30 Healthy Foods You Better Eat in Moderation
By Dana Leigh Smith and Meagan Morris
Everything in moderation isn’t just a rule for pizza and cupcakes.
It’s totally possible to have too much of a good thing: sex, sunshine, and oatmeal, for example. Random combination, we know. But yes, we said oatmeal!
Sure, oats are a super healthy carb, but they’re also extremely calorie-dense, just like cake and truffle fries. And it’s not just oatmeal that should be added to your “everything in moderation” list. We’ve tracked down 29 other wholesome foods—that are packed with both good for you nutrients and calories (or other problematic components). The danger is in the dose, so don’t think of them as off limits—just don’t eat them without abandon. And once you see how easy it is to scale down your portions and slim down, turbocharge your fit body efforts with these 55 Best-Ever Ways to Boost Your Metabolism.
Tuna might be a protein-packed food that fits in well on sandwiches and in salads, but too much of it is a bad thing. The reason? Mercury. Tuna is higher in mercury than most other fish, and eating too much of it can lead to vision problems, muscle weakness, and even pregnancy problems.
According to Consumer Reports, women of childbearing age should limit their tuna intake to about 12.5 ounces a week. Men and older women can have more—about 14.5 ounces—but it’s best to get your fish protein from a variety of wild-caught sources, not just from tuna.
Eat This! Since we know it can be tricky to understand which fish is best, we released an exclusive report on 44 Most Popular Fish Types—Ranked for Nutrition!
The celeb trainer and author of Eat This, Not That! For Abs, Mark Langowski, swears by nuts (especially almonds!) as a flat belly food. “Thanks to their healthy fats and protein content, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios and peanuts can help control blood sugar and keep hunger pangs at bay,” he says. But the trick here is that he’s only eating them in handful-size portions. Each ounce has between 160 and 190 calories. Eat anymore of that in a single day and the crunchy treat will be opposite of slimming.
Eat This! Top your daily salad with a tablespoon of almond slivers or pecans or add some nuts to a rice or quinoa dish for some added crunch. They also make a tasty addition to chia pudding.
Quinoa, once reserved for the uber-trendy and health-conscious, is now totally mainstream—and we love it! It’s the only whole grain that contains all nine essential amino acids, making it a stellar vegan source of protein. “Cooked quinoa packs 8 grams of protein per cup, contains twice as much fiber as most other grains, and provides heart-healthy unsaturated fats,” explains Alissa Rumsey, R.D. and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Protein, fat and fiber all help to slow down digestion, which keeps you full for longer and can help with weight control.” But you’ve got to eat it in moderation to reap the flat-belly benefits. “If you’re using quinoa as a main dish, 1 cup is a good portion to stick to and clocks in at about 220 calories. If having it as a side dish, go with 1/2 cup,” suggests Rumsey.
Another warning: The grain also contains saponins, a naturally-occurring chemical that covers the grain and can cause stomach troubles if you don’t wash it before cooking. Simply limit your intake if you find quinoa gives you tummy trouble.
Eat This! Rumsey likes to toss a half-cup of quinoa into her daily salad. “I’ll mix it with a cup or two of leafy greens along with some tomatoes, cucumbers, avocado, chickpeas and an olive oil-based vinaigrette. The quinoa adds a subtle crunch and a good dose of fiber and protein which helps to keep me full and satisfied well into the afternoon.” Here at ETNT, we’re also big fans of eating quinoa bowls for breakfast.
In 1884, Canadian Marcellus Gilmore Edson patented peanut butter. It’s been a staple in North American homes for the most of the 131 years since, and it’s easy to understand why. In their purest form, nut spreads like almond, peanut, and cashew butter, are packed with protein, fiber, and healthy monounsaturated fats that are heart-healthy,” explains registered dietitian and co-author of Should I Scoop Out My Bagel?, Ilyse Schapiro. “Plus, consuming nut butter in moderation (one or two tablespoons), can help with weight loss because it is so satisfying. The good fat helps to fill you up, and prevents overeating later on.”
Eat This! “I like to spread two tablespoons of nut butter on sprouted grain toast in the morning,” says Schapiro. “This keeps me satisfied for at least three or four hours.” ETNT staffers also love spreading almond butter on pear and apple slices or throwing cashew butter into smoothie recipes. Aside from all of its other health benefits, this less-common nut spread contains a good amount of biotin, which will help keep your locks shiny and lustrous.
Tomatoes (and other citrus-based fruits like oranges) are acidic, meaning they have lower pH levels than other produce. This acidity can disrupt the pH balance in your stomach, making you more susceptible to conditions like heartburn and acid reflux.
Eat This! When you do have your tomatoes, cook them whenever you can instead of eating them raw. Cooked tomatoes have more readily-available lycopene for your body to absorb!
Lean Animal Proteins
Lean meats like chicken and beef are a great way to get enough protein, but they do contain an insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), a hormone shown to increase cancer risk and the signs of aging. As with everything on this list, the key is moderation.
Eat This! It’s okay to get your protein from meat and eggs—just be sure to also get it from plant-based sources to balance out your hormones.
Just short of a miracle weight loss drug, extra virgin olive oil is a dieter's BFF. Regularly eating the stuff has been shown to boost levels of adiponectin, a hormone that breaks down fat and it may increase blood levels of serotonin, a hormone associated with satiety. EVOO is also a potent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, so it’s a great food to eat well into later life.
Eat This! Expensive extra-virgin, with its robust flavor, should be saved to dress salads, vegetables, and stove-top cooked dishes. (Many of these healthy chicken recipes call for the ingredient.) For cooking purposes, regular or light olive oil is sufficient. Don’t consume more than one a tablespoon a day, though—that serving size alone serves up 120 calories and 21 percent of the day’s fat intake.
“Dates are a type of dried fruit that provides fiber, B vitamins, and health-boosting minerals, Rumsey tells us. “They’re naturally sweet, so they provide a great base to many traditional dessert foods and can replace some or all of the sugar typically used. Plus, the fiber helps to keep you full for longer, helping you to eat less and potentially lose weight.”
Eat This! Stick to two dates per serving, which has about 140 calories. “I love to stuff two dates with a tablespoon of peanut butter for a quick and easy snack,” says Rumsey. For more satisfying snack ideas, pick up a few of these 50 Snacks With 50 Calories or Less.
You already know that beans are good for your heart, but did you know that they’re also one of the best plant sources of muscle building protein and belly-flattening fiber? “This healthy mix of nutrients means that beans are digested slowly, which keeps you full and satiated long after a meal,” explains Rumsey. Since beans and legumes are a bit on the caloric side, portion control is a must. “Consume no more than ¾ to 1 cup of beans or legumes a day,” advises Rumsey. That clocks in between 200 and 250 calories, depending which kind you spoon onto your plate.
Eat This! “I love to make quick weeknight grain bowls with a 3/4 cup of beans, a 1/2 cup of quinoa, a cup or two of cooked veggies, a teaspoon of olive oil and some fresh pepper and spices,” says Rumsey. For more foods that can help you lose your spare tire, check out these 25 Best Foods for a Toned Body.
Soy has long been the plant-based protein go-to for those looking to avoid meat. It’s also good for cholesterol and blood pressure at moderate levels, but the real problem can be found in the isoflavones—estrogen-like compounds—that can lead to health issues over the long-term. These can include everything from fertility problems in women to man boobs for men. It is also worrisome for kids because soy is such a big ingredient in baby formula. Some recent studies have found a link between soy and premature puberty, as well as fetus disruption.
Eat This! 26 Best Sources of Vegetarian Protein
Trendy, popular and a bit of an overachiever in the health department (it’s rich in fiber, vitamins B6, C and E, potassium, magnesium and folic acid), avocado is like the homecoming queen of the fats parade. It’s also one of the 20 health foods you should eat in moderation. That’s because a medium fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) packs a walloping 227 calories. Yikes!
Eat This! When adding the flat-belly fruit to your toast, sandwich, omelet or whatever else you crave, use no more than half. Keep the pit in the uneaten portion squeeze on some lemon juice and then firmly wrap it with plastic wrap. This will keep it fresh and green until you’re ready to eat the rest. For more ways to use the fat-fighting fruit, check out these mouthwatering avocado recipes for weight loss!
The primary ingredient in hummus is chickpeas. And studies have shown that eating legumes like chickpeas four times a week correlates with a greater fat loss, likely because they’re jam-packed with filling nutrients like fiber and protein. The bad news? Downing half a container of the Mediterranean spread in a single sitting—which is easy to do—may just have the opposite effect. Rumsey suggests eating no more than a 1/4 cup serving which has about 140 calories.
Eat This! Hummus is perfect for everything from everyday sandwiches to a party-ready crudites platter. “I like to make a veggie-based sandwich using whole grain bread, hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, sprouts, and avocado,” Rumsey tells us. For more healthy eats that will give you a flat belly, check out these 29 Best-Ever Proteins for Weight Loss!
Oats: We’re big fans! Are they healthy and delicious? You betcha! But are they low in calories? Not so much. A small 1/4th cup dry serving of steel cut oats packs 140 calories—but many people pour out two or three times that amount. But despite its caloric shortcoming, oatmeal has been shown to lower cholesterol levels, help control blood pressure and aid weight loss by boosting satiety, so they still get the green light.
Eat This! These 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes are all must-tries we love!
Not only can dark chocolate help boost your heart health, it can also help you flatten your belly, thanks to its digesting-slowing stearic acid content. “I tell my patients about an ounce a day can help with their overall health, as part of a well-balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, especially if it replaces more indulgent cravings,” says Nieca Goldberg, MD, cardiologist, Director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. “However, people should remember that more isn't better, and to make sure they watch portion sizes."
Eat This! Next time a craving for something sweet and sinful strikes, break off a one-inch square from a low-sugar 80% or higher cacao bar. We like Alter Eco Blackout and Green & Black’s Organic 85% Cacao Bar—they’re both superfoods that are sure to make your tastebuds smile.
“Cheese provides protein and fat, both of which have a satiating effect. Aim for about 1-2 ounces, which is about the size of 2 to 4 dice,” says Rumsey. Take in any more than that and the calorie count will likely be too high to benefit weight maintenance or weight loss.”
Eat This! As a quick and healthy snack, Rumsey likes to pair a slice or two of cheese with whole grain crackers and a piece of fresh fruit like an apple or a banana.
There’s a reason why Popeye always went for the spinach: It’s packed full of nutrients that your body needs—including lutein, which can help prevent macular degeneration. That said, it’s also got oxalate in it, a compound that can cause kidney stones.
Eat This! Always pair your spinach with citrus; the vitamin C teams up with the iron and makes it easier for your body to absorb the nutrients.
Brazil nuts are a fabulous source of heart-healthy fatty acids, but they also contain super high levels usually-good-for-you selenium (68-91 mcg, according to the National Institutes of Health). Selenium, in proper doses, is shown to help protect against cognitive decline and cancer, and cardiovascular disease. Too much, however, can lead to bad breath, brittle hair and nails, discolored teeth, nausea and diarrhea, skin rashes, and nervous system problems.
Eat This! Keep your Brazil nut consumption to no more than 10 per day to keep selenium levels at safe levels. And in case you missed it, these are the 22 Best and Worst Foods for Your Brain!
There’s no denying that Greek yogurt is the reigning king of the daily aisle—not only is it packed with probiotics, it’s also overflowing with bone-boosting calcium and vitamin D. It’s also “super satisfying which can prevent losing control with portions or going overboard at meals,” says Schapiro. But don’t sit down with a container of the stuff more than once a day. The 0% plain variety has 100 calories for 6-ounces, and the 2% has 130 calories, but the flavored kinds can carry far more than that. “You can use the big tubs if you want to save money, but just make sure to measure out about 6-ounces, or ¾ cup, so you don’t overdo it,” advises Schapiro.
Eat This! Schapiro sticks to plain yogurt and pairs it with some berries for flavor and fiber. The breakfast staple also makes a creamy addition to smoothies. On your next Chipotle-themed taco night, use it in place of sour cream to cut calories and fat.
Bananas are one of the only foods that can reduce bloat, fight cancer and increase your energy—all for just 19 cents a piece. The best part: Each one comes with a free carrying case, so you can grab it and go! Its only real downside is that it carries more calories than its more water-filled friends like apples, berries, and cherries. Each one has 120 calories, so it’s best to cut yourself off after round one.
Eat This! Add a sliced banana to your yogurt or oatmeal or pair one with some nuts or a slice of cheese as an afternoon snack.
Coconut and coconut oil are both high in calories and saturated fat, but more than half of that comes from lauric acid, a unique lipid that battles bacteria and improves cholesterol scores. And get this: A study published in Lipids found that dietary supplementation of coconut oil actually reduced abdominal obesity. (Yes, that means belly fat!)
Eat This! Sprinkle unsweetened flakes over yogurt or use a splash of coconut milk in a stir-fry to start whittling your waist. Can't wait to see that washboard stomach? Pair your coconut oil with these 20 Weight Loss Tricks You Haven't Tried
Not only do they make tasty additions to pasta, zoodle, and chicken dishes, sun-dried tomatoes are a good source of vitamins C and K and the antioxidant lycopene, which has been associated with lower risk of certain cancers, explains Rumsey. In fact, compared to fresh tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes can contain 20 percent more lycopene per serving, but they also pack nine times more calories. One cup of them has 234 calories while fresh tomatoes have just 26. That’s a huge difference.
Eat This! “I like to make a fresh sauce using half a cup of sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, almonds and fresh chopped herbs, which I then toss with whole wheat pasta and fresh vegetables,” explains Rumsey. If you’re noshing on the sun-dried veggie solo as a snack, stick to a half-cup serving, she advises.
Gram for gram potatoes are one of the most caloric veggies in the produce aisle—but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for them in your diet. “Potatoes are chock full of nutrients including vitamin B6, bloat-banishing potassium and filling fiber. They’re also rich in antioxidants, and can help to lower blood pressure,” Schapiro tells us. “Stick to a fist-sized potato, for about 110 calories. And if you buy a larger potato, eat half and save the rest for tomorrow. Fried and mashed potatoes tend to add up in the calories and fat department, so it’s best only to eat those varieties on occasion.”
Eat This! Looking for a cheap, nutrient-filled vegetarian meal? Pair beans with a baked potato.Top your tater with some olive oil, rosemary and ground pepper for a burst of savory flavor. And for more healthy meal ideas, check out these 35 Healthy Crock Pot Recipes!
You’d be hard pressed to find a health or nutrition expert that would advise against eating more veggies and fruit. But remember: this rule doesn’t apply to the dried variety. “Dried apricots are a good source of vitamin A, potassium, and fiber, but a healthy portion of dried fruit is only 1/4 of a cup,” warns Rumsey. “Eat any more than that and you’ll go overboard on the sugar and calories.” For a point of reference, a ¼ cup serving of dried apricots has 110 calories and 17 grams of the sweet stuff.
Eat This! “I like to pair dried fruit with two tablespoons of almonds or walnuts and a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips. A homemade trail mix is almost always better than storebought,” advises Rumsey.
“Butter is making a comeback, and if you’re going to have some, grass-fed is the way to go, says Schapiro. “It is rich in vitamin K2 which may help to reverse calcification in your arteries. Butter can also help slow down the absorption of sugar and carbohydrates, leading to more consistent energy levels throughout the day.That said, grass-fed butter has between 100 to 110 calories per tablespoon. A little goes a long way so you shouldn’t need more. If you can’t control yourself, measure it out and put it on a plate and then put it back in the refrigerator.”
Eat This! Use grass-fed butter in the same way you’d use the conventional varieties.
Pork is a potent source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids, and as long a you don’t pig out, center-cut bacon (always center-cut!) is a great way to reap the benefits. A single pan-fried slice packs just 20 calories and 0.4 grams of fat.
Eat This! Enjoy a slice with your morning omelet or cut a slice into small pieces and use it as an oatmeal topper. Add a light drizzle of maple syrup and some chopped almonds to round out your cereal’s flavor palate.
Also known as linseed oil, flaxseed oil is a great source of ALA, an essential omega-3 fatty acid that can aid weight maintenance and reduce heart disease risks by reducing inflammation. It shouldn't come as a surprise, though, that it’s calorically-dense— it’s a fat, after all. Stick to a tablespoon or less per day, which clocks in at 120 calories.
Eat This! Flaxseed oil doesn’t hold up well when exposed to heat. Drizzle it on top of salads or use it instead of olive oil or mayo when whipping up pestos, tuna salads and sauces.
Kombucha might be a yummy way to get stomach-friendly probiotics, but drinking too much of it can leave you feeling some heartburn. The reason: It’s pretty acidic. There have even been two cases of metabolic acidosis caused by kombucha—one fatal. Just don’t make it your only drink and you’ll be fine—and stop drinking it if it gives you an upset stomach.
Eat This! For other ways to get your good gut bugs in prime condition, try these 14 Fermented Foods to Fit Into Your Diet.
Maca is the latest choice for an energy boost for those looking for a natural jolt in the morning. Grown in the Peruvian Andes, maca has been shown to give people “the jitters” from drinking too much of it because of its caffeine content. Caffeine, in high enough doses, can be dangerous—even fatal. There’s no set level for how much maca you should drink, but do keep it as a “sometimes” drink to be safe.
Drink This! You really can't go wrong with a nice cup of green tea. And you can make the most of the benefits from tea with The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse! Test panelists lost up to 10 pounds in one week!
Kale is now synonymous with healthy eating, but a 2015 report published in Mother Jones made kale regulars really, really nervous. The reason: An alternative health practitioner in California claimed that heavy kale consumers are more likely to have dangerous levels of thallium in their bodies. Thallium is found in trace amounts in soil and minerals, but high concentrations can cause death. That said, there haven’t been any real peer-reviewed studies to show that these claims about kale are true.
Eat This! Many types of produce contain thallium in trace amounts—not enough to hurt you. Just don’t make kale the only thing you eat and you'll be alright.
We cheated a little bit here because this one is more about not drinking in excess. After all, we need water to live and can’t go very long without it! But it's true that too much water in your body can cause hyponatremia, a condition that happens when there’s not enough sodium in your blood. And it’s really not a joke: "Rapid and severe hyponatremia causes entry of water into brain cells, leading to brain swelling, which manifests as seizures, coma, respiratory arrest, brain stem herniation and death," M. Amin Arnaout, chief of nephrology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, told Scientific American.
Drink This! According to the Institute of Medicine, men need about 13 cups of liquids a day—not just water—and women need about nine cups. If you're not chugging half a dozen gallons a day, you should be fine. Because, on the flip side, here's What Happens When You Don't Drink Enough Water!
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