The UCSF-John Muir Health Jean and Ken Hofmann Cancer Center at the Behring Pavilion is now open.  LEARN MORE >

Healthy, well-balanced meals and snacks are key to maintaining your weight, feeling good, and preventing disease. Below are a few things you should know  — as well as some tips — to help you get all the nutrients you need to be healthy and fit.

How much of each nutrient you consume depends on your age, whether you are male or female, and your activity level. If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease, be sure to talk to your doctor first before embarking on a new diet since your doctor may want to put you on a meal plan that specifically targets your condition.

Whole Grains

  • Try a whole-grain product in place of a refined product, such as brown rice instead of white rice, or whole-wheat pasta instead of regular pasta.
  • Don’t be fooled by brown bread. Brown does not mean bread is whole grain — molasses or other ingredients can make bread brown. When choosing to buy bread, check the ingredient label to make sure the first ingredient is a whole grain such as “whole oats,” “whole rye,” “whole wheat,” or “whole-grain corn.”
  • Products labeled “multi-grain,” “stone-ground,” “100 percent wheat,” “seven-grain,” or “bran” are usually not whole-grain.
  • Add whole-wheat flour or oat flour for up to half the flour in pancake, waffle, muffin, or other flour-based recipes.
  • Popcorn is a whole grain. With little or no salt or butter it makes a great, healthy snack.

Fruits and Vegetables

  • Eating a plant-based diet is healthiest. Try filling half your plate with vegetables at every meal. Eat fresh fruit as a snack between meals. You should eat at least 4 ½ cups of vegetables and fruits a day.
  • Buy fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables to maximize flavor and keep your grocery bill down.
  • If you buy canned vegetables, be sure to check food labels. Canned vegetables often contain sauces or seasonings that add calories, fat, and sodium.
  • Buy vegetables that are easy to prepare, such as pre-washed salad greens, baby carrots, or grape tomatoes. Keep a bowl of pre-cut and washed vegetables in the fridge to snack on.
  • Eat a variety of different colored fruits and vegetables. This will maximize the nutritional value of your meals and keep them interesting.
  • Try sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes to get an extra boost of vitamins and minerals. Choose vegetables such as dark leafy greens, cooked tomatoes, or anything yellow, orange, or red in color.
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables to make quick and easy side dishes.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables with lots of potassium, such as bananas, sweet potatoes, white beans, tomato products, winter squash, spinach, lentils, prunes, dried apricots, cantaloupe, or kidney beans. Potassium is essential for your body’s growth, movement, and maintenance.
  • Keep fresh fruit visible and within easy reach on the table, counter, or in the refrigerator.
  • Have dried, frozen, and canned fruit handy (packed in water or juice), so you always have it available.
  • Avoid canned fruit packed in syrup.
  • Choose fruit over juice to maximize the amount of fiber you get.


  • Look beyond the dairy aisle. Drink or eat two to three servings of milk or dairy products a day. Try getting some of your calcium from other sources such as leafy green vegetables, soybeans, canned fish such as salmon or sardines and broccoli.
  • Get enough vitamin D, which is critical in the way your body absorbs calcium. Good sources are fatty fish, egg yolks, and fortified milk. Depending on age, adults require 200-600 IUs daily.
  • Drink fat-free or low-fat milk at meals.
  • If you drink whole milk, switch to fat-free milk over time. Try replacing whole milk with reduced fat (2%), then low fat (1%t), and finally fat-free.
  • If you like espresso drinks, ask for them with skim (fat-free) milk.
  • Substitute fat-free or low-fat milk for whole milk and cream in soups, sauces, and cereals.
  • Eat fat-free or low-fat yogurt.    
  • Fruit and yogurt smoothies are easy to make and packed full of nutrients.
  • Make dips for fruit or vegetables with low fat yogurt.
  • Low-fat pudding is a delicious way to add calcium to your diet.
  • Try a baked potato with skin and fat-free or low-fat yogurt.
  • If you are lactose intolerant and avoid milk products, try lactose-free cheese, yogurt, or milk.
  • Try calcium-fortified juices, soy or rice drinks, cereals, and breads.


  • Choose fish more often than other meats. Try as salmon, trout, and herring, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and can help lower blood fat and blood pressure.
  • Limit red meat such as beef, pork, or lamb. Research suggests eating too much of these meats may lead to colon cancer.
  • Avoid processed meats such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs, or deli meats since they’ve been linked to a higher cancer risk.
  • When you eat beef, try lean cuts such as round steaks and roasts, top loin, top sirloin, chuck shoulder and arm roasts.
  • Choose ground beef that is at least 90% lean.
  • Eat lean cuts of pork such a pork loin, tenderloin, or center loin.
  • Remove the skin from chicken before cooking.
  • If you choose deli meats, choose low-fat meats (turkey, chicken) over higher fat ones (bologna, salami)
  • Avoid frying meat. Instead broil, grill, roast, poach, or boil meat.
  • Choose dry beans or peas as a main dish or part of your meal. Beans are an excellent carbohydrate source rich in protein that your body digests slowly, filling you up over a longer period of time.
  • Nuts are a great snack and delicious on salads or in other dishes.
  • Always check the nutrition label for saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium content. Sometimes even fresh meats contain additional salt when the manufacturer packages them.
  • Balance protein with carbohydrates. Cutting back on processed carbs (such as white bread, white rice, or sugary soda) and increasing protein, lowers levels of blood fats (triglycerides) and improves levels of  “good” cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL).