You can eat healthier by making a few swaps, such as choosing whole grains over refined grains and eating more protein.

A diet rich in fruits and vegetables has been scientifically proven to provide numerous health benefits, such as reducing your risk of several chronic diseases and strengthening your immune system.

Making major changes to your diet can sometimes seem very overwhelming. It may be more manageable to start with just one thing — like eating more of your favorite fruit — rather than all of them at once.

This article discusses 25 ways to make your usual diet slightly healthier over time.

Eat from smaller plates

The size of your dinnerware can affect how much you eat. Eating from a large plate can make your portion look smaller, while eating from a small plate can make it look bigger.

According to one 2017 study, eating from a smaller plate was associated with increased feelings of satiety and reduced energy intake among participants with a moderate body weight.

Also, if you don’t realize you’re eating less than usual, you won’t compensate by eating more at the next meal. By eating from smaller dinnerware, you can trick your brain into thinking that you’re eating more, making yourself less likely to overeat.

Eat your greens first

A good way to ensure you eat your greens is to enjoy them as a starter.

By doing so, you’ll most likely finish all of your greens while you’re at your hungriest. This may cause you to eat fewer, perhaps less nutritious, meal components later.

It may lead you to eat fewer calories overall, which could result in weight loss. Plus, eating vegetables before a carb-rich meal has been shown to benefit blood sugar levels.

It slows the speed at which carbs are absorbed into the bloodstream and may benefit short- and long-term blood sugar control in people with diabetes.

Keep dressing, dips, and condiments on the side

Getting to the point of being able to order a salad at a restaurant is a great achievement for many.

However, not all salads are equally nutritious. In fact, some salads are smothered in high calorie dressings, which may make the salads even higher in calories than other items on the menu.

Asking for the dressing on the side makes it a lot easier to control the portion size and amount of calories that you consume.

Slow down

The pace at which you eat influences how much you eat, as well as how likely you are to gain weight.

In fact, studies comparing different eating speeds show that fast eaters are much more likely to eat more and have a higher body mass index (BMI) than slow eaters.

Your appetite, how much you eat, and how full you get are all controlled by hormones. Hormones signal to your brain whether you’re hungry or full.

However, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to receive these messages. That’s why eating more slowly may give your brain the time it needs to perceive that you’re full.

Studies have confirmed this, showing that eating slowly may reduce the number of calories you consume at meals and help you lose weight.

Eating slowly is also linked to more thorough chewing, which has also been linked to improved weight control.

So, simply eating slower and chewing more often may help you eat less.

Don’t shop without a list

There are two important strategies to employ when you go grocery shopping: Make your shopping list ahead of time and don’t go to the store hungry.

Not knowing exactly what you need makes room for impulse buying, while hunger can cause you to toss even more low-nutrient foods into your shopping cart.

That’s why the best strategy is to plan ahead and write down what you need beforehand. By doing this and sticking to your list, you’ll not only buy healthier items to keep around the house, but you’ll also save money.

Stay away from “diet” foods

So-called diet foods can be very deceiving. They have usually had their fat content reduced dramatically and are often labeled “fat-free,” “low fat,” “fat-reduced,” or “low calorie.”

However, to compensate for the lost flavor and texture from fat, sugar, and other ingredients are often added.

So, many diet foods contain more sugar and sometimes even more calories than their full-fat counterparts. Instead, opt for whole foods like fruits and vegetables.

Cook at home more often

Try to make a habit of cooking at home most nights rather than eating out. For one, it’s often easier on your budget.

Second, by cooking your food yourself, you’ll know exactly what’s in it. You won’t have to wonder about any hidden ingredients.

Also, by cooking large servings, you’ll have leftovers for the next day, ensuring a satisfying meal then, too.

Finally, cooking at home has been associated with a lower risk of obesity and improved diet quality, especially among children.

Try at least one new recipe per week

Deciding what to have for dinner can be a constant cause of frustration, which is why many people tend to use the same recipes again and again. Chances are you’ve been cooking the same recipes on autopilot for years.

Whether these are more or less nutritious recipes, trying something new can be a fun way to add more diversity to your diet.

Aim to try making a new health-focused recipe at least once per week. This can change up your food and nutrient intakes and hopefully add some new and nutritious recipes to your routine.

Alternatively, try to make a healthier version of a favorite recipe by experimenting with new ingredients, herbs, and spices.

Bake or roast instead of grilling or frying

How you prepare your food can drastically change its effects on your health.

Grilling, broiling, frying, and deep-frying are all popular methods of preparing meat and fish.

However, during these types of cooking methods, several potentially toxic compounds are formed. These include:

All of these compounds have been linked to several health conditions, including cancer and heart disease.

Healthier cooking methods include:

  • baking
  • broiling
  • poaching
  • pressure cooking
  • simmering
  • slow cooking
  • stewing
  • sous-vide

These methods don’t promote the formation of these harmful compounds and may make your food healthier.

Although you can still enjoy the occasional grilled or deep-fried dish, it’s best to use those methods sparingly.

Opt for more nutritious foods when ordering out

Eating out doesn’t have to involve less nutritious foods. Consider upgrading your favorite fast-food restaurant to one with healthier options.

There are many high-quality fast food restaurants and fusion kitchens offering nutritious meals.

Increase your protein intake

Protein is often referred to as the king of nutrients, and it does seem to have some superpowers.

Due to its ability to affect your hunger and satiety hormones, it’s often considered the most filling of the macronutrients.

One 2018 study showed that eating a high-protein meal decreased levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone, more than a high carb meal in people with obesity.

What’s more, protein helps you retain muscle mass and may also slightly increase the number of calories you burn per day. It’s also important for preventing the loss of muscle mass that can occur with weight loss and as you age.

If you’re trying to lose weight, aim to add a source of protein to each meal and snack. It will help you feel fuller for longer, curb cravings, and make you less likely to overeat.

Good sources of protein include:

  • dairy products
  • nuts
  • peanut butter
  • eggs
  • beans
  • lean meat

Add Greek yogurt to your diet

Greek yogurt (or Greek-style yogurt) is thicker and creamier than regular yogurt.

It has been strained to remove its excess whey, which is the watery part of milk. This produces a final product with higher fat and protein than regular yogurt.

Eating a good source of protein can help you feel fuller for longer, which can help manage your appetite and reduce your food intake if that’s your goal.

Plus, since Greek yogurt has been strained, it contains fewer carbs and less lactose than regular yogurt. This makes it suitable for people who follow a low carb diet or are lactose intolerant.

Just make sure to pick the plain, unflavored varieties. Flavored yogurts may be packed with added sugar and other less nutritious ingredients.

Eat eggs, preferably for breakfast

When studying various types of calorie-matched breakfasts, eggs come out on top.

Eggs are rich in high quality protein and many essential nutrients that people often don’t get enough of, such as choline.

Eating eggs in the morning increases feelings of fullness. This has been shown to cause people to consume fewer calories at later meals. It can be quite helpful for weight loss if that’s your goal.

For example, one 2020 study of 50 people found that eating an egg-based breakfast reduced feelings of hunger and decreased the amount of calories consumed later in the day than a breakfast of cereal.

Replace sugary drinks with sparkling water

Sugary beverages are loaded with added sugar, which has been linked to numerous diseases, including:

  • heart disease
  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes

Plus, the added sugar found in these drinks doesn’t impact appetite the same way that nutrient-rich food does.

Unlike meal replacement drinks, which are rich in essential nutrients, sugary beverages are usually made up of “empty calories” that are unlikely to leave you satiated.

Try replacing your sugary beverage with either a sugar-free alternative or choose still or sparkling water instead. Doing so will shave off the non-beneficial calories and reduce excess sugar intake.

Drink your coffee black from time to time

Coffee is rich in antioxidants and has been linked to many health benefits, such as a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cognitive decline, and chronic liver disease.

However, many commercial varieties of coffee contain lots of additional ingredients, such as sugar, syrup, heavy cream, and sweeteners.

Drinking these varieties quickly negates all of coffee’s health benefits and instead adds lots of extra sugar and calories.

Instead, try drinking your coffee black or adding a small amount of milk or cream instead of sugar.

Eat your fruits instead of drinking them

Studies have repeatedly linked eating fruit to a reduced risk of several health conditions, such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Because fruits contain fiber and various plant compounds, their natural sugars are generally digested very slowly and don’t cause major spikes in blood sugar levels. However, the same doesn’t apply to fruit juices.

Many fruit juices aren’t even made from real fruit but rather concentrate and sugar. Some varieties may contain as much sugar as a sugary soft drink.

Even real fruit juices lack the fiber and chewing resistance of whole fruits. This makes fruit juice much more likely to spike your blood sugar levels, leading you to consume too much in a single sitting.

Choose whole-grain bread instead of refined

Refined grains have been associated with many health concerns. Whole grains, on the other hand, have been linked to a variety of health benefits, including a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.

Whole grains are also a good source of:

  • fiber
  • B vitamins
  • zinc
  • iron
  • magnesium
  • manganese

Just make sure to read the label to ensure that your bread is made with whole grains only, not a mixture of whole and refined grains. It’s also preferable that the bread contains whole seeds or grains.

Pick popcorn instead of chips

It may be surprising that popcorn is a whole grain that’s loaded with nutrients and fiber.

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of air-popped popcorn contains 387 calories and 15 grams of fiber, while the same amount of potato chips contains 532 calories and only 3 grams of fiber.

Diets rich in whole grains have been linked to health benefits, such as a reduced risk of inflammation and heart disease.

For a satisfying snack, try popping your own kernals at home or purchase air-popped popcorn. Just be sure to limit or avoid prepacked microwavable portions with preservatives, butter, and other additives.

Eat fresh berries instead of dried ones

Berries are packed with nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants. Most varieties can be purchased fresh, frozen, or dried.

Although all types are relatively healthy, dried berries are a much more concentrated source of calories and sugar since all the water has been removed.

Dried varieties are also often covered with added sugar, further increasing the sugar content. By opting for fresh berries, you will get a much juicier snack that’s lower in sugar and contains fewer calories.

Opt for heart-healthy oils

Highly processed seed and vegetable oils have become a household staple over the past few decades. Examples include soybean, cottonseed, sunflower, and canola oils. These oils are high in omega-6 fatty acids but low in heart-healthy omega-3s.

Some research suggests a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio can lead to inflammation and has been linked to chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, and autoimmune disorders.

Swap these oils for less processed alternatives, such as:

Choose baked potatoes over french fries

Potatoes are filling and a common side to many dishes. That said, the method in which they’re prepared largely determines their impact on health.

For starters, 3.5 ounces (100 grams) of baked potatoes contains 93 calories, while the same amount of french fries contains over 3 times as many (333 calories).

Furthermore, deep-fried french fries generally contain harmful compounds such as aldehydes and trans fats.

Replacing your french fries with baked or boiled potatoes is a great way to shave off calories and avoid these less nutritious compounds.

Drink enough water

Drinking enough water is important for your health.

Many studies have shown that drinking water can increase weight loss and promote weight maintenance. It may even slightly increase the number of calories you burn daily.

Studies also show that drinking water before meals can reduce your appetite and food intake during the following meal.

That said, the most important thing is to drink water instead of other beverages. This may drastically reduce your intake of sugar and calories.

Take omega-3 and vitamin D supplements

Approximately 1 billion people around the globe are deficient in vitamin D.

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that’s very important for bone health and the proper functioning of your immune system. In fact, every cell in your body has a receptor for vitamin D, indicating its importance.

Vitamin D is found in very few foods, but fatty seafood generally contains the highest amounts.

Omega-3 fatty acids are another commonly lacking nutrient that’s found in fatty seafood. These have many important bodily roles, including reducing inflammation, maintaining heart health, and promoting proper brain function.

If you don’t eat fatty seafood regularly, you should consider taking a supplement. Omega-3s and vitamin D can often be found together in many supplements.

Become more active

Good nutrition and exercise often go hand in hand. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood, as well as decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.

These are the exact feelings that are most likely to contribute to emotional and binge eating.

Aside from strengthening your muscles and bones, exercise may help you:

Aim to do about 30 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise each day, or take the stairs and take short walks whenever possible.

Get a good night’s sleep

The importance of good sleep can’t be overstated.

Sleep deprivation disrupts appetite regulation, often leading to increased appetite. This can result in increased calorie intake and weight gain.

In fact, people who sleep too little tend to weigh significantly more than those who get enough sleep.

Being sleep-deprived also negatively affects concentration, productivity, athletic performance, glucose metabolism, and immune function.

Moreover, it increases your risk of several diseases, including inflammatory conditions and heart disease.

That’s why it’s important to try to get adequate amounts of good-quality sleep, preferably in one bout.

Completely overhauling your diet or lifestyle all at once can be a recipe for disaster. Instead, try incorporating some of the changes listed above one or two at a time to gradually improve your diet.

Some of these tips will help you keep your portion sizes in check, while others will help you add nutrients or adapt to something new.

Together, these changes can add up to create a big impact on your overall health and well-being.