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Make Healthy Food Choices

Make healthy food choices to help reach your weight loss goal. There are many weight loss plans from which to choose. But the DPP (PDF, 586 KB) showed that you can prevent or delay the onset of diabetes by losing weight through a low-fat, reduced calorie eating plan, and by increasing physical activity. Use these tips on to eat healthy and help you reach your goals:

When it comes to eating healthy to lose weight, the three most important steps are:

  1. Take in fewer calories than you burn during the day.
  2. Eat less fat (especially saturated fats and trans fats) than you currently eat.

    Saturated fat is found mostly in foods that come from animals like fatty cuts of beef, lamb, pork, poultry with skin, whole and 2% milk, butter, cheese, and lard. It can also be found in palm and coconut oil.

    Trans fat is found in some of the same foods as saturated fat, such as vegetable shortening and hard or stick margarine. It can also be found in processed foods that are made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, for example, cookies, baked goods, fried foods and salad dressings.

  3. Eat smaller portions of high fat and high calorie foods than you currently eat. Portion sizes are often smaller than we think.
  Portion Size​​ Same size as
Graphic image of a scoop 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta An ice cream scoop
Graphic image of four dices 1 1/2 ouncesof low fat cheese Four dice
Graphic image of a deck of cards 3 onces of lean meat or fish A deck of cards or
a cassette tape
Graphic image of a ping pong ball 2 tablespoons low-fat peanut butter A ping pong ball

Figure out how many calories and fat grams you should have per day. Use this chart to figure out your goals for losing one to two pounds per week.

Recommended Calories and Fat Grams Daily

**It is not advised to eat less than 1,200 calories a day

Current Weight​
Calories and Fat Grams per day
120 –170 pounds
1,200 calories a day
33 grams fat a day
175 – 215 pounds
1,500 calories a day
42 grams fat a day
120 – 245 pounds
1,800 calories a day
50 grams fat a day
250 – 300 pounds
2000 calories a day
55 grams fat a day

Source: DPP Lifestyle Manual of Operations

Healthy eating tips:

Healthy eating tips:

  • Try not to exceed the amount of calories and fat grams that you need on a daily basis.
  • Try to eat meals and snacks at regular times every day.
  • Make less food look like more by serving your meals on a smaller plate.
  • Take your time when you eat. It takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain that you are full.
  • Try to limit your alcoholic beverage intake. If you drink alcohol, chose light beer and avoid mixed drinks.

At home:

  • Choose foods that are not fried. Instead of fried chicken, try it grilled or baked. Instead of greasy french fries or potato chips, slice potatoes, mix them with a little bit of oil, herbs, and pepper, and bake them in the oven.
  • Lighten your recipes by using reduced-fat (light) or fat-free versions of items such as sour cream, cream cheese, mayonnaise, cheese and salad dressing.
  • Use herbs and seasonings to add flavor to low-fat dishes. Instead of salt, give foods a little kick by adding hot sauce or red pepper flakes.
  • Wrap up and refrigerate leftover foods right after cooking so you’re less tempted to go back for seconds.
  • Make time to cook healthy main dishes, casseroles, or soups. Freeze portions so you have healthy meals ready for days when you are too busy or too tired to cook.
  • For dessert, eat a piece of fruit. Also, try fat-free or low-fat frozen yogurt or sherbet instead of ice cream. Instead of cakes or brownies, have one scoop of vanilla fat-free frozen yogurt with a tablespoon of fat-free chocolate sauce on top.

At work or on the run:

  • Bring your lunch to work so you can take charge of what you eat. Make a sandwich with whole grain bread and turkey or lean beef. Use mustard or a little bit of “light” mayonnaise. Pack carrots and celery sticks instead of chips. Choose low-fat/fat-free milk, water, or other drinks without added sugar.
  • Pack a healthy snack in case you get hungry. Try an apple, a banana, a cup of fat-free yogurt, or reduced-fat or light string cheese sticks.
  • Try to pack your lunch the night before so it’s ready to go when you are.
  • Take a different route to work to avoid passing by tempting high-calorie foods at nearby restaurants, bakeries, or stores.  

In-between meals:

  • Replace snacks high in fat with crunchy fruits, vegetables, or a tablespoon or two of unsalted nuts.
  • Drink lots of water. Choose water or sugar-free soda instead of a regular 20-ounce soda or juice drink. By doing this, you can cut about 250 calories.
  • Chew sugar-free gum between meals to help cut down on snacking. Reach for a piece of gum or a hard candy instead of a snack high in fat or calories.

When shopping:

  • Make a list of what you need ahead of time and try to stick to it.
  • Avoid going shopping when you are hungry. Often, you will end up with things you really don’t want or need.
  • Read and compare food labels when shopping. Choose foods with fewer calories and that are lower in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol and sodium. Check the serving size and the number of servings in the package on the label.
  • Buy a variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grain foods. Try a new fruit or vegetable each week, such as kiwi fruit or butternut squash.
  • Choose reduced-fat or light versions of mayonnaise, cheese, and salad dressing. Use fat-free or 1 percent low-fat milk instead of whole milk.
  • You know best what high-calorie foods tempt you the most, such as cookies, cake, ice cream and snacks. Make it easy on yourself: Don’t have them in your home, your office, or anywhere else.

When eating out:

  • Take time to look over the menu and make a healthy choice.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for items not on the menu or to have a meal prepared with less or no added fat.
  • Ask about portion sizes and the fat and calorie content of menu items.
  • Choose steamed, grilled, or broiled dishes instead of those that are fried or sautéed.
  • Be the first to order so you are not influenced by what others are ordering.
  • Always order the smallest size meal instead of the larger, super-sized versions at fast-food restaurants.
  • You can eat half of what you order and take the rest home for a second meal.
  • Order salad dressing, gravy, sauces, or spreads “on the side.”
  • Order a salad for starters and share a main dish with a friend.
  • When you crave high-calorie foods, desserts, or snacks, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to have a small portion once in a while or to share a dessert with a friend. Just keep your weight loss goal in mind.
  • Stay away from “all-you-can-eat restaurants or buffets” where it’s hard to control portion sizes and how much you eat.

Eat a Variety of Foods:

Eat a Variety of Healthy Foods From Each Food Group

Graphic image of fruitsFocus on fruits. Eat a variety of fruits—whether fresh, frozen, canned, or dried—rather than fruit juice for most of your fruit choices. For a 2,000-calorie diet, you will need 2 cups of fruit each day (for example, 1 small banana, 1 large orange, and 1/4 cup of dried apricots or peaches).

Graphic image of vegetablesVary your veggies. Eat more dark green veggies, such as broccoli, kale, and other dark leafy greens; orange veggies, such as carrots, sweetpotatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash; and beans and peas, such as pinto beans, kidney beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, split peas, and lentils.

Graphic image of dairy productsGet your calcium-rich foods. Get 3 cups of lowfat or fat-free milk—or an equivalent amount of low-fat yogurt and/or low-fat cheese (11/2 ounces of cheese equals 1 cup of milk)—every day. For kids aged 2 to 8, it’s 2 cups of milk. If you don’t or can’t consume milk, choose lactose-free milk products and/or calcium-fortified foods and beverages.

Graphic image of wheatMake half your grains whole. Eat at least 3 ounces of whole-grain cereals, breads, crackers, rice, or pasta every day. One ounce is about 1 slice of bread, 1 cup of breakfast cereal, or 1/2 cup of cooked rice or pasta. Look to see that grains such as wheat, rice, oats, or corn are referred to as “whole” in the list of ingredients.


Graphic image of fish and meetGo lean with protein. Choose lean meats and poultry. Bake it, broil it, or grill it. And vary your protein choices— with more fish, beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

Know the limits on fats, salt, and sugars. Read the Nutrition Facts label on foods. Look for foods low in saturated fats and trans fats. Choose and prepare foods and beverages with little salt (sodium) and/or added sugars (caloric sweeteners).

2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP) is jointly sponsored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) with the support of more than 200 partner organizations.

This information is not copyrighted. The NIDDK encourages people to share this content freely.