Top Healthy Eating Habits, According to a Dietitian

Including healthy eating habits in your life is a must if you want to support your overall well-being. While trendy diets and lifestyle overhauls are all the rage, the truth is that small changes and swaps can lead to big results in the health department.

As a registered dietitian, I have some go-to healthy-eating tips that I lean on when people want to eat more healthfully. All of my tips are relatively simple to do and don’t require juice cleanses or expensive supplements to accomplish.

To make implementing healthy eating habit changes more sustainable, I generally recommend that people choose two or three tips to kick-start their healthy eating journey. Once you master a few tips, you can add more.

Here are 20 tweaks you can make to your eating habits that are dietitian-approved and incredibly impactful for long-term healthy change.

1. Limit Drinks with Added Sugars

Added sugars are lurking in many seemingly healthy drinks, like fruit punch and sports drinks. Unfortunately, taking in too many added sugars has been linked to adverse outcomes including chronic inflammation, obesity, hypertension, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and even depression according to a 2024 review article in BMC Psychiatry.

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that people limit their added sugar intake to less than 10% of their total calories. For a 2,000-calorie diet, that means around 12 teaspoons of the sweet stuff. Yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average intake of added sugars among U.S. adults is about 17 teaspoons, far exceeding the suggested quota.

Swapping out beverages with added sugars—think regular soda, sweet tea, sports drinks, fruit punch, lemonade and fruit “drinks”—for no-sugar-added choices like water, seltzer water, unsweetened coffee or tea and even 100% fruit juice in moderation can give your body the hydration it needs without any added sugars.

2. Include Fermented Food in Your Diet

Kimchi, sauerkraut and other fermented foods not only taste delish, but they also fuel the body with live probiotics that support our overall health in various ways. To give your body a boost of probiotics, start your day with plain yogurt, enjoy a miso soup at dinnertime or sip on a kombucha midday for some fermented goodness.

3. Eat 2 to 3 Servings of Low-Mercury Non-Fried Fish Every Week

Although the 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that most Americans eat at least 8 ounces of fish every week, the majority of people are sorely missing the mark. Fish, especially oily fish like salmon, is a rich source of DHA omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, vitamin B12 and a slew of other important nutrients that support our health.

Eating fish is linked to a plethora of potential health benefits too, including a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, according to a 2022 review in Food Chemistry.

4. Swap Out Highly Processed Meat for Fresher Options

Highly processed meats like lunch meats, bacon and sausage are certainly convenient and incredibly appetizing. But these meat choices can also be loaded with nitrates, additives that, when heated, can produce potentially cancer-causing compounds, according to a 2020 report in Antioxidants (Basel). Many of these meat choices are loaded with sodium as well.

With that said, there are nitrate-free and reduced-sodium deli meats out there, so choose a deli counter with these options. Or use fresh cuts of meat like turkey, chicken and beef that are naturally lower-sodium and nitrate-free and can be just as satisfying to eat—and make healthy sandwich fillings too.

5. Have a Glass of Milk Every Day

Milk isn’t just for kids. As a staple food that is a perfect accompaniment to chocolate chip cookies, a glass of milk is loaded with 13 essential nutrients, including bone-building calcium, protein and magnesium. Yet, as nutrient-dense as milk is, most adults don’t drink even one glass of this beverage a day. If milk tends to bother your gut, try lactose-free milk or A2 milk to see if these options help.

6. Add Fruit to Your Midday Snack

In the U.S., only about 12% of us eat the recommended amount of fruit and 10% get the suggested servings of vegetables every day, per the CDC. And since a lower intake of fruit is linked to outcomes like increased risk of certain cancers, heart disease and stroke, sneaking in some fruit every day is a smart move.

When the 3 p.m. slump strikes, instead of reaching for sugary candy or caffeine-laden drinks, enjoying fruit as a part of your balanced snack can give you sustained energy along with some energy-supporting nutrients. Combining a serving of fruit with protein can help give your snack some staying power, so you will feel satisfied and avoid a potential sugar crash shortly after eating.

If you don’t have fresh fruit at your fingertips, know that dried, freeze-dried, frozen and canned fruit are all healthy options as well, as long as they don’t contain added salt or sugar. From freeze-dried blueberries to dried mango slices, the fruit choices are endless.

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7. Add More Vegetables to Your Dishes

Vegetables are one of the best sources of fiber, a nutrient that can help keep your body healthy by supporting gut health and possibly reducing the risk of developing certain cancers. Plus, many veggies are low in calories and can help make dishes a bit more satisfying and flavorful.

Adding vegetables to your dishes doesn’t mean living off of salad every day of the week. Adding extra broccoli to your stir-fry, a handful of spinach in your soup or diced bell pepper to your scrambled eggs can give your dishes a healthy boost in a simple way.

8. Avoid Eating in Front of the TV

Your meals are meant to be enjoyed. And when you eat while watching TV, you can end up being distracted and ultimately eat more calories while feeling less satisfied.

Instead, enjoy your meals with friends and family. There are even health benefits to sharing meals with others. Or, at the very least, simply make sure you are not distracted by the TV—or any device—while you are eating. Eating without distractions allows you to eat mindfully, which means you can pay attention to your body’s cues when it’s had enough to eat.

9. Choose BPA-Free Canned Foods

Canned foods like tuna, tomatoes and beans are convenient foods that can be included in a healthy diet. But if the cans that your food is stored in contain BPA, a chemical that helps prevent metal corrosion, you may not be eating as well as you think.

According to a 2020 review in Frontiers in Nutrition, some research has linked BPA exposure to cancers, endocrine disruption and reduced immune function. However, there are many unanswered questions about BPA’s metabolism and its toxic effects.

Most U.S. can manufacturers have voluntarily phased out BPA, but there’s concern that similar substitute materials may carry risks as well. At this point, there’s not enough known research to conclude the safety of these substitutes. Ultimately, if you’re concerned about these materials, choose foods stored in glass or aseptic paper-based boxes.

10. Plan Your Meals

Meal planning can help people eat a healthier diet and reduce the stress of trying to figure out what to eat at the last minute. Taking the time to plan out your meals for the week can help you navigate your healthy eating with ease. To meal-plan, figure out what you are going to eat for your meals throughout the week. Make yourself a shopping list and prep your ingredients for quick meals for the entire week.

11. Avoid Eating the Same Foods on Repeat

To eat a healthy diet, variety is key. Eating a wide variety of foods will give your body different nutrients and may help prevent nutritional gaps. And there are more benefits to food variety, For example, a 2022 study in Nutrients suggests that focusing on a variety of healthy foods may reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

One strategy that many dietitians recommend is to “eat the rainbow,” meaning that people should aim to eat foods that naturally contain a wide variety of colors throughout the week. Purple cabbage, orange carrots, red radishes and green spinach are all good-for-you foods, and each variety contains a different nutritional composition. Rotating your food can add some excitement to your plate as well as give your body different important nutrients every day. And while the rainbow does not include the color white, it’s important to include white fruits and vegetables—like potatoes and cauliflower—in your rotation, too, as they also have important nutrients.

12. Prep Your Veggies

Before you put your groceries away after your shopping haul, prep your veggies before you store them in the fridge. Having chopped onions and sliced cucumbers on hand makes it incredibly easy to add good-for-you vegetables to your dishes or for grab-and-go snacks.

13. Limit Diet Soda

Intuitively, it makes sense to believe that drinking diet soda is a healthy choice, thanks to the calorie-free sweetness that it provides. But it turns out that drinking diet soda isn’t as healthy a choice as we once thought—or what some advertisements would lead you to believe.

For example, a 2019 study in Circulation suggests that sipping on the bubbly sweet-tasting stuff is associated with an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. And a 2023 review in Cureus found connections between frequent diet soda consumption and a host of conditions, including poor mental health, delays in child nerve development, worsening retinopathy in people with diabetes, incidental end-stage kidney disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and multiple myeloma in men, rheumatoid arthritis in women, hip fractures, dental erosion, increases in breath alcohol concentration when used in alcoholic beverages, and accelerated cell aging. That’s a lot of reasons to watch your artificial sweetener intake!

14. Limit Fried Foods

There is nothing like biting into a crispy French fry or piece of fried chicken. But eating too many fried foods is linked to a slew of unsavory health outcomes. It might even impact your mental health. According to a 2023 study in PNAS, frequently noshing on fried foods was linked to a 12% increased risk of anxiety and a 7% increased risk of depression.

And a 2021 study in BMJ Heart suggests that regularly eating fried foods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease—and the relationship is linear, meaning, your risk of disease goes up the more you eat fried foods.

To get that satisfying crunch without the added calories and fat, opt for air-frying or baking your dishes instead.

15. Swap Cocktails for Mocktails

Consuming alcohol can increase the risk of certain types of cancers, per the CDC. But for some people, doing without an evening cocktail can be a huge life change. Enjoying a mocktail instead of a cocktail is one way to limit or eliminate alcohol intake while still partaking in the ritual of sipping on a delicious beverage.

16. Choose Leaner Cuts of Beef

Beef lovers can rejoice when they learn that beef can be a part of a healthy diet. It’s a natural source of iron, protein, zinc and many other important nutrients. And although some cuts of beef are on the higher side when it comes to saturated fat, leaner cuts, like flank steak, are perfectly appropriate to include in a wholesome diet.

17. Use Beans as a Protein Source

Regardless of whether you are a carnivore or a strict vegan, beans—aka legumes—can be one of the best foods to include in your healthy diet for many reasons. They’re a plant-based and economical protein source that is versatile and delicious. Beans naturally contain fiber, polyphenols (strong antioxidants) and resistant starch, all of which contribute to a lower risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease according to a 2021 Nutrients study.

18. Eat Breakfast

We have all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And research highlights exactly why this is. According to a 2021 study in Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, eating breakfast consistently is linked to a greater intake of many nutrients, including folate, calcium and iron.

This study also suggests that breakfast skippers tend to consume significantly more calories, carbohydrates, total fat, saturated fat and added sugars during lunch, dinner and snacks than people who eat breakfast.

19. Include Your Favorite Foods

While it is true that you shouldn’t be eating a dozen doughnuts or a gallon of ice cream every day if you want to live a healthier lifestyle—and live longer—giving up your favorite foods may lead to eating more of them in the long run.

Allow yourself to eat foods you enjoy to help keep you satisfied and on track. It’s even OK to eat dessert every day!

20. Embrace Herbs and Spices Instead of Salt

According to the FDA, Americans eat an average of about 3,400 milligrams of sodium per day, despite the Dietary Guidelines recommending a limit of fewer than 2,300 mg per day. Eating too much sodium daily may increase your risk of developing hypertension.

To reduce your sodium intake, a good start is to limit the amount of salt that is added to your dishes, as just 1 teaspoon of table salt contains over 2,000 mg of sodium. When you are limiting your added salt intake, add flavorful additions like herbs and spices that are sodium-free but pack a punch in the flavor department.