“What are the healthiest foods for me to eat?” is by far, one of the most common questions I get as a dietitian. From friends, from family members, from clients, from people I meet at parties who ask what I do for a living – it’s constant.
And, often times, they’re asking in reference to their weight. They want to know how they can eat in a way that is going to support a healthy body, as defined by a healthy weight.
So First, Let’s Clarify What a Healthy Weight Is
Contrary to popular belief, a healthy weight is not something that can be determined by a number on a BMI chart or a scale.
Healthy weight is individual to each person and is an outcome, not a goal.
In other words, we achieve our individual healthy weights as a result engaging in behaviors that meet our body’s needs – our need for nourishing and satisfying food, for enjoyable movement, for rest and relaxation, for stress management and self-care.
Learn more about what a healthy weight is and isn’t here!
5 Foods to Eat to Support Your Healthy Weight
So because what we eat is part of how we achieve a healthy weight, and because I’m a dietitian whose job is to help people best understand how to meet this need, here are my 5 picks for foods to eat to support your individual healthy weight.
1. POTATOES! (and all other starchy foods)
Yes, I’m talking about bread, pasta, and rice, too.
If you are thinking “but won’t all those carbs make be gain weight?” I can assure you that, on their own, the answer is a firm, no. No one food or nutrient is solely responsible for weight gain or loss.
Moreover, your body LOVES and needs carbohydrates! It’s your body’s primary fuel source (and your brain’s only fuel source) and what gives you energy to get through your day.
- Getting a good dose of whole grains* and starchy vegetables each day can actually help to support your healthy weight by:
- Triggering the release of certain satiety hormones that help to promote a feeling of fullness.
- Providing your body with a good dose of health-promoting dietary fiber, which adds bulk to your meal helping to increase feelings of fullness, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and supports a healthy gut by acting as a fuel source for the “good” gut bacteria.
- Reducing feelings of deprivation that are common during carbohydrate restriction, which can lead to intense cravings for high carbohydrate foods and often result in overeating those foods.
*Whole grains (or foods made from them) contain all the essential parts and naturally-occurring nutrients of the entire grain seed in their original proportions, such as fiber. While refined grains are not absent of nutrition, they do lose some of their nutritional value, including fiber, during the refining process. So, while there is room for white bread, white pasta, and white rice in the diet, I recommend aiming to make at least 50% of the grains you choose whole.
2. LEAFY GREENS! (and all other produce)
Okay, so this probably doesn’t come as a surprise.
It’s true – fruits and vegetables are incredibly nutritious. They are packed with vitamins and minerals and health-promoting phytonutrients. Fruits and vegetables can also help increase the satisfaction we feel from meals because – like starchy vegetables and whole grains – they’re an excellent source of filling fiber!
When choosing produce, aim to incorporate a variety of different colors into your meals. All of the different color profiles of plants indicate different nutrient profiles, so the more colorful your plate the more nutritionally complete it will be!
Moreover, bright, colorful meals appeal to our sense of sight. And, since we eat with our eyes first, you may find that you take more pleasure in eating beautiful meals than you do bland, colorless ones.
3. CHICKEN! (and all other animal and plant proteins).
What qualifies as a “good” protein source?
Meat, poultry, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds are all excellent! The protein in these foods stimulates leptin secretion, a powerful hormone involved in signaling satisfaction, and suppresses ghrelin, one of the body’s primary hunger hormones.
So, including a source of protein at most meals and snacks is a great way to up the staying power of the meal, helping you to feel more full for longer.
Even better, you don’t need to eat an extraordinary amount of protein at each sitting to reap the benefits. For most people, the equivalent of three to four ounces of meat, poultry, or fish (about the size of a deck of cards), at most lunches and dinners is plenty to meet your body’s needs – but you can of course adjust the amount based on your individual preferences.
4. OLIVE OIL! (and all other fats and oils)
Fact: eating dietary fat will not, on its own, lead to gaining fat. Just like cutting dietary fat, on its own, does not lead to weight loss.
And, some fats can be incredibly health-supportive. For example, omega-3s found in oily fish (like salmon, trout, and tuna) and plant sources (like canola oil, ground flax seeds, chia seeds, and walnuts) are powerful anti-inflammatory agents and promote heart health.
Also, let’s not forget, fat tastes so good!
Adding a little dressing, sauce, infused oil, or even butter, to a dish can dramatically improve its flavor profile – making the eating experience more enjoyable and satisfying.
The key is figuring out just how much you need to get the desired flavor, which is often less than we initially assume.
5. FUN FOODS! (all those foods you previously labeled “bad foods”)
These are the foods that never make the “healthy” list – chips, chocolate, pizza, ice cream – you get the idea. It’s for this very reason that “eating healthy” by any traditional definition is an almost impossible feat for most of us. (Which is why we created our own definition!)
It is okay (and I argue, even necessary!) to eat some foods purely for pleasure, even if they have little nutritional value!
When these foods become allowed, what we realize is that our body craves balance and doesn’t want to overeat these foods because it doesn’t feel good. Even more, allowing space for fun foods and eating for pleasure can help to reduce cravings for these foods and actually help us moderate our consumption of them.
So.. We Should Allow Ourselves to Eat All Foods?
If you are thinking to yourself, “but she just told me I should eat all foods for a healthy weight,” then you are absolutely right. That’s exactly what I said.
The key to eating for health is not about finding that perfect list of “good” foods and avoiding all foods that someone, somewhere, at some point, has labeled “bad” because truthfully, there are no good or bad foods. And rigid rules, deprivation, and restriction often lead us down the very path we are trying to avoid.
The key is really focusing on variety, balance, and moderation in all food choices.
These three tenets will help to increase pleasure in eating, reduce restriction-induced cravings, stabilize appetite hormones, increase satiety value of meals, and give your body the perfect amount of fuel and combination of nutrients it needs to find your healthy body weight.