28 healthy eating habits that can save your life

Your eating habits, your most important investment

The chances that your current eating habits are harming your health are quite high. This article presents 28 healthy eating habits that can help you live a longer, healthier life.

Cancer, a major cause of death in developed countries, can be attributed to genetic defects in only 5–10% of all cases, whereas the remaining 90–95% have their roots in lifestyle and in the environment. Of all cancer-related deaths as many as 30–35% are linked to diet and almost all the remaining factors to smoking, lack of physical activity, and other lifestyle and environmental factors.

Solid scientific evidence also indicates that most cardiovascular diseases, the first cause of death globally, can be prevented by addressing behavioral risk factors such as unhealthy diet, obesity, tobacco use, physical inactivity, and harmful use of alcohol.

Bad eating habits lead to shorter and sicker lives. According to a major Harvard study, people who adopted a healthy diet, exercised regularly, maintained a healthy weight, did not smoke, and had a moderate alcohol intake, lived 14 years longer and had 10 more years free of diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and cancer compared to those who did not incorporate any of these lifestyle habits.

If cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary diseases, and cancer, which together cause the large majority of deaths, are the results of bad lifestyle habits in most cases, then the first cause of death in developed countries can be actually found in different combinations of unhealthy factors such as smoking, chronic stress, lack of sleep, lack of physical activity and bad eating habits.

In other words, if you don’t smoke, are able to keep stress under control, exercise regularly and eat well, then you have hugely higher chances to live a longer and healthier life.

Eating it’s a daily activity. It’s cultural and social, and it is a big business. Whilst there is a bombardment of communications to sell you food that gives you pleasure and make you addicted to it, which unfortunately are almost always very unhealthy, there are very little communications and very few campaigns to help you make a healthy change in how you eat, partly because making you eat healthier is not creating any particularly good business for anyone, except you.

For you, however, gaining evidence-based knowledge about how to eat healthier can be the investment that pays the best interest: your own health.

28 healthy eating habits that can save your life

If living longer and healthier is important to you, then you should take action to make a positive change in your eating habits. These 28 healthy eating habits can make you feel better and live a longer, healthier life.

  1. Don’t diet, develop healthy eating habits instead
  2. Be ready to take action and make a change towards healthy eating habits
  3. Stay curious and open minded
  4. Beware of what you eat every day
  5. Keep it simple and step-by-step: develop sustainable healthy eating habits
  6. Don’t compromise between having healthy eating habits and eating meals that you really enjoy
  7. Develop confidence and resilience to sustain your healthy eating habits
  8. Be patient when developing healthy eating habits
  9. Be intelligently flexible and adopt common-sense
  10. Eat mindfully
  11. Maintain a stable, healthy weight
  12. Weight yourself every morning
  13. Eat real whole foods as part of your healthy eating habits
  14. Expand the types of carbs, proteins and fats you eat
  15. Prioritize variety and quality of food over calories
  16. Frequently consume fermented food and drinks
  17. Make healthier choices that don’t compromise taste
  18. Discover and enjoy new healthy drinks
  19. Be aware of the portions of your meals
  20. Consider the core building blocks of healthy balanced meals
  21. Maximize variety of foods when you create your meals
  22. Vary your cooking methods too
  23. Remember that healthy and tasty is the norm
  24. Decide what is your normal number of meals per day
  25. Create a weekly meal “compass” plan that’s easy easy to remember by heart
  26. Minimize the gap between your actual and planned healthy eating habits
  27. Limit as much as possible a few bad foods
  28. Mind the planet in addition to your own healthy eating habits

Don’t diet, learn how to develop healthy eating habits

Don’t diet, develop healthy eating habits instead
Healthy eating is a journey, be ready to sail (image generated by me with Midjourney AI)

1. Don’t diet, develop healthy eating habits instead

Healthy eating is a journey, ready to sail?

Developing and, most importantly, maintaining healthy eating habits will make a huge difference in your life regardless of your personal situation and goals.

Whether you are sedentary or very active, or if you need to lose, maintain or gain weight. If your goal is to feel more energetic or improve your clarity of mind, or address specific health issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or gastroesophageal reflux.

Your healthy eating habits will help you reach these and several other health related objectives you may have.

I see a lot of intelligent people I care about eating really bad, and I feel at the same time sorry for them and powerless. Some of them, already at a relatively young age, take pills for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, stomach acidity, gastroesophageal reflux and alike. Occasionally they transform themselves into hyper-motivated diet ninjas and try extreme crazy diets for a few weeks or less before going back eating like before, if not worse. I am frustrated to see that they don’t get that they could just eat just a bit differently every day and have meals that can give them even greater pleasure whilst solving their health issues. I become slightly impatient when I hear them saying that healthy stuff isn’t good or when they demonstrate a bit of a social stigma towards health-conscious people who care about what they eat. Maybe it’s not cool to say no to the second drink without any specific reason other than caring for your own health, or going hunting for some veggies at a party buffet. So what? Is it maybe cool to suffer from ailments that could be prevented just by eating a bit better?

Building your own healthy eating habits is primarily a matter of mindset. Healthy eating is not mainstream yet, that’s why feeling really good and full of energy is also sort of rare nowadays. If you eat a bit differently from the other people in your community, it is because you want to live better and longer, so that you can enjoy life more, not less. Hopefully feeling good and living longer and healthier is a good enough reason to be a bit different. 

Is not having more time to spend with your kids and your loved ones full of energy and without slowly becoming a burden to them a worthy goal?

Yes you have to make some changes in your lifestyle and in how you eat, however you should not make crazy changes or impose restrictions on yourself that you can not keep over time. If you do so, you are on the wrong path.

In almost all cases, you should not diet at all. A diet starts and then ends, and then you return to your old default. What happens after the diet is hugely more important than what happens during the diet. What you should do, is to forget about diets and focus on changing your default eating habits by making incremental small changes that you like and never come back to where you were before. This is the only way to make it work. You have to build your eating “new normal”.

2. Be ready to take action and make a change towards healthy eating habits

This article will not help you adopt healthy eating habits, unless you take action and do something about it. Making a change in your eating habits will require some effort from your side. It may be an outer-oriented effort such as changing your grocery shopping habits or learning how to cook and prepare your own meals. Or it may be an inner-oriented effort such as becoming more aware of your behaviors and making steps to change them. In any case, there is only one person that can change your eating habits, and this person is you.

3. Stay curious and open minded

It may be that you are used to having an auto-pilot breakfast, every morning with the same things, perhaps for years. It’s possible that there are certain foods that never enter your home, just because you are not used to buying them. Your supermarket is likely full of all different types of foods one can possibly eat, but you just see the few items that you are used to eating. You see that vegetable whose name you do not know, but you don’t really care about it and move on. Like a painter always using a few colors out of a beautifully colored palette.

Maybe you don’t care about reading the labels of the products you eat, effectively not knowing what’s going into your body.

You can develop healthy eating habits only if you switch off your auto-pilots and start to be curious and open minded. In order to eat healthy it is actually more important to add foods than to remove them from your routine. Eating a large variety of healthy foods is your best insurance for good health. That’s why one of the most important actions you can take is to start eating healthy foods that you don’t normally eat, and welcome these new foods into your “new normal”.

4. Beware of what you eat every day

The need of prioritizing healthy foods and maximizing their variety are the most important messages of this article, followed by the common-sense recommendation that we should not eat too much.

Like in financial investing, the key to success lies in diversifying your portfolio and being patient. Differentiation with several good assets from different asset classes, sectors and geographies can help perform financially well in all circumstances. And also in nutrition, the foundations of eating well consist of eating a large variety of healthy foods to ensure that your body has the resources to function well in all circumstances, so that nothing useful is missing, and nothing is present in excess.

If one of the keys of financial success is compounding interest, also in nutrition it’s important to compound the right things as part of your daily routine. A 12-ounce / 360ml can of mainstream cola contains 39 grams of sugar, which corresponds to about 10 teaspoons of sugar. 10 teaspoons of sugar in one single can! So, if you are drinking one can of cola or of a similar sugary beverage every day, then you are adding 14 Kg of sugar per year to your sugar intake, that is not bringing any other healthy nutrients whatsoever.

If, just to make a theoretical example, you replace the sugary beverage with a 1/2 cup (74 grams) of berries daily, then in one year you will eat 27kg of one of the healthiest foods you can eat, rich in potassium, magnesium, vitamins C and K, fiber, and prebiotics that help promote a healthy gut. Studies co-authored by Harvard Chan School researchers have found that eating blueberries can lower the risk of Type 2 diabetes, help people keep weight off, reduce the risk of heart attack and boost learning and memory.

If you are embarking on a boat for a long oceanic crossing, just changing the initial direction of one degree will hugely change the point where your journey will end after navigating for thousands of miles / kilometers. Where do you want to be in ten years from now? If you want to be healthy and feel good, then as soon as you change direction the better: even small changes can produce huge benefits as they compound in the long run.

5. Keep it simple and step-by-step: develop sustainable healthy eating habits

If you invest all your capital in a single stock, then if that company goes bankrupt you lose all your money. Likewise, if you eat the same food every day or very often for several years, you risk losing your health if you’re not eating the right stuff. If you have well diversified nutrition habits based on a large variety of healthy foods, however, it is not going to be a coke, a martini cocktail, a steak, or a croissant with a cappuccino that will kill you. It is eating unhealthy foods every day or regularly that can greatly hurt your health and, in the long run, make you sick.

So, the point is not to make diet-like type of changes, maybe just for a few days or weeks, and then return to your old normal. The key to healthy living is to make small incremental permanent changes towards new healthy eating habits that you like, and maintain these as part of your new normal.

It is much better to make small healthy changes that you can keep forever, like for example replacing white bread with whole grain bread most of the time, than drastic crazy diets that you can sustain for a limited time before you return to the starting point.

I eat white bread for most of my life, just because this was “normal”. When I started eating whole grain bread, at the beginning it felt somehow strange, and I did not immediately appreciate the new taste from the first bite. Now, for me wholegrain bread is the “normal” bread. I find that in most cases whole grain breads are tastier than white bread, in particular when they are enriched by seeds like sunflower seeds, Chia seeds and alike, as they offer a much wider range of flavors, tastes and textures. Yet, I have absolutely no problem eating white bread every now and then. As long as your “eating normal” is healthy, then you can really eat everything, because you can occasionally afford to eat unhealthy food with no problems, for example when dining out with friends.

6. Don’t compromise between having healthy eating habits and eating meals that you really enjoy

Zeno of Citium, the founder of the ancient Stoic school of philosophy, observed that when people get used to eating elaborate, fancy and expensive food, they stop appreciating the simple foods. When our sense of taste gets over-saturated with industrial foods, loaded with sugar, salt and artificial flavors, we will only crave for even more sophisticated ways to satisfy our palate, forgetting that often the most delicious tastes can be found in simple whole foods like seasonal fruits.

The reality is that, in developed countries, we have at our disposal an incredibly wide array of whole, unrefined and minimally processed foods that can constitute the basis for an exceptionally tasty and exquisite cuisine. Whole grains and whole grain breads, all sorts of vegetables and fruits, beans and legumes, mushrooms, nuts, fish, white meat, eggs, cheese and dairy products, healthy fats like extra virgin olive oils, fermented foods, all spices one can imagine, seaweeds, etc. An extraordinary range of delicious, simple and quick to prepare meals can be created based on healthy “real” foods. The reality is that such dishes are often more delicious than traditional not-so-clean meals that are too often so boringly based on the same list of nutritionally “wrong” ingredients such as white refined flour, sugar, salt, red and processed meats, etc.

The Michelin 3-star danish restaurant Geranium, ranked best restaurant in the world in 2022 by San Pellegrino’s list, became meat-free in January 2022. Just to make an example about being able to make extraordinarily great meals without the “usual suspect

Many people have a totally wrong misconception that eating healthy equals poor taste, but in reality it’s quite the opposite. Eating healthy means expanding a lot of the variety of foods, with their flavors, tastes, textures, flavors. Healthy and tasty is the norm.

7. Develop confidence and resilience to sustain your healthy eating habits

You will for sure understand the recommendations I provide in this article. Maybe you will agree that they make sense, and perhaps something will click with you and maybe you will consider starting a journey towards new healthy eating habits.

All will go according to your plans for some time, and then inevitably you’ll go off track. It may be binge eating junk food, or just eating way too much, or adopting any other behaviors that for you mean cheat eating. This is just fine and normal. If you go off track, it’s because you are a normal human being. The good news is, if you did build your “new normal” of healthy eating habits, then you will inevitably default to it. Once again, the real only healthy way of eating is to make healthy eating your normality. This will give you the confidence that even if you go off track, the track in which you will return is the right one.

8. Be patient when developing healthy eating habits

Lose weight, gain weight, feel better, more energetic, mentally focused, fix gut issues, improve your skin, detox your body, or even tackle some other more serious health issues. These are all valid reasons why one may decide to start a journey of healthy eating. However, the key to success is to forget your goal and focus on the process of installing new habits of healthy eating in your daily routine, that will remain with you also long after you have achieved any goals you want to achieve.

You don’t have to fixate on your specific current goal, you have to develop a passion for wanting and liking to eat healthy. Achieving these specific, current objective is just a positive side effect of healthy eating, and should not be the end point of your healthy eating journey. So, forget your goals and focus on eating healthy. Develop your new habits, persist with these, go back on track every time this is needed, enjoy your meals, and be patient. If you resist to the temptation of crazy dieting and are able to give your habits enough time to install in your routine and change you, you will be surprised to see your goals naturally realized.

9. Be intelligently flexible and adopt common-sense

I’ve seen many people developing health issues and then trying to tackle these issues by suddenly starting diets that totally prevented them from eating specific foods. People who have spent their lives eating “everything” without any specific criteria, and not doing much about their health, having to switch overnight from eating ice cream at night on the couch while watching Neftlix to totally avoid carbs, legumes, grains, or any other food group depending on the fad diet of the moment or on the doctor with whom they spoke.

Inevitably, I have seen all of them fail, with no exceptions. It’s so obviously common sense, that when one is being told or even decides for example to stop eating carbs “forever”, the person will enter a prison from which, sooner or later, she will have to escape. It’s not so difficult, you just have to use some common sense and understand that a diet that totally prevents you from eating certain foundational foods is almost always not needed and not sustainable, unless you have a proven medical condition that really requires you to do so.

You have to be flexible enough to understand that the only way to succeed in your objectives is to make small but permanent changes to your eating habits.

10. Eat mindfully

When we drive our car, we are so used to it that we are not really aware of all the actions we take, like pressing the accelerator or brake pedal, or maneuvering the steering wheel. The same can happen when we eat. It’s easy to eat in auto-pilot mode. Maybe if you have a special evening, having a nice dinner in a fine-dining restaurant, then you’ll pay attention to what you’re eating. But in your daily routine, it’s possible that eating becomes a mechanistic activity, during which you are not really paying attention to what you are doing.

This is not good for your health and for your ability to actually enjoy the food you are eating. When we are on autopilot, it’s easier to indulge in overeating. Imagine you eat a cookie, but as you eat it, your mind is elsewhere. So you somehow “miss” the experience of eating the cookie, it’s like you have not really eaten it. So, you need another one, because you have “missed” the previous one. And maybe, you are half-present also when you eat the second one. So you need a third one, and so on and so forth. 

When you make an effort to stay present when eating, you eat more slowly, you chew the food longer, you have more time to enjoy the taste of the food, and ultimately you can have a more rewarding and healthier eating experience even with less amount of food.

11. Maintain a stable, healthy weight

Being aware and in control of the amount of food you eat is an important component of healthy eating habits. This means that you will naturally eat the right amount of food that your body needs, not too little and not too much. Maintaining these behaviors will require little effort because you will not want to eat less or more, you will be fulfilled and satisfied with the amount of food that you eat, and that will be the right amount for you. Whether you need to lose, maintain, or gain weight, the best approach is to focus on building and maintaining healthy eating habits, completely forgetting of your current weight-related goals. When you eat healthy, you will achieve your optimal weight. Maintaining a stable, healthy weight is an important factor for being in good health. 

12. Weight yourself every morning

If you are on a journey of losing or controlling your weight, a science-backed tip is to build the habit of weight you every day. The best time to do so, is to weight yourself in the morning as soon as you get off bed, and before eating or drinking anything. A study published in 2015 on the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that daily weighing improves weight loss and adoption of weight control behaviors . There are several apps available to track your weight, such as Fitbit. By being aware of how your weight evolves in time, and actually looking at it briefly every morning, you’ll be more likely adopting weight control behaviors, which means being motivated to adopt healthier eating habits.

Maximize the variety of “real foods” you eat (this is the top priority!)

Healthy eating habits allow you to enjoy a large variety of delicious foods
Healthy eating habits allow you to enjoy a large variety of delicious foods (image created by me with Midjourney AI)

13. Eat real whole foods as part of your healthy eating habits

The process of refining food implies the removal of precious healthy nutrients from their natural form in order to create a product that is poorer from a nutritional standpoint but richer from a marketing ad sale standpoint.

One archetypical example is the production of refined wheat flour, which is the white flour that is normally used to produce industrial breads and baked products.

A grain of wheat as made by mother nature, is made of three parts: the bran, the endosperm and the germ. The bran is the external part and constitutes about 14.5% of the total weight, the germ, which is the sprouting part of the seed, is about 2.5%, and the endosperm is the bigger part of the grain, accounting for about 83% of the total weight. The endosperm is where carbohydrates are present in the form of starch.

Apart from the starch, most of the good healthy nutrients like proteins, lipids, fiber, vitamins, minerals and polyphenols are in the bran and in the germ.

The process of refining the grain consists in taking the good healthy parts of it, which are the bran and the germ, and throwing them away. As a consequence, what remains is a white, poorly nutrient residual product made mainly of starch. 

As you can see in the table below, almost all the nutrients are hugely reduced in refined grains compared to whole grains, with some of them like vitamin B2 and B6 completely disappearing (“g” refers to amount of the nutrient for 100 grams of flour / RDA = Recommended Daily Allowance).

Healthy eating habits should be based on whole grains
Loss of nutrients in refined grains compared to whole grains
Healthy eating habits should be based on whole grains, which are richer in nutrients compared to refined grains
Nutrients comparison: whole grains vs refined grains

In other words, when you buy refined grains, somebody has taken the whole grain and has thrown away for you all the good and healthy parts of it (thank you so much). What remains is a high glycemic-index starch that in your body has a very similar effect to plain sugar. With the bran and the germ, also a range of flavors coming from the removed nutrients goes away, such as a bit of fattiness, minerality, not to mention the variety textures and the colors that are lost in the process. Exactly the same happens with other cereals, like rice and others.

The recommendation is very simple: make it normal for you to eat whole grains instead of refined grains. They are not only healthier, but also better tasting. So this is really a win-win situation. There is nothing wrong with eating white bread or pasta every now and then, but the “normal” bread or pasta should be made of whole grain. 

Switching from normally eating white grains, to normally eating whole grains is in my opinion the most important first step that you have to take if you want to develop healthy eating habits.

The concept of whole foods doesn’t apply just to grains, but to vegetables and fruits too. The grain of wheat distributes most of its protective nutrients on the external bran because they protect it from the dangers coming from the external world, the same happens for example in fruits that place most of their protective nutrients on their peel. So, when possible it’s always a good idea to eat fruits and vegetables without peeling them, because a lot of good healthy protective nutrients are actually in the peel. A good rule of thumb is also to buy seasonal vegetables and fruits, better if they are not coming from too far away from your place, because conservation and transportation can weaken their nutrients a lot.

In general, it’s very important to limit industrially transformed food too. In order to facilitate this behavior, it’s crucial that you develop the habit of reading the ingredients labels of all the industrial food that you buy. In general, the less the number of ingredients the better, in addition to making sure there are no ingredients that you don’t understand.

14. Expand the types of carbs, proteins and fats you eat

When thinking about your food choices from a macronutrient perspective, make an effort to go beyond your usual choices in terms of carbs, proteins and fats. Here are a few inputs:

Consider that carbs come into different forms. You can find them in products that are made from flour such as breads and pasta, in whole grains such as rice, spelt, barley, rye, or millet, in starches like potatoes and corn, and of course from the sugars that are naturally present in fruits and certain vegetables. When it comes to carbohydrates-rich food, in order to promote good health you should prioritize foods that have lower glycemic index and low glycemic loads. In simpler words, you have to avoid or limit the consumption of refined and highly processed foods, like sugar, white bread, white rice and refined grains in general, french fries, sodas, and alike, and prioritize unprocessed or minimally processed whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and beans.

Proteins are notoriously found in meat, fish, eggs, dairy products. However, a good amount of proteins are also found in vegetable foods such as legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and mushrooms. It’s a good idea to base at least some of your meals on plant based foods, in these cases you may want to prepare dishes that combines different sources of vegetable proteins so that the amino acid profile of these proteins can complement each other. A typical combination is, for example, whole grains and legumes, like in the delicious Italian dish “pasta e fagioli” (pasta and beans).

For protein-rich food, it’s the source of protein rather than the amount of protein that likely makes a difference for our health: eating healthy protein sources like beans, nuts, seeds, fish, poultry, and eggs in place of red meat and processed meat can lower the risk of several diseases and premature death. Getting most of your proteins from plants may be a very good health bet, in this case just make sure to eat a variety of plant protein-rich food sources so that no essential components of protein are missing. If you enjoy dairy foods, it’s probably a good idea to do so in moderation.

Fats are an important component of healthy eating habits and healthy fats can be found in a large variety of foods. When it comes to fats, in order to promote good health, you should prioritize foods that deliver healthy fats. This means avoiding trans fats, limiting saturated fats and adding in foods that deliver unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fats. In simpler words, limit red meat, full-fat milk, and dairy products, and avoid processed meat, and replace most of the saturated fats with health unsaturated fats, including omega-3, such as olive oil, nuts, seeds and fatty fish.

15. Prioritize variety and quality of food over calories

Many people get interested in healthy eating because they need to either lose or gain weight. In the process of understanding how nutrition works, people often start by learning that an excess of calories causes weight gain and a deficit of calories causes weight loss. Although this is true, focusing only on calories is certainly a very bad idea. The main reason is that when you just focus on calories, for example for losing weight, your only job is eating food whose total calories account for less than a certain amount. For example less than 2000 kcal per day. When looking at food from this angle only, when you have met your calories objective then your job is done. Although this can certainly help you achieve your weight goals in the short term, this way of eating is far from being healthy. In fact, you can meet your calories goals by eating junk food only, as far you eat less of your maximum calories goal. So you can certainly lose weight, but you will lose your health too.

As I’ve mentioned earlier in this article, the right approach is to forget about diet and to forget about calories. Focus instead of prioritizing the variety and quality of your food choices over counting your calories. Make it fun to trade some of the less-healthy foods you normally eat with new healthy-foods that you never eat, and enjoy the process.

16. Frequently consume fermented food and drinks

The food industry has developed refining, pasteurization and sterilization techniques that have promoted the transition to a diet based on industrial foods, causing a drastic reduction in the consumption of fiber and live healthy microorganisms. As a consequence, our gut microbiota has undergone dramatic changes, with harmful effects on our health.

We must make an active effort to restore our gut microbiota with protective bacteria, through the use of probiotic and prebiotic foods. Probiotics are foods that come directly with live bacteria in them, for example yogurt. Prebiotics are foods that come with substances that can feed and keep the live bacteria that are present in your guts healthy. An example of prebiotic if food with fiber. Fiber can not be digested by humans but our healthy gut bacteria eat it to proliferate and stay alive.

An healthy intestinal microbiota gives us the following health benefits.

Digesting better the food we eat: for example by secreting digestive enzymes that help us with the digestion of certain nutrients which can then be absorbed by the colon walls. For example, intestinal bacteria ferment soluble dietary fiber, turning it into organic acids which serve to nourish the colon walls keeping them intact and in good health.

Synthesizing vitamins: Some vitamins, like vitamin K and some B vitamins, can be synthesized by intestinal bacteria and then absorbed, so our intestinal microbiota can help us meeting the daily recommended intakes of certain vitamins.

Producing protective substances: Gut bacteria metabolize some nutrients into other substances that may be more beneficial. Most importantly, a good intestinal microbiota produces healthy substances while fermenting soluble fiber, such as short-chain fatty acids, which are associated with a series important health benefits. For example, locally in the intestine they prevent colon cancer, and beyond the guts they have a cholesterol-lowering effect by inhibiting the synthesis of cholesterol in our liver.

Neutralization of toxic substances: The intestinal microbiota synthesizes detoxifying enzymes, which help us to neutralize or reduce the toxicity of toxic substances or pollutants that we introduce with food.

Protection from toxin infections: A good intestinal microbiota keeps other harmful microbial species away, and protects us from the risk of food poisoning caused by pathogenic bacteria thanks to competitive mechanisms. This means that when a pathogenic bacterium arrives in the intestine, before being able to develop and cause infection or intoxication, it must first “fight” with the bacteria that are already present there, which have no interest in ‘giving way’.

It’s normal that some pathogenic bacteria are present in what we eat, like some Listeria or Salmonella. But luckily these bacteria normally don’t harm us thanks to the acidity of our stomach, and thanks to this mechanism of microbial competition in the intestine. The good bacteria in our guts are not welcoming the new guests and they react by fighting and killing them. This is why when we take antibiotics, which can wipe out our intestinal microbiota, we must make an effort to repopulate it quickly with our army of good bacteria by making use of prebiotics and probiotics.

Intestinal epithelium integrity and protection from inflammation, allergies, and autoimmune diseases: Healthy microorganisms adhere to the walls of the colon, nourishing it and maintaining the integrity of the intestinal epithelium. This helps prevent harmful substances from entering the bloodstream.  These substances, such as viruses, bacteria and toxins, trigger inflammatory responses within our body, and activate the immune system, increasing the risk of allergies and autoimmune responses. Many important diseases, such as cardiovascular, diabetes, and cancer, have an important inflammatory component. Clinical evidence shows that probiotics can reduce systemic levels of subclinical inflammation. 

Strengthening of the immune system: A good intestinal microflora helps us stimulate our immune defenses by acquiring information from the surrounding environment and passing it on to the immune system. Bacteria, in fact, exchange information with each other through exchanges of genes and plasmids. In this way, the bacteria that live in our intestines acquire information from those passing by through the exchange of a few pieces of DNA, and then in return they instruct our immune system.

Promotion of intestinal transit: An healthy intestinal microflora produces microbial biomasses that favor intestinal transit. By increasing the volume of feces they accelerate its passage, thereby reducing the contact time with the intestinal walls, which is a risk factor for colon cancer.

Protection from the risk of intestinal tumors: In addition to optimizing intestinal transit, a good microbiota protects against the risk of colon cancer through the production of protective substances such as butyric acid, nourishing and keeping the intestinal epithelium healthy and intact, and neutralizing potentially toxic substances.

Body weight control: A healthy intestinal microflora produces substances that help regulate the feelings of hunger and satiety, and molecules that regulate the way fat is deposited in our reserves. As a consequence, a healthy microbiota contributes to prevent overeating and fat accumulation.

17. Make healthier choices that don’t compromise taste

As you start adopting healthier eating habits, such as being used to reading food labels and switching off your eating auto-pilot, you will become more aware of what you eat. Thanks to this enhanced awareness, you will be able to identify plenty of opportunities to make healthier eating choices without compromising the taste of your meals.

Let’s consider one maybe trivial example: potato chips. Chips are not exactly the first choice for people who want to eat healthy, nevertheless chips can be part of a healthy eating routine (as any other food) if eaten occasionally and in moderate quantities. When you go to the supermarket and choose which chips to buy, look at the food labels and pick the chips that are made just of potatoes, oil and salt. In organic supermarkets you may be able to find chips that are cooked in olive oil, this would be the healthier choice when it comes to the oils used to fry them. Most importantly, look at the nutrition facts label. You will notice that salt content in chips varies broadly, typically from 2% or more to 0,8% or less, and in some organic supermarkets you can even find chips with 0% salt. I can guarantee to you that you will barely notice any difference when eating chips with 2% salt versus 0,8%, but for your health it’s much better to opt for the latter version. I can also say that chips with zero salt are a delicious choice, it’s such a pity that they are very difficult to find.

The chips example is only a reflection about the importance in making an effort in selecting food that are both tasty and healthy. If you do this systematically, these choices will compound and will make a big difference for you.

18. Discover and enjoy new healthy drinks

Needless to say that sodas, such as cola and alike, are one of the worst drinks for your health, because of their crazy content of sugar and lack of any other useful nutrient. If you are used to drinking sugary beverages, you should explore healthy alternatives.

The first choices are kombucha and water kefir, two delicious and super healthy probiotic drinks.

Be careful with fruit juices. If you drink them, go for 100% juices not made from concentrated juice, and drink them in moderation because they can contain a lot of sugar too. A trick would be to mix just a bit of juice with water, so that you have a light taste and sweetness without too many calories. You can also experiment adding spices, for example just a pinch of powdered ginger and maybe a drop of lemon into the drink too.

In terms of hot beverages, tea, in particular green tea, and coffee are healthy choices, in particular if you drink them unsweetened. Of course, it’s important to avoid overdrinking them because of the well known presence of stimulating substances such as caffeine and teine.

Eat balanced, colorful and tasty meals

Eat balanced, colorful and tasty meals
Be like a painter: eat balanced, colorful and tasty meals (image created by me with Midjourney AI)

19. Be aware of the portions of your meals

Switching off the auto pilot means that you will enjoy your meals more and will be equally if not more satisfied with even smaller portions. A tip to help you take control of the amount of food you eat, is to place all the food you plan to eat during your meal in your dish(es) and make an effort to not eat anything else after you have finished it your planned portions.

Before you start eating, prepare yourself for enjoying your meal and stay mentally present while you eat, so that you can enjoy every bite you take.

You will be able to determine what the right portions are for you even without counting calories or weighing your food. You know if you are placing too much or too little food in your plate, you don’t need your scale or someone else to tell you.

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20. Consider the core building blocks of healthy balanced meals

When you put together your meals, you can consider the following core nutritional building blocks:

  1. carbs
  2. proteins
  3. fat
  4. vitamins
  5. minerals
  6. fiber
  7. phytonutrients
  8. probiotics

As a rule of thumb, most of your routine healthy balanced meals should include foods that provide at least some nutrients belonging to each of the eight classes above. Balancing macro and macronutrients, however, is absolutely not sufficient. Follow the following simple and evidence-based advice too:

  • Carbs: eat always whole meal foods, for example always whole grains instead of refined grains 
  • Proteins: Limit red meat and processed meat, proteins come not only from animal food but also from also vegetables
  • Fats: Consume more unsaturated fats, less unsaturated fat, and no trans fat. Maximize your intake of Omega 3 fats.
  • Eat plenty of veggies, in particular with your animal proteins
  • Balancing carbs, proteins and fats is not sufficient. Make sure that each of your meals provides you with vitamins and minerals too. Typically, having some plant based food as part of your meal and at least one fruit will make sure you tick this box. And, most importantly, varying the foods you combine in your meals is your best insurance to make sure you have a healthy supply of all the micro-nutrients you need.
  • Make sure that you mentally check if your meal includes fiber. Fiber is extremely important for your health and it’s good practice that each meal contributes to your fiber intake. Routinely eating whole meal foods instead of refined foods it’s the best strategy to ensure you have sufficient fiber intake.
  • Proactively seek probiotic foods. There are many delicious probiotic foods that you should integrate in your eating habits: yogurt, kefir, kombucha, pickles, sauerkraut, tempeh, and miso are some of the most known examples. Be curious and include probiotic foods into your eating routine and you will build and maintain a healthy intestinal microbiota. 
  • Finally, watch the color of your plate. If it looks monochrome, it’s a good sign that something is missing. Make sure that your plate looks like a rainbow. Colors in food are most often a sign of the healthy substances that are present in it.

21. Maximize variety of foods when you create your meals

Again, maximizing variety in your eating habits is the best insurance for building and maintaining health. When you combine foods to create your meals, always keep in mind that you should plan for variety in your eating routine.

Variety should come in different forms:

Variety of meals you eat on a daily basis, some basic examples:

  • If you have meat in one meal, consider not to eat meat in the other meals in your day
  • If you eat a dairy product a breakfast, you may want not to eat any other dairy product in your other meals
  • If you eat fish a lunch, don’t eat again fish for dinner

Variety of meals on a weekly basis

  • If you eat red meat on Monday, then this would be enough for the week
  • If you eat fish on Tuesday, consider not eating it on Monday and Wednesday
  • If you eat dairy products on Thursday, try not to eat dairy products on Wednesday and Friday
  • You should introduce variety in your macros too: if in a meal you eat whole grain wheat pasta, in the next one you could eat whole grain rice, and in the next one rye bread.

These are just some quick examples.

The point is that by avoiding to eat always the same foods, you will be stimulated to search for new foods to add into your heating habits. In doing so, you will eat a larger variety of foods that will maximize the chances that you will eat all the nutrients you need to stay healthy, without deficiencies and without excesses.

Also, by adding new food into your routine, you will train your taste and discover new things that you really like, therefore feeling less the need to eat some of the usual unhealthy food. You will be able to discover opportunities to replace unhealthy food you like with healthy food you like. This is a virtue circle.

22. Vary your cooking methods too

Variety should be reflected not only in your individual foods and meal choices, but also in the cooking methods you use. 

Take action to introduce cooking methods that you don’t normally use, consider “airfrying”, baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, poaching, roasting, microwaving, pressure cooking, slow cooking, stir-frying or sautéing, steaming, etc. Of course, eat raw food as well.

Each cooking methods offer different health benefit opportunities: for example eating raw vegetables is good because it maximizes the intake of certain healthy nutrients, but eating them cooked has benefits too, for example it maximizes the amount of vegetables you can eat. Think for example about broccoli. If you eat them raw, you can typically eat a small amount. If you cook them, you can eat much more, maximizing for example the amount of fiber intake. So, as always, it’s not black or white. Simply vary: one day you eat them raw, another day you can eat them cooked.

23. Remember that healthy and tasty is the norm

Be smart and add flavor to each of your meals. Remember that healthy and tasty is the norm.

Think about the most boring meal that’s often preferred by health-conscious people: chicken, rice and broccoli. This can be quite a depressing meal if you just take a plate, and put boiled chicken, steamed white rice, and steamed broccoli in it.

Now think about this alternative: cut the chicken in small pieces, season it with extra virgin olive oil, powdered garlic, powdered sage and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Stir-fry it in a pan until it’s a little crunchy on the outside and soft inside. Steam cook whole grain red rice with a rice cooker, then stir-fry it for one minute or two in the same pan where you cooked the chicken and add a bit of chopped parsley in it. Steam cook the broccoli until it’s cooked but still crunchy. Then stir-fry a clove of garlic in a pan with extra virgin olive oil, then the garlic is slightly brown, add the broccoli in pieces and a bit of hot pepper. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes. Then place the chicken, the rice and the broccoli in your dish. You will have a nicely colored meal, with different consistencies, flavors and tastes, ranging from a bit of sweetness from the rice, to the spiciness of the hot pepper. For an extra boost of sapidity you could use a bit of soy sauce where you can dip your chicken. If you like ginger, you can have a few small slices of fresh ginger on your plate to further kick the taste of your meal. Don’t fixate on recipes, just put together spices and tastes you like, experiment yourself, make your meals colorful and enjoyable.

If you are a dessert person, be smart and find ways to satisfy your craving of sweet food intelligently. You may want to end your meal with a small piece of dark gourmet chocolate, or a few pieces of a fruit of season, or create smart snacks such as one dried fig with a walnut in it.

Have your own weekly eating compass always with you, as your guide for your healthy eating habits journey

Have your healthy eating habits compass
Have your healthy eating habits compass to guide you in your healthy eating journey (image created by me with Midjourney AI)

Healthy eating is a journey, and you need a compass. I prefer to call it a “compass” rather than a “plan”, because it’s not something you have to follow strictly, it’s a tool to give direction to your heating habits.

Diets do not work because they make you a prisoner. Healthy eating habits work because you are free to eat whatever you want as far as you are going in the right direction. And if you are off track, no problem, your compass will help you find your way again.

24. Decide what is your normal number of meals per day

Although flexibility is very important in a healthy eating routine, it’s certainly a good idea to decide upfront what your normal amount of meals per day is. For example, currently my normal amount of daily meals is 3: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The simple reason is that I enjoy so much having my meals, that if I eat something outside of them then I tend not to enjoy my main meals. Also, my preferred meal is dinner, because it’s an opportunity for me to relax after a day of work and spend time with my family. So I tend to eat less at lunch, and a bit more for dinner. This has for me the advantage that after a light and healthy lunch, I can have more energy and focus in the afternoon.

However, you may have different preferences and needs, so you may decide to have 4 meals or more in your day. Yet, I’d strongly recommend defining your “normal” amount of meals, and stick to it most of the time.

25. Create a weekly meal “compass” plan that’s easy easy to remember by heart

Again flexibility is key, you don’t have to be in a diet prison where you are somehow forced to eat things you don’t like, or have a eating schedule that you don’t like, whilst looking forward all of this ends in order to regain your freedom.

Still, if you want to develop healthy eating habits, you should have a vision about what your eating habits actually look like.

For this reason, you should really have a high level weekly eating plan that you can use as your compass. In particular, when you are lost in your eating journey you can use it to remind yourself about what your eating normal is, and going back to it.

The eating plan should be something so easy that you don’t even need to write it down to remember it, although writing it down may help at the beginning.

The best way to convey what I mean, is by example. That’s why I am sharing below what my plan looks like at the time I am writing my article.

First of all for breakfast. Every day I eat an apple with mixed unsalted nuts, and I drink one glass of my home made water kefir, and a strong black coffee. So I am not writing these down in my compass plan because I eat these foods with every single breakfast.

Then, I am not writing down my lunch schedule because in this period I am always eating light lunches, and entirely plant based. So I don’t need to plan what I eat, I decide every day. At the end, being plant based, as far as I rotate with the right combinations of foods to ensure a balanced meal with enough proteins, carbs and fat, I am on the safe side because plants normally provide a wide range of micronutrients and phytonutrients too.

Finally, for dinner I always eat plenty of vegetables and a couple of fruits, so I am not adding them in my compass plan. Also, for my carbs I alternate between whole grains (whole grain breads, rice, etc.) and some starches (such as potatoes), so I don’t need to write them down because I am already good enough at varying them.

So, let me share my schedule where I am only indicating what I am eating for breakfast on top of my apple, nuts, water kefir, and coffee. And what I eat for dinner, on top of plenty of vegetables and a couple of fruits.

What follows is my compass that I use to guide my meal choices at the present time. I don’t have this written down (a part in this article now) because I remember it by heart. Good news, is that this I aligned with my family’s compass, so we can enjoy the same dinners together 🙂


  • Breakfast: chia pudding with mixed seeds and berries
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: plant- soy-based (e.g. tofu)


  • Breakfast: oatmeal with berries
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: fish rich in omega 3 (e.g. blue fish, salmon)


  • Breakfast: muesli with raisins
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: dairy (e.g. cheese)


  • Breakfast: chia pudding with mixed seeds and berries
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: plant based based on legumes and mushrooms (e.g. whole grains, legumes, mushrooms)


  • Breakfast: muesli with raisins
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: white meat (e.g. chicken, turkey)


  • Breakfast: yogurt, oatmeal
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: free


  • Breakfast: whole grain bread, peanut butter, fruit jam
  • Lunch: plant based
  • Dinner: eggs (e.g. omelet)

26. Minimize the gap between your actual and planned healthy eating habits

Above I’ve introduced my current eating compass. You should have your own compass that may differ significantly from mine. In fact, this should be the case. I am not advocating for the above to be the one compass that everyone should have.

Also, I absolutely don’t freak out if on some occasions I am not able to follow my compass. If I am invited for lunch or dinner at friends’ place, I will eat whatever they offer me. Then, I will restart following my compass with the next meal. No problem.

You have to use your weekly compass plan as your tool to guide you back into your normal eating path every time this is needed. The key is that your compass should really be your normal. If you don’t like your compass, then change it until you like it. Then follow it. When you think it’s time to update your compass, update it.

–> Try our free weekly meal planner for healthy eating and build your own healthy eating Compass

27. Limit as much as possible these few bad foods

Although you absolutely should maximize variety of the type of foods and the type of meals you eat, you have to be aware that certain foods have been universally recognized as dangerous for your health. These are:

  1. Preserved meat: there is large evidence that preserved meat, such as cold cuts and sausages, are extremely unhealthy
  2. Red meat: it is currently considered “probably” carcinogenic by the most authoritative health organizations globally
  3. Trans fats: you should avoid trans fats at all costs

Regarding alcohol, a recent systematic analysis that alcohol consumption is unhealthy even in small quantities. The recommendation here is that if you drink alcohol, you should drink it in moderation if you care about your health.

28. Mind the planet in addition to your own healthy eating habits

Finally, you have to be aware that as different foods have different impacts on our body and health, these also have very different impacts on the health of our planet. The production of animal-based foods has higher greenhouse gas emissions (orange bars) than producing plant-based foods. In particular, dairy and red meat (especially beef) have the greatest impact. Producing food also requires a big amount of natural resources as you can see in the charts below.

Impact of food on the health of our planet
Impact of different types of food on the health of our planet
Proteins production costs and impact on the planet
Proteins production costs and impact on the planet (source Harvard School of Public Health)
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28 healthy eating habits that can save your life (image generated by me with Midjourney AI)