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

Can a hospital stay make you anemic?

Receiving hospital treatment for a heart attack may lead to anemia. There isn't much you can do to avoid developing anemia during a hospital stay other than asking doctors and nurses to minimize the amount of blood drawn for tests. Preventing the problem is better than trying to fix it, because if you do develop anemia while hospitalized, it isn't clear if treating the anemia — with either iron pills or a drug that stimulates the bone marrow to make more red blood cells — will improve quality of life or post–heart attack survival. (Locked) More »

Cholesterol-lowering foods outdo low-saturated-fat diet

People with high cholesterol are urged to eat a diet low in saturated fat and high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. A study suggests that when it comes to reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol, they may do even better if they also eat certain cholesterol-lowering foods. The findings were published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.   (Locked) More »

Latest thinking on a "cardioprotective" diet

A new emphasis on foods rather than nutrients aims to simplify recommendations for healthy eating, making them easier to understand and put into action. Nutrition experts at the Harvard School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, and Northwestern University have applied this food-based approach to a "cardioprotective diet." This table lists heart-healthy foods that you should eat more of and heart-harmful foods you should eat less of. More »

Mediterranean and Portfolio diets

If you need to lower your cholesterol and want to try changing your diet first, your best bets are a Mediterranean-type diet or the so-called portfolio diet. (Locked) More »

Now being served, better nutrition advice

The Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Health Publishing team up to produce a more substantive alternative to the government's MyPlate dietary recommendations. In certain respects, our plate just adds some substance to the government's rather sparse version. Like the government version, it's divided into sections that are meant to suggest relative proportions of different types of food, not strict calorie counts. In other respects, the Healthy Eating Plate is supposed to correct some misconceptions about good nutrition, such as the overemphasis on dairy and a reluctance to acknowledge healthful fats, which the 2010 Dietary Guidelines and the MyPlate icon perpetuate. (Locked) More »

What foods are included in the portfolio diet?

A study in The Journal of the American Medical Association found that a vegetarian diet emphasizing a “portfolio” of cholesterol-lowering foods did a better job of reducing low-density lipoprotein — the so-called “bad” cholesterol — than a low-saturated-fat vegetarian diet. All participants in the study followed a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (Locked) More »

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 »