How to Eat Healthy (and Cut Sugar, Salt and Fat)
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Live Science is bringing our readers a monthly series on personal health goals, with tips and tricks for reaching those goals with advice we've gathered from the countless health experts we've interviewed. Each month, we'll focus on a different goal, and the goal for February is "Eat Better." Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to connect with other readers who are working toward these goals.

Jump to: January — Lose Weight | March — Start Exercising April — Cope with Allergies | May — Protect Yourself from Sun and Heat June — Stay in Shape Outdoors

It's not uncommon to feel as if you're drowning in a sea of diet advice: drink red wine for heart health; avoid bacon and processed meats; make sure your diet is filled with "superfoods."

But eating a healthy diet is actually quite simple, if you know what to look for. Live Science pulled together the best advice and the most relevant stories about nutrition so you can eat better this year.

There is no single "perfect" healthy diet. But the U.S. government guidelines, which emphasize eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains and moving away from salt, added sugars and saturated fats, are a good place to start.

Here's what they say:

Are vegetarian diets really better for you? That may depend on what your goals are. But science shows that it is OK to have some meat in your diet — just don't go overboard.

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When it comes to healthy diets, it's hard to find one with more accolades than the Mediterranean diet. Rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil and fish, it has been linked in studies to numerous aspects of health, from the head to the heart.

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If you're not mad about the Mediterranean diet, there are other healthy ways to go. The American Heart Association’s "DASH" diet, which stands for Dietary Approach to Stop Hypertension, is not only praised as a heart-healthy diet but also a good diet for people who want to lose weight. And the "Japanese diet," or the general way that people commonly eat in Japan, has been linked to longer life, one study has shown.

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The tables have turned on the sweet stuff: Although it was once considered not especially harmful, a slew of research now shows that sugar — specifically, added sugar — is particularly damaging to a person's health. Too much sugar can raise a person's risk for both Type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

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Not all dietary fat is bad. Indeed, increasing evidence suggests that unsaturated fats can benefit health. However, trans fats have proved to be very damaging, leading the FDA in 2015 to ban them as an ingredient. 

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The body needs sodium – aka salt­ – in order to function. But too much of this mineral raises blood pressure, which can lead to a slew of heart problems, including heart disease. The salt you sprinkle on your dinner or add to a recipe isn't the main cause of sodium in your diet; rather, the majority of dietary sodium comes from processed foods.

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Reading food packaging can seem like doing a word search sometimes, but what do all the labels food manufacturers throw on your favorite snacks actually mean? Sometimes, a label doesn't quite mean what it says. For example, "reduced sodium" products can still have a good deal of sodium — this label just means it has 25 percent less than the "regular" version of the same product. And in other cases, like with the word "natural," it doesn't mean anything at all.

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For easy ways to choose healthy foods, check out Live Science's roundup of tips.

In today's digital world, there are plenty of tech tools to help you eat a healthy diet.

Originally published on Live Science.