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Quick Tips: Making Healthier Food Choices

Getting Started

Eating a variety of foods can help you get all the nutrients you need. These include whole grains, lean protein foods, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy.

You can still enjoy your favorite foods and make healthy eating choices. If your favorite foods are high in fat, salt, sugar, or calories, limit how often you eat them. Eat smaller servings, or look for healthy substitutes.

Use this chart as a guide for making healthier choices.

Healthier food choices

Food groups

Choose this:

Limit this:

Protein foods

  • Lean ground beef or turkey
  • Meats with fat trimmed
  • Skinless poultry
  • Baked, broiled, or poached fish or shellfish
  • Beans, tofu, nuts
  • Regular ground beef
  • Fatty or highly marbled cuts of meat, spare ribs, organ meat
  • Poultry with skin, fried chicken
  • Fried fish, fried shellfish
  • Lunch meat, bologna, salami, bacon, sausage, hot dogs

Dairy products

  • Low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk
  • Low-fat or fat-free yogurt
  • Low-fat cheese and cottage cheese
  • Fortified plant-based milk products, such as soy milk
  • Low-fat or fat-free sour cream
  • Whole milk, 2% milk, cream, nondairy creamer, half-and-half, whipping cream, whipped topping
  • Whole-milk yogurt
  • Most cheeses, cottage cheese, and cream cheese
  • Sour cream

Fats and oils

  • Canola, olive, or peanut oil
  • Oils that are naturally present in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olives
  • Coconut or palm oil
  • Butter, stick margarine, lard, shortening
  • Fat from meats, such as bacon


  • Whole-grain breads, cereals, and pasta
  • Corn tortillas
  • Wild rice or brown rice
  • Air-popped popcorn
  • Whole-grain crackers
  • White breads and pasta
  • Cereals and granolas with a lot of added sugar
  • White rice
  • Snack crackers

Fruits and vegetables

  • Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fruits that are in natural juices (not heavy syrup)
  • Canned vegetables without added salt (labeled "no salt added" or "low sodium")
  • Steamed, sautéed, microwaved, or roasted vegetables
  • Fried vegetables
  • Vegetables cooked with butter, cream, or cheese sauce
  • Fruit juice


  • Sparkling water
  • Water with a slice of lemon or lime added
  • Other drinks with little or no added sugar, such as unsweetened tea
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, juice, and energy drinks
  • Sports drinks
  • Coffee drinks with added sugars, such as a mocha
  • Alcoholic beverages


Current as of: September 20, 2023

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.