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No single food eaten occasionally will ruin an overall good diet, so instead of thinking of foods in absolute terms–good/bad, clean/sinful, healthy/unhealthy– try taking a wider-angle view of your eating pattern.  Since it is what you eat usually that really counts, I find it helpful to think of foods as Usually, Sometimes and Rarely. Notice there is no Never category. There is no need to deprive yourself of any food or feel guilty about eating. Just try to stick to the Usually foods as much as possible —allowing yourself the flexibility to incorporate Sometimes and Rarely foods here and there.

I created this list way back when I was in private practice, and published it in my first book Small Changes, Big Results. It has guided me both in my personal eating habits and in the way I develop recipes ever since. It’s not perfect, because the truth is food is complex doesn’t neatly fit into three categories. But while imperfect, it can be a useful way to look at things and get you out of all-or- nothing food mentality. I hope you find it helpful!




These foods are the most nutrient-rich, minimally processed, and healthful and should be the backbone of your daily diet. Aim to get most of your daily servings from this group.



Any vegetable: fresh, frozen (not in sauce), low-sodium canned, fermented

Herbs, spices (fresh or dried)



Fruit: fresh, frozen (unsweetened) or canned in natural juice (not sweetened syrup)


Whole Grains & Starchy Vegetables

Cooked whole grains: oats, brown rice, bulgur, quinoa, buckwheat, farro, etc…

Whole grain bread, whole grain rolls, whole wheat bagels

Whole grain, low-sugar cold breakfast cereals such as Shredded Wheat, Bran Flakes, Cheerios

Whole grain, low sugar hot cereals

Whole grain, low-fat crackers,

Whole grain pasta, whole wheat cous-cous

Whole wheat or corn tortillas

Popcorn (lightly salted/seasoned)

Potatoes, sweet potatoes



Seafood, Meat, Poultry & Eggs

Seafood: any fish or shellfish not on the Rarely list

Poultry: fresh chicken, turkey, any cut

Pork: tenderloin, loin, lean ham

Game meats: venison, ostrich, buffalo

Eggs (up to 1 whole egg daily, unless you are vegetarian)


Beans, Soy, Nuts & Seeds

Any beans, lentils, black-eyed peas, split peas, chickpeas

Soy: tofu, tempeh, miso

Nuts: walnuts, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, peanuts

Seeds: pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds

Peanut butter; almond butter, other nut butters

Seed-based crackers


Dairy and plant milks

Milk, yogurt, cottage cheese, buttermilk (unsweetened)

Plant milks, light coconut milk (unsweetened)


Healthy Fats & Oils

Olive oil, Flaxseed oil, Canola oil, Peanut oil, Grapeseed oil, Safflower oil, Walnut oil, Avocado oil




These foods are somewhat more processed, contain more added sugar, and/or more saturated fat than those on the usually list, but most have positive nutritional attributes and can add valuable texture and flavor to dishes. Enjoy these with portions size in mind, aiming to have no more than 3 servings from this list per day.



Vegetables with rich cream sauces or creamy dressings  

Vegetable juice



Full fat coconut milk

100% Fruit juice


Grains & Starchy Vegetables

Refined (not whole grain) breads, rolls, and bagels

Cold cereals that are not whole grain

Crackers that are not whole grain

Whole grain/less sugar baked goods such as: muffins, quick-breads, biscuits, pancakes

White rice, regular pasta

Granola bars

Baked chips


Seafood, Meat, Poultry & Eggs

Poultry: duck, poultry sausage

Beef: lean cuts such as eye of round, top sirloin, top loin (strip) steak, lean ground beef

top round, chuck shoulder pot roast, brisket (flat half) tenderloin, flank steak, T-bone

Lamb: lean cuts such as sirloin, shank, shoulder

Pork: Canadian bacon, regular ham



Sweetened yogurt




“Vegetable” oil, Corn oil, Sesame oil




Honey, maple syrup, molasses, agave

Good quality dark chocolate

Whole grain/less sugar/fruit-based cookies and cakes (fig bars, graham crackers, biscotti)

Frozen yogurt, milk-based frozen desserts, fruit-based frozen desserts




These foods are highly processed and/or have a lot of saturated fat, trans fat and refined sugar. Aim for 7 servings or fewer from this list per week, or eat them in small portions.



Battered and fried vegetables



Fruit “drinks” or “cocktails”

Fruit canned in syrup


Grains & Starchy Vegetables

Packaged baked goods and crackers made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (avoid entirely or strictly limit)

Heavily sweetened cold cereals and bars

Fried chips

French fries, fried potatoes

Regular muffins, quick-breads, pancakes etc…


Seafood, Meat and Poultry

Seafood: king mackerel, shark, swordfish, tilefish  ***see note

Beef: higher fat cuts such as 80/20 ground beef, corned beef, short ribs, prime rib, liver

Pork: higher fat cuts such as ribs, butt, shoulder

Processed meats: hot dogs, bologna, salami, regular sausage, bacon


Dairy and other

Heavy cream, whipped cream

Sour cream

Crème fraiche

Cream cheese

Coconut cream




Coconut oil


Margarine & vegetable shortening (avoid entirely unless trans-fat free)



Granulated/white sugar, brown sugar

Candy: most commercial candy bars,

Pies, Cakes, Cookies, Donuts, Pastries

Ice cream


*** note: women who are pregnant, may become pregnant or are nursing, and small children should avoid these 4 types of fish entirely because of their high mercury levels.






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