Healthy 25% Picks - Here’s What We Recommend

healthy lifestyle


When you are enjoying 75% Full Plate Meals on a consistent daily basis, you’ll be eating a whole foods, high-fiber diet which has numerous health benefits. To maximize those benefits, we recommend choosing healthier 25% plate options as often as possible, and ensuring they remain on just 25% of your plate.

The foods discussed below are 25% plate foods because they don’t meet the two essential characteristics of 75% plate foods: naturally contain fiber and are rich in water. 

If you have a specific medical condition, work with your healthcare provider, physician or nutrition expert for specific food modifications before following any Full Plate Living recommendation.


Healthier 25% Plate Fiber Foods

While these foods naturally contain fiber, they belong on the 25% part of the plate because they are low in water. 

Seeds & Nuts

Seeds and nuts deserve a place in our daily meals. They grow all over the world and are very versatile in cooking. Their reputation has been transformed in recent years from high-fat villains to nutritional heroes. The majority of their fat is the healthy unsaturated kind, with well-known cholesterol-lowering, heart-healthy benefits. Seeds and nuts offer vitamins E, B1, B2, B6, pantothenic acid and folate. They also provide calcium, iron, magnesium, and phosphorus. They’re rich in the trace minerals zinc, manganese, copper, and selenium, all of which help defend our bodies against oxidative damage. 

How to keep them healthy

Use raw, unprocessed seeds, nuts and their respective butters, without added salt, sugar or oil. Walnuts, pecans, cashews, almonds, brazil nuts, pine nuts, sunflower seeds, flaxseeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds are all good choices. Peanuts are also a good choice but should always be eaten roasted because they’re actually a bean not a nut, and beans should never be eaten raw because we can’t digest them.

What’s a recommended serving size?

The recommended daily serving size for seeds and nuts is an ounce. That is generally a small handful; if you can close your fist around the nuts, you’re good. 

The recommended daily serving size for seed and nut butters is 2 tablespoons. 


Whole Grain Baked Goods

Whether talking about breads, rolls, hamburger buns, English muffins, pastas, or cold cereals, 100% whole grain options are always the best choice. Whole grains are loaded with health-promoting nutrients: fiber, protein, several B vitamins, vitamin E, healthy unsaturated fat, including omega-3, antioxidants and phytochemicals, as well as the minerals iron, zinc, copper, manganese, magnesium and selenium. A diet rich in whole grains has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, obesity, some forms of cancer and depression.

How to keep them healthy

The healthiest options of grain-based foods are 100% whole grain. It can be 100% whole wheat or 100% whole oats, but, generally speaking, the word “whole” appears in front of the name of the grain, flour or pasta. Download Diana’s Whole Grain Cheat Sheet PDF for all the details on whole grains.

What’s a recommended serving size?

To reap the many health benefits of whole grains, work your way up to eating 3-5 servings of different whole grains a day. You can choose both cooked whole grains for your 75% part of the plate and processed whole grains for your 25% part. 

Here are single serving recommendations for common 25% whole grain products:

*Tips for keeping popcorn healthy:

  • Air-popped popcorn is the best option.
  • If you pop your own, use a liquid vegetable oil with a high smoke point like refined olive oil, avocado oil, sunflower or safflower oil.
  • Avoid microwave popcorn with any hydrogenated oil, coconut or palm oil or butter. All these options can increase LDL cholesterol levels because of their trans and/or saturated fat content.


Dried or Dehydrated Fruits and Vegetables 

Dried fruits and vegetables are very nutritious, rich in fiber and antioxidants, especially polyphenols, and numerous vitamins and minerals. They are a 25% plate food because of their low water content, however, dried fruits and vegetables are a more nutritious 25% plate food when compared to chips, fries or cookies.

Drying results in shrinking the size of the fruits and veggies while concentrating their nutrients, calories and sugars. It also reduces the amount of some vitamins and minerals. For these reasons, you’ll want to continue to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

How to keep them healthy

Research has shown that freeze-dried fruits and vegetables appear to be a good option because nutrient losses are minimal. 

When choosing dried fruits and vegetables, reading the ingredient list and nutritional information on the package can help guide you into making healthier choices:

  • Avoid candied dried fruit with added sugar or syrup. 
  • Avoid all dried fruits and veggies that are coated with paraffin and/or oil.
  • Check for sulfites, often used in drying fruits and vegetables in order to preserve their color, extend their shelf life and kill bacteria. This can be a problem for those with asthma or sensitive to sulfites.

Organic dried fruits and vegetables do not use preservatives, so in order to ensure they last longer without bacterial contamination or fermentation, keep them in the refrigerator or freezer. 

What’s a recommended serving size?

Because the serving sizes of dried fruits and vegetables are smaller than fresh, it’s easy to overeat them, especially dried fruits because they’re sweet. So stick to the recommended serving sizes.

Dried fruit = ¼ cup

Dried vegetables = 1 cup


Healthier 25% Plate Non-Fiber Foods 

The reason these foods are 25% plate foods is because they don’t naturally contain fiber or the fiber has been removed in processing.

One of the biggest concerns with non-fiber foods is their saturated fat content, which can raise LDL cholesterol levels and increase risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. We picked the foods discussed below because they are healthier, lower saturated fat 25% plate options. 

Note: We have purposefully omitted red and processed meats and higher saturated fat foods (like beef, pork, sausage, ham, hot dogs, bacon, butter, lard, whole milk, cheese. etc.) that raise LDL cholesterol and increase risk of heart disease. We recommend consuming these foods infrequently, and if you do choose to make them part of your 25% plate, stick to a 3-ounce serving, the size of a deck of cards. 


Tofu, Seitan and Commercial Meat Substitutes

Tofu is a soybean product that results in the loss of almost all the fiber. However, it’s a rich source of nutritious plant protein with almost no saturated fat and no dietary cholesterol, associating tofu with reduced risk of heart disease. Tofu contains several anti-inflammatory, antioxidant phytochemicals, as well as the minerals calcium, iron, copper, magnesium, manganese and potassium.

Seitan is made from gluten, the main protein in wheat, and is a good source of the mineral selenium as well as providing small amounts of iron, calcium and phosphorus. But it has no fiber because of processing.

Meat substitutes have differing amounts of fiber depending on their ingredients. They are mock meats that represent and attempt to imitate the look and taste of meats like chicken, sausage, bacon, burger patties, hot dogs, deli slices, etc. Their nutritional benefits depend on their various ingredients, which usually include processed forms of beans, whole grains and vegetables.  

How to keep them healthy

Choose options that are not fried.

Choose meat substitutes with short ingredient lists that contain items you recognize and do not have any hydrogenated oils, coconut oil, coconut butter, coconut milk, palm oil, palm fruit oil or palm kernel oil. Make sure there is no more than 2 grams of saturated fat in a serving. 

What’s a recommended serving size?

Tofu: 3.5 ounces

Seitan: 3 ounces

Meat substitutes: one serving according to the box or package



Hands down, the healthiest meat with the least amount of saturated fat is coldwater fish like salmon, tilapia, cod, perch, mackerel, tuna, sardines, bass and trout. 

Fish are famous for providing omega-3 fat, which is associated with numerous health benefits, including reduced risk of heart disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, high blood pressure, autoimmune diseases, inflammation, macular degeneration and blood clots. Fish are an excellent source of protein and also provide vitamins B2(riboflavin), B12 and D, as well as being a great source of many minerals: calcium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium and potassium.

How to keep it healthy 

The best ways to prepare fish include baking, roasting, steaming, stewing and grilling. Skip fried or breaded versions, as well as processed forms such as nuggets, tenders and lunch meats. 

What’s a recommended serving size?

The American Heart Association recommends a 3.5 ounce serving of cooked fish, about the size of a checkbook, no more than two times a week because of the presence of mercury, PCBs, dioxins and other toxins.



Poultry is an excellent source of protein, niacin and selenium, as well as providing vitamin B12.

Unlike red meat and processed meats, chicken is not associated with an increased risk of diabetes or certain types of cancer. But there are concerns about eating poultry because it can raise LDL cholesterol levels associated with risk of heart disease. If you have elevated cholesterol or triglyceride levels, or a family history of heart disease, there are steps you can take to reduce the amount of saturated fat in poultry by following the recommendations below.

How to keep it healthy & the recommended serving size

When you’re choosing poultry, follow these guidelines:

  • Choose skinless chicken or turkey to lose notable amounts of saturated fat in the skin
  • Stick to a 3-ounce serving (the size of a deck of cards) once or twice a week
  • Prepare by baking, roasting, steaming, stewing and grilling, skipping fried, breaded and processed versions such as nuggets, tenders and lunch meats   


Low-Fat Dairy and Non-Dairy Alternatives

For decades, Americans have been told to eat dairy products daily to get the calcium needed for strong bones. But regular, full-fat dairy products contain amounts of saturated fat that have been associated with increasing LDL cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and diabetes. 

How to keep them healthy

If choosing dairy or non-dairy alternatives to include in the 25% part of your plate, consider the following suggestions:

  • Dairy products (milk, cream, yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream): choose low-fat, light or fat-free versions, buying pasteurized brands whenever possible 
  • Non-dairy alternatives (almond, cashew, oat, soy: milk, cream, yogurt, mayonnaise, sour cream, cheese): choose unsweetened and/or unflavored versions to avoid added sugars 
    • Avoid coconut-based milk, cream, yogurt, cream cheese and cheese due to their high saturated fat content
    • Avoid all rice-based dairy alternatives because of high amounts of added sugar
  • Choose margarines and plant butters without any hydrogenated oils, coconut oil, coconut cream, coconut butter, palm kernel oil, palm oil or palm fruit oil
  • Check out this link for a discussion about non-dairy cheeses.

What’s a recommended serving size?

Stick to the recommended serving size on the package. 


Egg and Egg Whites

Eggs are a great source of protein, vitamin D, choline, lutein and zeaxanthin. Vitamin D is important for strong bones and a strong immune system. Choline is necessary for healthy brain and nervous system function. Lutein and zeaxanthin have been found to reduce the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration. 

Studies suggest eating an egg a day is not associated with an increased risk of heart disease, heart attack or stroke in healthy people

But for people with medical conditions like diabetes, an egg a day has been shown to be associated with increased risk of heart disease, the most common cause of death among those with diabetes. Therefore, it would be prudent to skip whole eggs in favor of egg whites.

For those who have trouble maintaining good or optimal total cholesterol levels (good=<200; optimal=<150) and LDL cholesterol levels (good=<100; optimal=70-90), skip whole eggs and use egg whites for scrambled eggs and omelettes, and load them with veggies.

The white of a large egg has only 16 calories, no fat or cholesterol and provides 4 grams of protein.  

How to keep them healthy

The way you eat your egg matters. 

If you cook with oil, use a small amount of vegetable oil, like olive or avocado oil, to avoid added saturated fat. 

What’s a recommended serving size?

No more than one whole egg a day if you’re healthy. Choosing egg whites is an even healthier choice. 

If you choose to use commercial egg white products, buy low-sodium versions. We recommend no more than 2 egg whites a day. 


Moving Forward

Full Plate Living believes in abundant eating and shuns deprivation. There are no forbidden or bad foods, just foods that need to be consumed in moderation. For this reason, we’ve reserved an entire quarter of your plate for food choices that fit your lifestyle and way of eating. Some days your plates will be full of fiber-rich foods, other days your 25% might be just cake. And that’s OK. Simply strive to make healthier 25% choices more often than not to experience the health benefits associated with a whole foods, high-fiber diet.  

Find everything you need to get started in the free Full Plate Living Membership.


Full Plate Living is a small-step approach with big health outcomes. It's provided as a free service of Ardmore Institute of Health.

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