Despite how much we all want it to be true, there is no quick solution for weight loss. If your new year’s resolution is to shed a few pounds, or simply eat healthier, the key to success is something you’ve probably heard before: to exercise and eat moderate portions of nutritious foods.
To help you get your resolutions off to a strong start, we found the healthiest foods in the four main food groups defined by the USDA eating guidelines dubbed, “MyPlate”: vegetables, fruits, protein (dairy, meats, legumes), and grains (bread and pasta). Pack your meals with any of these, and you’re sure to be getting a great bang for your bite.
Keep reading for our Smart Rating methodology or scroll down to begin.
Methodology: The Smart Rating is a score from 0 to 100 based on three factors: nutrient density, protein quality, and satiety score.
1. Nutrient Density: Measures the amount of vitamins and minerals a food item delivers by the calorie.
2. Protein Quality: An approximate measure of protein quality with respect to other nutrient properties of the food item. It identifies foods with high protein composition, adding points for healthy factors, and docking for unhealthy factors. The score adjusts for food without protein by measuring for fiber. The scale ranges from negative to positive; any score above 200 is a good one.
3. Satiety Score: Calculates an estimate of how full you will feel, by the calories, from a certain food item, taking macronutrient properties like fat, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, calories, and food mass into account.
Read more about the methodology here, or continue to see the healthiest foods of each food group.
Vegetables are some of the healthiest foods you can eat, and you should strive to include them in every meal. Every vegetable listed here has a satiety score of 1000/1000, meaning they fill you up faster per calorie than most other foods. They’re all relatively low in fat, packed with vitamins and minerals, and have far more protein and fiber than the average vegetable.
While fruits are a great source of micronutrients, be careful which ones you choose; many are also high in sugar which makes it hard to lose weight. You may be familiar with a few, but not all of the fruits listed here. The rose hip–the fruit of a rose plant–is not typically eaten in its original form, but made into herbal teas, jams, and syrups. The acerola is a type of cherry and (although you probably don’t need so much of it) has more Vitamin C than any other food source.
Protein – Dairy
The top five healthiest dairy products include a yogurt and four types of milk. Cheese didn’t make the cut. Plain Greek yogurt has about the same amount of calories as the average yogurt, but it has significantly more protein and fewer carbohydrates than its counterparts. As for the milk products, they all have a 1000/1000 satiety score and are excellent sources of phosphorous, Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin D. The FDA is proposing that Vitamin D–which helps the body absorb calcium and develop strong bones–amounts be included on food labels, as deficiencies of the vitamin in the U.S. population are common.
Protein – Meats
The most nutritious meats? Liver and kidney. They’re low in calories and fat, but rival and even exceed the vitamin content of many vegetables. If you’re not feeling so adventurous, you can stick with more traditional parts of the animal. Tt’s a good rule of thumb, though, to stick to white meat–start venturing into the red meats, and the percentage of saturated fat increases.
Protein – Legumes
Legumes are a good alternative source of protein for vegetarians. Beans are not very nutrient dense, but they rank highly for protein and satiety. The legumes here are quite varied. Lentils for example, are extremely low in fat and are a good source of fiber and iron. Soybeans, on the other hand, are higher in fat, and while they have iron and fiber, are also a good source of folate, Vitamin B2, and Vitamin K.
Grains – Breads
Grains are best to eat in combination with physical exertion, and whole grains are typically best. The bread with the highest Smart Rating is 72, because, relative to other foods, breads have few nutrients and protein, and have satiety scores in the 200 to 300/1000 range. The ones here however, rank highest overall. They also contain significantly fewer calories per serving than most breads.
Grains – Pasta
Like bread, pasta has a relatively low Smart Rating for its lack of nutrients. The ones listed here, however, provide more protein and fewer calories than most pasta do.