Healthy Eating

A healthy diet helps pave the way to a healthy heart and blood vessels, strong bones and muscles, a sharp mind, and so much more.

Confused about what constitutes a healthy diet? You aren't alone. Over the years, what seemed to be flip flops from medical research combined with the flood of diet books and diet plans based on little or no science have muddied the water. But a consensus has emerged about the basics, which are really pretty simple.

An important take-home message is to focus on the types of foods you eat and your overall dietary pattern, instead of on individual nutrients such as fat, dietary cholesterol, or specific vitamins. There are no single nutrients or vitamins that can make you healthy. Instead, there is a short list of key food types that together can dramatically reduce your risk for heart disease.

Eat more of these foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, vegetable oils, beans, nuts, and seeds.

Eat less of these foods: whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods, red meat, processed meats, highly refined and processed grains and sugars, and sugary drinks.

Healthy Eating Articles

Controlling what - and how much - we eat

Because humans have evolved to crave fat, salt, and sugar, it is difficult to shift away from them and toward a healthier diet, but it is possible to learn to like vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain foods more. Eating a variety of vegetables at a single meal is a way to encourage greater intake. If you keep an open mind and try a variety of vegetables, you might find varieties that contain bitter compounds to which you are less sensitive. The genetic variations that affect reactions to bitter-tasting vegetables may also influence a person's liking of whole grains.  One strategy for making whole grains more appealing is simply to mix in some refined grains. You can sneak more whole grains into your diet by substituting half the flour in cookie, muffin, or bread recipes with whole-wheat flour, mixing wheat germ into meatballs, meatloaf, or burgers or adding barley, a whole grain that's mild in flavor, as a thickener in soups and stews. (Locked) More »

Harvard researchers continue to support their healthy eating plate

Harvard Health Publishing, in conjunction with nutrition experts at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) first unveiled the Healthy Eating Plate in 2011. It's an evidence-based visual guide that provides a blueprint for eating a healthy meal. Like the U.S. government's MyPlate, the Healthy Eating Plate is simple and easy to understand—and it addresses important deficiencies in the MyPlate icon. "Unfortunately, like the earlier U.S. Department of Agriculture Pyramids, MyPlate mixes science with the influence of powerful agricultural interests, which is not the recipe for healthy eating," said Walter Willett, Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and chair of the Department of Nutrition at HSPH. "The Healthy Eating Plate is based on the best available scientific evidence and provides consumers with the information they need to make choices that can profoundly affect our health and well-being." View the Healthy Eating Plate. More »

Healthy Eating Plate

The Healthy Eating Plate was created by Harvard Health Publishing and nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health. It offers more specific and more accurate recommendations for following a healthy diet than MyPlate, developed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Service. In addition, the Healthy Eating Plate is based on the most up-to-date nutrition research, and it is not influenced by the food industry or agriculture policy. Click to enlarge More »

Adult food allergies

Sometimes adults suddenly develop allergies to foods they have eaten since they were children. Experts have two explanations for food allergies that crop up in adulthood. They may be the result of a delayed or extended period of sensitization to an allergen or a cross-reaction to some other allergen, such as pollen. The body's immune system mistakes a protein for the pollen and initiates a reaction. (Locked) More »

Fiber on a winning streak

Eating high-fiber foods helps lower cholesterol, and research is now suggesting that it may also help protect against respiratory and infectious diseases. (Locked) More »

More dietary advice

I read the column about dietary guidelines and caloric percentages, but I'm not a math guy. Any chance you could put it in English for me? (Locked) More »

September 2011 references and further reading

Boden WE, O'Rourke RA, Teo KK, Hartigan PM, Maron DJ, Kostuk WJ, Knudtson M, Dada M, Casperson P, Harris CL, Chaitman BR, Shaw L, Gosselin G, Nawaz S, Title LM, Gau G, Blaustein AS, Booth DC, Bates ER, Spertus JA, Berman DS, Mancini GB, Weintraub WS. Optimal medical therapy with or without PCI for stable coronary disease. New England Journal of Medicine 2007; 356:1503-16. Borden WB, Redberg RF, Mushlin AI, Dai D, Kaltenbach LA, Spertus JA. Patterns and intensity of medical therapy in patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention. JAMA 2011; 305:1882-9. Maron DJ, Boden WE, Weintraub WS, Calfas KJ, O'Rourke RA. Is optimal medical therapy as used in the COURAGE trial feasible for widespread use? Current Treatment Options in Cardiovascular Medicine 2011; 13:16-25. (Locked) More »

Stress and overeating

Stress hormones trigger increased appetite in general, and cravings for fatty, sugary foods in particular. Once ingested, fat- and sugar-filled foods seem to have a feedback effect that inhibits activity in the parts of the brain that produce and process stress and related emotions. So part of our stress-induced craving for those foods may be that they counteract stress.   (Locked) More »