The Best Healthy Foods—And Foods to Eat in Moderation

The Best Healthy Foods—And Foods to Eat in Moderation


Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins are all great choices if you’re trying to make healthy changes to your diet. However, some may say there are foods worse than others, like red meat or canned fruits and veggies, when it comes to a person’s diet.

In reality, these foods aren’t all bad or unhealthy. They are often labeled that way due to their effects on the body when a person has too much. Still, a lot of the foods that are considered the “worst” foods may still be enjoyed in moderation.

Everyone will have different dietary needs, meaning that portions from different food groups to get the nutrients they need will vary. Just be sure to consult with a healthcare provider before putting an eating plan together. They will be able to provide more education about nutrients and help you make decisions about the foods you can eat.

Read on to learn more about healthy foods as well as some that are great to enjoy every now and then.

Getty Images

Here are some of the best healthy foods you’ll want to try, from avocado and berries to cottage cheese and ancient grains.

Dark, Leafy Greens

Dark green vegetables, such as spinach, Swiss chard, kale, and broccoli, are among the best sources of vitamin E. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant. Research suggests that antioxidants may protect the body against pro-inflammatory molecules called cytokines.

Dark green vegetables are also high in nutrients like calcium, iron, folate, and vitamin K.

Kale, Cauliflower, and Brussels Sprouts

Kale isn’t the only nutritional superstar in the cruciferous vegetable category. Don’t forget to include cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and other cruciferous vegetables in your diet.

Cruciferous vegetables contain several vitamins and minerals, like potassium, phosphorus, and vitamin C. These veggies are also known to be packed with antioxidants. Multiple studies suggest cruciferous veggies may help reduce cancer risk thanks to the phytochemical sulforaphane.

The recommended vegetable servings for adults in at least 2.5 cups. One cup of raw or cooked broccoli, or two cups of raw bok choy, can help you get part of your daily vegetable servings.

Cruciferous vegetables can also be versatile—you can rice cauliflower and make it into a pizza crust.

Simply Cooked Beans

Chickpeas, black beans, and pinto beans provide an excellent meatless backbone for a healthy meal when combined with whole grains and vegetables. Beans have plenty of fiber and are a source of plant protein.

You can cook them yourself, drain and rinse them from a can, and add them to salads, soups, casseroles, or curry dishes such as Indian dal. Other ways to enjoy beans include:

  • Blending them to make hummus
  • Crisping them for a snack
  • Baking them in desserts
  • Pairing them with pasta


Dietitians like to call avocados a powerhouse superfood. Avocados deliver healthy fats, antioxidants, and nearly 20 vitamins and minerals.

One whole Hass avocado—without the skin and seed—supplies: 

  • Fiber: Over 30% of the daily value
  • Folate, a B vitamin needed to make new healthy cells: About 30% of the daily value 
  • Vitamin K, necessary for blood clotting and bone health: About 36% of the daily value 
  • Vitamin C, which supports the immune system and skin: About 20% of the daily value
  • Vitamin E, an antioxidant that also helps immune function: About 13% of the daily value 
  • Potassium, needed for heart, muscle, and nerve function and blood pressure regulation: About 20% of the daily value
  • Magnesium, a mineral required for over 300 reactions in the body— including heartbeat, bone health, blood sugar regulation, and nerve and muscle function: About 10% of the daily value 


Berries contain antioxidants and phytonutrients that help power your heart, keep your mind sharp, and kick-start digestion. Berries contain polyphenol compounds, which are known to have anti-inflammatory effects on people.

These types of fruit also include fiber and vitamin C. If you really want to enjoy them at their best, look for fresh berries that are firm, plump, and dry when shopping for groceries.

Frozen Fruits

Frozen fruits are some of the healthiest foods in the freezer section. Because most frozen fruits are frozen shortly after they’re harvested, they’re allowed to ripen fully. This means they’re chock full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, locking in many of their nutrients.

Whole Grains

Whole grains deliver healthy plant-based protein, vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. They are also a great source of fiber. They contain two types of fiber—soluble and insoluble—which benefit your health.

One way to get more whole grains is to try overnight oats. If your mornings are hectic, overnight oats are a nutritious and tasty meal that can be ready when you wake up. You can plan to arrange ingredients or make an entire week’s worth of breakfasts.

Ancient Grains

Ancient grains—such as quinoa, amaranth, and teff—are called “ancient” because they haven’t changed much in hundreds of years. Many ancient grains are nutritional powerhouses rich in protein, calcium, fiber, and lysine, an amino acid needed for tissue repair.


Oatmeal is rich in folate, fiber, and potassium. And it’s considered a heart-healthy food thanks to a water-soluble fiber in oats called beta-glucan, which has cholesterol-lowering properties.

If oats are fortified with omega-3s, they are also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids. Also, a great way to enjoy oatmeal is to use plain old-fashioned oats and sweeten them with fruit and honey.


Fish supplies you with omega-3s. Fatty fish (like salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines) is an excellent heart-healthy food.

Omega-3s help reduce inflammation in the body. Omega-3s have been shown to help prevent heart disease and stroke. Also, they may help with lowering the risk of cognitive dysfunction or cognitive disorders and may play protective roles in cancer and other conditions.

Fish also contain antioxidants. The ideal portion for fish is at least two servings of fish (ideally, fatty fish) every week.


Chicken is packed with protein. One 3.5-ounce breast packs 30 grams of protein. Skinless chicken also has less saturated fat and is an excellent source of niacin and selenium.

Niacin helps the body turn food into fuel. While your body is getting fuel with help of niacin, selenium is also helpful for keeping the body in tip-top shape. Selenium is an essential component of enzymes and proteins that help protect against cell damage and infections.


Tofu can contain up to 21.8 grams of protein in a half-cup serving of the firm version. This makes it a great plant-based protein for anyone, especially vegetarians and vegans. Additionally, studies link consuming moderate amounts of tofu with benefits, including a lower risk of heart disease.

If you want to add tofu to your diet, try it in stir-fries, curry dishes, lasagna, and vegetable scrambles.


Nuts are basically bite-sized nutrient bombs that set you up with heart-healthy fats, protein, vitamins, and minerals. A great way to enjoy them is to eat them raw or dry-roasted and with no salt added. 


According to the Department of Agriculture, one large raw egg contains about:

  • Protein: 6.30 grams 
  • Choline: 147 milligrams
  • Vitamin E: 0.53 milligrams
  • Vitamin D: 2.05 micrograms
  • Folate: 0.02 milligrams

There are often concerns about cholesterol in eggs. One study suggested that people who eat eggs aren’t any worse off than those who do not. People who reported eating up to one egg per day had an 18% lower risk of dying from heart disease than those who did not.

Greek Yogurt

Creamy and delicious, Greek yogurt tastes like dessert. It boasts at least twice the amount of protein than traditional yogurts. This type of yogurt also has a mineral content that is 1.5 times higher than regular yogurt.

Greek yogurt, like any yogurt, is versatile. You can use it for dips, smoothies, and even as a sour cream substitute.

Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is an excellent choice for those who must limit their overall carb intake. It’s rich in protein and low in carbohydrates.

It’s also a very versatile food. Blend it into smoothies or use it to make protein pancakes for a breakfast option that can fill you up.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Extra virgin olive oil has potential health benefits like reducing the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.

On its own, olive oil contains antioxidants. Cooking with this oil increases your body’s ability to absorb antioxidants from veggies. Researchers found that vegetables fried in extra virgin olive oil improved their antioxidant capacity.

That cooking process also increased the number of phenolic compounds in the vegetables. Phenolic compounds may help prevent health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or macular degeneration.

There are other foods to enjoy in limited amounts, like red and processed meats, canned foods, and flavored yogurts.

Canned Vegetables

Canned vegetables don’t always have all the nutrients you can get from fresh vegetables. They sometimes have sugar, additives, sodium, or flavorings.

If you need the convenience of canned vegetables, try to find fresh or frozen options first. However, if fresh or frozen vegetables aren’t an option, look for canned vegetables with no added salt or sugar. Remember: Canned vegetables can still help you get recommended veggie servings.

Canned Baked Beans

Canned beans can be a healthy addition to your pantry. Just check the labels for sugar or carb and sodium content.

Though one cup of baked beans with pork can have 13 grams of protein, it also comes with 50 grams of carbs and 1,050 milligrams of sodium. To enjoy baked beans, consider opting for low-sodium versions with less than 500 milligrams per serving.

Starchy Vegetables

One study tracked the eating patterns of 130,000 people over 24 years. It found that an increased intake of starchy vegetables—including corn, peas, and potatoes—was associated with weight gain. The study also found that eating more fruits and non-starchy vegetables, such as leafy greens and cruciferous veggies, was associated with a more stable weight.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t eat starchy vegetables. They still offer antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals and should be included in a healthy diet.

Processed Fruit Drinks

Often marketed as “real juice,” the labels on these products can come with sugar and artificial sweeteners. Some companies try to get around the sugar in fruit beverages. They’ll add artificial sweeteners that reduce the amount of sugar on the label.

Juicing a whole fruit also concentrates its sugars and often eliminates the fiber. Still, it can be okay to have fruit juice on occasion. Research found that drinking 100% fruit juices in moderation did not increase the risk for conditions including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.

Canned or Dried Fruit

Fruit is naturally sweet, so it shouldn’t need added sugar or “sugar-based flavor enhancers” often found in the canned kind. That can include heavy syrups, nectar, or honey. Dried fruit can also contain added sugar.

However, fruit in these forms can still be okay to eat. When deciding on canned varieties, look for fruit that’s in its own juice, unsweetened, or doesn’t have added sugar. Also, try to limit your dried fruit portions to a handful and choose plain versions.

White Bread and Pasta

The bran and germ are stripped away in refined grains—including white bread, pasta, rice, crackers, and pretzels. Refined grains may not have a lot of vitamins and minerals as a result.

Still, some kinds of refined grains may be enriched, allowing for some B vitamins and iron to be added back during the enrichment process.

Sugary Cereals

A big bowl of cereal can have as much sugar as a candy bar. Some research has found that sugary cereals can have between 0.7 and 48 grams of sugar per 100 grams of cereal.

When you want to enjoy your favorite cereal, try to stick to a serving or two, depending on the sugar content. You can do this by, for example, choosing a smaller bowl or getting cereal that may be packaged in smaller serving sizes.

Red Meat

Red meat can be high in cholesterol and saturated fat. Eating much of it is linked to several chronic health conditions, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Large amounts of red meat may also increase LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol, and negatively impact blood pressure and artery stiffening.

You don’t have to give up red meat altogether. Some options to consider are limiting your red meat intake to special occasions or to just a few times weekly or monthly. You can also make vegetables the main course of your meal when you have red meat.

Processed Meats

Limiting all processed foods when making healthy food choices is always a good idea—proteins are no exception. An occasional sausage or hot dog is OK. However, research has suggested links between eating processed meats and an increased risk of colorectal cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Flavored Yogurts

Flavored yogurts can come with added sugars. Also, many drinkable, squeezable yogurts contribute more calories from sugar than protein, and sipping instead of chewing can compromise satiety.

However, if you like these types of yogurts, try low-sugar versions or stick to smaller servings instead of using the larger tubs of yogurt. You can also swap them for unflavored yogurts and add the flavors—like fresh fruit or spices—that you enjoy.

Processed Substitute Cheese

Processed cheeses—like the yellow American cheese squares—are high in sodium, containing approximately 300 milligrams per slice. A sandwich made with sliced, processed cheese, turkey, and mustard can add up to over 1,500 milligrams of sodium.

You can still enjoy these cheeses in moderation. There also might be low-sodium cheeses in the versions you like, such as Swiss, mozzarella, or cheddar, that you could try.

Trans Fat

Trans fats are found in fried foods, baked goods, and processed snack foods as partially hydrogenated oils. Trans fats raise your LDL cholesterol levels while lowering your HDL, or “good,” cholesterol—and eating lots of them increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

It’s okay to want to enjoy foods that have trans fats. You can plan for times when you know you’ll want to consume them, like during a birthday party, and stick to only having them then. Also, whenever you pick out snacks, aim for ones with 5% trans fat or less.

Some healthy food options include dark leafy greens, fish, avocado, whole grains, berries, and extra virgin olive oil. Foods you can enjoy in moderation include red and processed meat, canned or dried fruit, sugary cereals or flavored yogurts, and processed cheese substitutes. Whatever you decide to eat, remember that the goal is to get enough of the nutrients that meet your dietary needs.

Related Posts

Foods to eat and avoid

Foods to eat and avoid

There is no standard diet for polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). However, some strategies — such as an anti-inflammatory diet — may help manage some symptoms.PCOS involves hormonal imbalances and metabolic disruption. It affects 5–10% of…