduce the risk of chronic conditions such as heart disease and some forms of cancer.
You’ve probably heard of the 80/20 fitness rule which states that weight loss is based on 80% diet and 20% exercise. The key to weight loss is to be at a constant calorie deficit or take in fewer calories than you burn. The reasoning dieting and healthy eating are so much more effective than exercise when it comes to weight loss is because while you can eat healthily, not do exercise, and lose weight, you simply can’t out-train a bad diet.
2. Reduce the Risk of Cancer
Poor eating habits can lead to unhealthy conditions, such as obesity, heart disease, hormonal imbalances, and even developing some forms of cancer. According to research from the American Cancer Society, excess body weight is thought to be responsible for about 8% of all cancers in the United States.
Studies show that overweight or obese people who intentionally lose weight have reduced levels of certain hormones related to cancer risk. These hormones include insulin, estrogens, and androgens.
3. Improvements to Your Gut Health
One of the many benefits of eating healthy is improving your gut health which in turn improves your colon health. A diet rich in whole fruits, legumes, veggies, and whole grains provides a mix of prebiotics and probiotics that encourage good bacteria to develop in the colon. Colon health plays an important role in metabolism and digestion because 70% of our immune system is also housed in our gut (this is a direct correlation to brain function, too)!
4. Heart Health and Stroke Prevention
Cardiovascular diseases are not uncommon and continue to rank #1 in the leading causes of death in Americans. One of the benefits of eating healthy is that it can significantly reduce your chances of developing any of these diseases. Increasing levels of physical activity and changing old eating habits can prevent strokes and improve your heart health.
5. Setting a Good Example for Your Kids
Your children will pick up on your behaviors, beliefs, and eating habits. Feeding your children nutritious, homemade meals can increase the chance of them adopting a healthy lifestyle later on in life. By preparing your children’s meals at home, you can control all of the ingredients that go into each and every meal, setting them up for success.
6. Support Brain Health
A research study from the Rush Institute for Healthy Aging found a link between highly processed foods and a range of neurological problems. In some cases, unhealthy eating was linked back to feelings of sadness and depression. Nutrients such as potassium, omega 3s, and magnesium can improve brain cell function. Bananas are high in potassium, salmon is high in omega 3s, and avocados are great sources of magnesium!
7. Strong Bones and Teeth
Magnesium and calcium are essential to developing strong bones and teeth. You can find magnesium in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Foods rich in calcium include leafy greens, legumes, tofu, low-fat dairy products, and whole fruits.
8. Improve Your Mood
A limited amount of research has shown a link between eating habits and a good mood. A 2016 research study found that individuals who followed a high glycemic diet experienced a higher level of fatigue and depression than those who didn’t.
High glycemic levels imply that one consumes a generous amount of processed and refined carbs. Refined carbs include white bread, white flour, soft drinks, and sugary breakfast cereals.
Essential nutrients such as creatine, omega 3s, and vitamin D can combat depression and boost your mood.
9. Get a Good Night’s Sleep
An estimated 18 million Americans suffer from sleep apnea. This is a sleep-related sleeping disorder that is common in people who are obese or overweight. With sleep apnea, your breathing is briefly and repeatedly interrupted during sleep, resulting in an affect in your quality of sleep.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that people who ate a wide variety of whole foods, maintained proper hydration, and consumed a large number of antioxidants got better quality, restorative sleep at night than those with poor eating habits.
10. Reduce Inflammation
Research published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that people who eat whole grains over refined grains cut their levels of C-reactive protein—a key indicator of inflammation—by 38%. The same study also found that individuals who followed a whole grain diet significantly reduced body fat percentage in the abdominal region.
11. It Prolongs Your Life
A prolonged life is one of the many benefits of eating healthy. Because food is fuel for the human body, filling up on healthy foods can fuel your engine to run better, stronger, and longer. A research study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that men and women who followed a healthy lifestyle were 82% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease compared to those people who lived an unhealthy lifestyle over the span of 30 years.
How to Start Eating Healthy?
Eating healthy does not have to feel like a complicated math equation with no solution. Eating healthy is about sticking to the basic rules of nutrition.
If you’re not sure how to start eating healthy, you can start by incorporating some of the following tips we’ve provided into your daily diet:
1. Drink Enough Water Daily
Before we dive into how to start eating healthy, let’s talk about the importance of proper hydration. Staying hydrated not only helps your body function properly but can also help you not to overeat. Drinking the recommended 8 glasses a day can also help curb cravings, keep you awake, and help with digestion issues.
2. Check the Nutrition Label at the Grocery Store
Because it is all based on advertising, the front packaging of any food product can be very misleading. The real story lies on the flip side where a list of every ingredient can be found. Normally, the more ingredients listed, the more processing plants that particular food item paid a visit to.
As of 2016, the FDA requires that all food companies place an “added sugar” line to all their nutritional labels. This small change is a big step toward eliminating food items with added sugars from our diet and becoming aware of what is being put into our food supply.
3. Eat Whole Foods as Often as Possible
Unprocessed, whole foods will give you the most benefits. The more food is processed, the more nutrients are eliminated. Instead of antioxidants and fiber, we are left with high sodium and added sugars.
When we eat whole foods, we are consuming the food in its natural state. It’s the difference between an orange and bottled orange juice, or a baked potato and a potato chip. Purchasing a whole food means it still has all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that it carries naturally.
4. Don’t Skip Meals
Experts all agree that you should be eating regularly as skipping meals can have adverse effects on both the mind and the body. Skipping meals will leave you feeling hungry, deprived, and ultimately set you right back to your old ways. We are more likely to overeat when we skip meals.
Aim to eat smaller portions more frequently, try every four to three hours. Eating regularly throughout the day can boost your energy, speed up your metabolism, and prevent overeating in the later hours of the day.
5. Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Get rid of the nonperishable goods in your desk drawer to make room for energy-boosting, nutritious snacks. These are naturally designed to keep you fuller longer and more alert throughout the day. Having good snack options on hand is especially important if you are also hitting the gym. Healthy snacks will help you get the nutrients your body needs to restore energy and repair muscles.
Look for snacks that contain both protein and carbohydrates—protein will help your muscles grow, and carbs will give you a boost of energy you need. Some great examples of healthy snacks include fresh fruit, mixed nuts, protein shakes, hummus, sliced vegetables, guacamole, and cheese sticks.
6. Choose Protein That Has Not Been Processed
Stay away from pre-packaged instant meatballs and chicken nuggets. Meat that comes in strips, slices, or has been pre-seasoned is usually packed with a number of preservatives and sodium. Opt for lean meats, and if possible, go for the grass-fed variety.
7. Don’t Settle for the “Fat-free” or “Low fat” Variety
A fat-free or fat-reduced version of your favorite products and foods will not satisfy the craving you’ve had for days. Many of these products are as taste-free as they are fat-free.
To make up for the lack of fatty ingredients, food makers tend to add sugar, thickeners, and salt. Instead of eating five servings of a fat-free version, try one full serving of the regular, or full fat, option and assess your satiety.
8. Make an Effort to Cook at Home
You can learn how to start eating healthy by watching videos, reading recipes, and making your own home-cooked meals. Trust us; the result is worth the effort.
Making your meals at home allows you to pick and choose exactly which ingredients are going into your food. Cooking for yourself can help you maintain a healthy weight, and set a good example for your family members who might develop the same lasting healthy habits.
- Focus on Nutrients, Not Calories
Not all calories are created equal, which means if you want to learn how to start eating healthy, you need to focus on quality over quantity- what is in the foods you eat. The recommended caloric daily intake varies on an individual basis.
A balanced diet, however, tends to have generally the same nutritional breakdown: 45-55% of your calories should come from carbohydrates, 15-20% should come from total fat, and 30-35% of your calories should come from protein sources.
You can adjust these metrics according to the diet plan you follow. But the bottom line is this–no matter your personal macronutrient needs, paying close attention to the nutritional breakdown of the foods you choose to eat will put you closer towards your goals.
10. Treat Yourself From Time to Time
It is okay to cut yourself some slack now and then. Treat meals can actually benefit a diet plan in a number of ways! For one, once your body adjusts to a low-calorie diet, it can lead to a plateau. A treat meal can help jumpstart your metabolism and encourage the body to keep burning calories.
The best way to learn how to start eating healthy is to be making healthy choices from the comfort of your own home! The web is filled with an abundance of healthy recipes, regardless of your specific diet and lifestyle needs-everything quick, easy recipes, vegan, gluten-free, you name it!
We’ve provided a list of recipes with a variety of subcategories to meet a wide range of meal-time and cooking needs:
Healthy Breakfast Recipes
1. Gluten-Free Pumpkin Waffles
These gluten-free pumpkin waffles will taste delicious with any of the toppings you choose! They’re under 200 calories and contain 9 grams of protein.
2. Chocolate-Peanut Butter Protein Shake
Who doesn’t love chocolate and peanut butter? This creamy, chocolate peanut butter protein shake will keep you feeling satisfied for hours. The Greek yogurt, peanut butter, and soy milk in this recipe make it a protein-packed breakfast option.
3. Bacon n’ Egg Pockets
This 15-minute recipe is nut-free, soy-free, and loaded with flavor. These delicious, fork-free breakfast pockets are only 162 calories per serving.
4. Mushroom-Spinach Eggs Benedict
This mushroom-spinach eggs Benedict recipe is high in calcium and fiber. If you follow a vegetarian diet, you’ll be pleased to know that this nutritious and healthy breakfast has 15 grams of protein.
5. Orange Whole-Wheat Pancakes
These calcium-packed orange whole wheat pancakes are delicious and have 5 grams of fiber. This recipe is sure to become a family favorite in no time.
6. Apple Pie Overnight Oats
Save some time in the morning with this apple pie overnight oats recipe. This recipe requires no cooking and only takes a total of 5 minutes to prep. Your taste buds are in for a real treat!
7. Southwestern Waffle
Add some avocado and fresh salsa to your breakfast with this Southwestern waffle. This open-faced egg sandwich is low in sodium and only has 2 grams of sugar.
8. Sweet Potato Hash Browns
Opt for a gluten-free, crispy, and healthy breakfast with this sweet potato hash brown recipe. Serve them with a side of eggs for a fully balanced and nutritious meal.
9. Ham & Egg Breakfast Burrito
A breakfast burrito is always a good idea, and this ham and egg breakfast burrito is quick to make and easy to eat. Enjoy 13 grams of fiber from the low-carb, high fiber tortilla that is used in this practical recipe.
10. Egg Salad Avocado Toast
This egg salad avocado toast takes 5 minutes to make and is packed with healthy fats. Fuel your body with this healthy breakfast that contains 11 grams of protein, 5 grams of fiber, and 14 grams of essential fats.
Healthy Dinner Recipes
1. Zucchini Noodles with Avocado Pesto & Shrimp
Nothing says healthy dinner like a low carb meal! Replace the high carb pasta with some spiralized zucchini noodles to follow this avocado pesto and shrimp recipe.
2. Roasted Salmon with White Bean Ragout
Salmon fillets seasoned with salt and pepper are roasted and served on a stew-like ragout of cannellini beans, chard, and cherry tomatoes. This easy, tasty, and healthy dinner recipe is under 300 calories.
3. Italian Pork with Mashed Sweet Potatoes
An Italian-inspired recipe that combines pork shoulder with aromatic fennel for a combined 36 grams of protein. Serve with steamed green beans for a complete meal.
4. Beef & Bean Sloppy Joes
This healthy dinner recipe is a copycat of the comfort food classics. Replace some of the meat with beans for a boost of fiber. This rendition of the classic recipe also cuts back on 12 grams of added sugar.
5. Cheesy Spinach & Artichoke Stuffed Spaghetti Squash
A delicious, creamy casserole you can feel good about eating. Slash calories and carbs by 75% with this stuffed spaghetti squash recipe.
Healthy Chicken Recipes
1. Chicken Breasts with Mushroom Cream Sauce
This chicken with mushroom cream sauce recipe has the perfect combination of creamy and delicate flavors that your tastebuds need. This healthy dinner idea is under 300 calories and calcium-packed.
2. Cauliflower Chicken Fried Rice
If you are the type of person who likes to cut back on those carbs for dinner, then you can replace rice with cauliflower in this chicken fried rice recipe.
3. Lemon & Dill Chicken
This Greek-inspired dish is under 200 calories and easy to follow. Make it a meal and serve with roasted broccoli and whole-wheat orzo.
4. Chicken, Quinoa & Sweet Potato Casserole
This protein-packed dinner idea takes 15 minutes to prep and 45 minutes to cook. Even better, you won’t need to cook dinner for the remainder of the week with how much it makes!
5. Hummus-Crusted Chicken
In the oven, the hummus coating caramelizes slightly, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds turns extra-crunchy and nutty. This delicious chicken dish is gluten and sugar-free.
Healthy Crockpot Recipes
1. Slow-Cooker Picadillo
This picadillo recipe uses bison or lean beef instead of ground beef and a variety of tasty spices for an abundance of flavor.
2. Swedish Yellow Split Pea Soup with Ham
It is recommended that you use the highest quality ham you can find to get the most flavor. This healthy crockpot pea soup recipe is under 500 calories.
3. Slow-Cooker Vegetarian Lasagna
This vegetarian lasagna is simpler than it sounds. Just chop your veggies, and proceed to layer your ingredients into the slow-cooker.
4. Slow-Cooker Stout & Chicken Stew
This chicken stew is braised in Guinness stout and combined with hearty vegetables, and just the right amount of bacon for added savoriness.
5. Slow-Cooked Brisket in Onion Gravy
This is one of the only crockpot recipes that’s under 300 calories! This brisket is cooked with beef broth and loads of onions that melt down into a luscious gravy.
1. Bev’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Give chocolate chip cookies a healthy upgrade by cutting back on sugar and incorporating whole grains.
2. Vanilla Yogurt with Apricots
The probiotics in yogurt and the fiber in apricots make this one healthy dessert idea!
3. Red Wine Chocolate Lava Cakes
Perfectly portioned molten cupcakes under 300 calories. Cut them open for some gooey goodness fun!
4. Lattice-Topped Apple Pie
This delicious apple pie dessert will be gone in seconds at your next family gathering. The best part? This dessert is full of fiber and low in sodium!
5. Gluten-Free Fudgy Teff Brownies
These gluten-free brownies are moist and satisfying, intensely chocolatey and have a tender texture. Did we mention they’re also packed with calcium?
Is There Such a Thing as Healthy Fast Food?
While there is no such thing as healthy fast food restaurants, the good news is that there is such a thing as healthier fast food options! You can order a meal at most fast food restaurant that won’t throw you completely off track.
Below we provide a short list of the healthier fast food options out there:
1. Chick-Fil-A: Grilled Chicken Sandwich and Fruit Cup
- Calories: 400
- Protein: 30 g
- Fat: 3.5 g
- Saturated Fat: 1 g
- Cholesterol: 55 mg
- Sodium: 1120 mg
- Carbohydrates: 65 g
- Fiber: 6 g
2. Wendy’s: Plain Baked Potato and Small Chili
- Calories: 460
- Protein: 21 g
- Fat: 6 g
- Saturated Fat: 2.5 g
- Cholesterol: 40 mg
- Sodium: 855 mg
- Carbohydrates: 80 g
- Fiber: 12 g
3. Jack in the Box: Chicken Teriyaki Bowl
- Calories: 585
- Protein: 25 g
- Fat: 6 g
- Saturated Fat: 1 g
- Cholesterol: 36 mg
- Sodium: 1461 mg
- Carbohydrates: 106 g
- Fiber: 4 g
4. McDonald’s Southwest Salad and Fruit n Yogurt Parfait
- Calories: 480
- Protein: 34
- Fat: 11 g
- Saturated Fat: 4 g
- Cholesterol: 75 mg
- Sodium: 1045 mg
- Carbohydrates: 61 g
- Fiber: 7 g
5. Subway: Veggie Delite Sandwich and Tomato Orzo Soup
- Calories: 360
- Protein: 14 g
- Fat: 3.5 g
- Saturated Fat: 1 g
- Cholesterol: 5 mg
- Sodium: 820 mg
- Carbohydrates: 69 g
- Fiber: 7 g
Healthy Eating Quotes to Get You Inspired
Get inspired and stay motivated with these uplifting quotes from some of your favorite athletes, celebrities, and fitness enthusiasts:
“It’s not about perfect. It’s about effort. And when you bring that effort every single day, that’s where transformation happens. That’s how change occurs. “
– Jillian Michaels
“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.”
– Jim Rohn
“Nutrition is so important. It can’t be stressed enough.”
– Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson
“Exercise is king. Nutrition is queen. Put them together, and you’ve got a kingdom.”
– Jack Lalanne
“I don’t go long without eating. I never starve myself: I grab a healthy snack.”
– Vanessa Hudgens
“Simply by starting to cook again, you declare your independence from the culture of fast food. As soon as you cook, you start thinking about ingredients. You start thinking about plants and animals and not the microwave. And you will find that your diet, just by that one simple act, that is greatly improved.”
– Michael Pollan
“If you’re trying to achieve, there will be roadblocks. I’ve had them; everybody has had them. But obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”
– Michael Jordan
“The key thing is figuring out what your issues are, and it’s never really about the food. You have to be real and honest with yourself. I had to stop and look and ask myself, ‘Why do I want this? What is the real reason?’ At times it was comfort food like chocolate. I love chocolate, and I realized it relaxes me, so when you acknowledge what the issue is, you can control it better.”
– Jennifer Hudson