What are the benefits of healthy eating?
Good nutrition is an essential component to a healthy lifestyle. The more information you have about nutrition, the better prepared you will be to make good nutrition choices.
Healthy Eating Guidelines are intended to promote overall health while reducing the risk of developing nutrition-related diseases.
We all know that eating right can help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid certain health problems, but your diet can also have a profound effect on your mood and sense of wellbeing. Studies have linked eating a typical Western diet—filled with processed meats, packaged meals, takeout food, and sugary snacks—with higher rates of depression, stress, bipolar disorder, and anxiety. Eating an unhealthy diet may even play a role in the development of mental health disorders such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia, or in the increased risk of suicide in young people.
Eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, cooking meals at home, and reducing your intake of sugar and refined carbohydrates, on the other hand, may help to improve mood and lower your risk for mental health problems.
While some specific foods or nutrients have been shown to have a beneficial effect on mood, it’s your overall dietary pattern that is most important. That means switching to a healthy diet doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t have to completely eliminate foods you enjoy to have a healthy diet and make a difference to the way you think and feel.
Switching to a healthy diet
Changing everything at once usually leads to cheating or giving up on your new eating plan. To set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps—like adding a salad to your diet once a day—rather than one big drastic change. As your small changes become habit, you can continue to add more healthy choices.
Prepare more of your own meals. Cooking more meals at home can help you take charge of what you’re eating and better monitor exactly what goes into your food.
Make the right changes. When cutting back on unhealthy foods in your diet, it’s important to replace them with healthy alternatives. Replacing dangerous trans fats with healthy fats (such as switching fried chicken for grilled fish) will make a positive difference to your health. Switching animal fats for refined carbohydrates, though (such as switching your breakfast bacon for a donut), won’t lower your risk for heart disease or improve your mood.
Simplify. Instead of being overly concerned with counting calories, think of your diet in terms of color, variety, and freshness. Focus on avoiding packaged and processed foods and opting for more fresh ingredients.
Read the labels. It’s important to be aware of what’s in your food as manufacturers often hide large amounts of sugar or unhealthy fats in packaged food, even food claiming to be healthy.
Focus on how you feel after eating. This will help foster healthy new habits and tastes. The more healthy food you eat, the better you’ll feel after a meal. The more junk food you eat, the more likely you are to feel uncomfortable, nauseous, or drained of energy.
Drink plenty of water. Water helps flush our systems of waste products and toxins, yet many people go through life dehydrated—causing tiredness, low energy, and headaches. It’s common to mistake thirst for hunger, so staying well hydrated will also help you make healthier food choices.
Moderation: the key to a healthy diet
What is moderation? In essence, it means eating only as much food as your body needs. You should feel satisfied at the end of a meal, but not stuffed. Moderation is also about balance. We all need a balance of protein, fat, fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals to sustain a healthy body.
For many of us, moderation also means eating less than we do now. But it doesn't mean eliminating the foods you love. Eating bacon for breakfast once a week, for example, could be considered moderation if you follow it with a healthy lunch and dinner—but not if you follow it with a box of donuts and a sausage pizza.
Try not to think of certain foods as “off-limits.” When you ban certain foods, it’s natural to want those foods more, and then feel like a failure if you give in to temptation. Start by reducing portion sizes of unhealthy foods and not eating them as often. As you reduce your intake of unhealthy foods, you may find yourself craving them less or thinking of them as only occasional indulgences.
Think smaller portions. Serving sizes have ballooned recently. When dining out, choose a starter instead of an entree, split a dish with a friend, and don't order supersized anything. At home, visual cues can help with portion sizes. Your serving of meat, fish, or chicken should be the size of a deck of cards and half a cup of mashed potato, rice, or pasta is about the size of a traditional light bulb. By serving your meals on smaller plates or in bowls, you can trick your brain into thinking it’s a larger portion. If you don't feel satisfied at the end of a meal, add more leafy green vegetables or round off the meal with fruit.
Take your time. It actually takes a few minutes for your brain to tell your body that it has had enough food, so eat slowly and stop eating before you feel full.
Cut back on sugar
Aside from portion size, perhaps the single biggest problem with the modern Western diet is the amount of added sugar in our food. As well as creating weight problems, too much sugar causes energy spikes and has been linked to diabetes, depression, and even an increase in suicidal behaviors in young people. Reducing the amount of candy and desserts you eat is only part of the solution as sugar is also hidden in foods such as bread, cereals, canned soups and vegetables, pasta sauce, margarine, instant mashed potatoes, frozen dinners, low-fat meals, fast food, and ketchup. Your body gets all it needs from sugar naturally occurring in food so all this added sugar just means a lot of empty calories.
Tips for reducing sugar in your diet
Slowly reduce the sugar in your diet a little at a time to give your taste buds time to adjust and wean yourself off the craving.
Avoid sugary drinks. Try drinking sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice instead.
Don’t replace saturated fat with sugar. Low-fat or no-fat doesn’t necessarily mean healthy, especially when the fat has been replaced by added sugar to make up for loss of taste, such as in the case of many low-fat yoghurts and so-called diet foods. For many of us, the added sugar could be doing more harm than the saturated fat it’s replacing.
Avoid processed or packaged foods like canned soups, frozen dinners, or low-fat meals that often contain hidden sugar that quickly surpasses the recommended limit.
Be careful when eating out. Most gravy, dressings and sauces are packed with sugar, so ask for it to be served on the side.
Eat healthier snacks. Cut down on sweet snacks such as candy, chocolate, and cakes. Instead, eat naturally sweet food such as fruit, peppers, or natural peanut butter to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Check labels and choose low-sugar products.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
Fruit and vegetables are low in calories and nutrient dense, which means they are packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and fiber. Focus on eating the recommended daily amount of at least five servings of fruit and vegetables and it will naturally fill you up and help you cut back on unhealthy foods. A serving is half a cup of raw fruit or veg or a small apple or banana, for example. Most of us need to double the amount we currently eat. To increase your intake, add berries to breakfast cereals, eat fruit for dessert, swap your usual side dish for a salad, and snack on vegetables such as carrots, snow peas, or cherry tomatoes instead of processed snack foods.
Add a rainbow to your healthy diet
The brighter, deeper colored fruits and vegetables contain higher concentrations of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants—and different colors provide different benefits.
Greens. Branch out beyond lettuce. Kale, mustard greens, broccoli, and Chinese cabbage are all packed with calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, zinc, and vitamins A, C, E, and K.
Sweet vegetables. Naturally sweet vegetables—such as corn, carrots, beets, sweet potatoes, yams, onions, and squash—add healthy sweetness to your meals and reduce your cravings for added sugar.
Fruit. Fruit is a tasty, satisfying way to fill up on fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants. Berries are cancer-fighting, apples provide fiber, oranges and mangos offer vitamin C, and so on.
Three reasons support the recommendation for Americans to eat more vegetables and fruits.
First, most vegetables and fruits are major contributors of a number of nutrients that are underconsumed in the United States, including folate, magnesium, potassium, dietary fiber, and vitamins A, C, and K.61 Several of these are of public health concern for the general public (e.g., dietary fiber and potassium) or for a specific group (e.g., folic acid for women who are capable of becoming pregnant).
Second, consumption of vegetables and fruits is associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases. Specifically, moderate evidence indicates that intake of at least 2 cups of vegetables and fruits per day is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. Some vegetables and fruits may be protective against certain types of cancer.
Third, most vegetables and fruits, when prepared without added fats or sugars, are relatively low in calories. Eating them instead of higher calorie foods can help adults and children achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
Fill up on fiber
Eating foods high in dietary fiber can help you stay regular, lower your risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes, and even help you to lose weight. Depending on your age and gender, nutrition experts recommend you eat at least 21 to 38 grams of fiber per day for optimal health. Many of us aren't eating half that amount.
Foods and Food Components to Reduce
Reduce daily sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams (mg) and further reduce intake to 1,500 mg among persons who are 51 and older and those of any age who are African American or have hypertension, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease. The 1,500 mg recommendation applies to about half of the U.S. population, including children, and the majority of adults.
Consume less than 10 percent of calories from saturated fatty acids by replacing them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Consume less than 300 mg per day of dietary cholesterol.
Keep trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible by limiting foods that contain synthetic sources of trans fats, such as partially hydrogenated oils, and by limiting other solid fats.
Reduce the intake of calories from solid fats and added sugars.
Limit the consumption of foods that contain refined grains, especially refined grain foods that contain solid fats, added sugars, and sodium.
If alcohol is consumed, it should be consumed in moderation—up to one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men
Foods and Nutrients to Increase
Individuals should meet the following recommendations as part of a healthy eating pattern while staying within their calorie needs.
Increase vegetable and fruit intake.
Eat a variety of vegetables, especially dark-green and red and orange vegetables and beans and peas.
Consume at least half of all grains as whole grains. Increase whole-grain intake by replacing refined grains with whole grains.
Increase intake of fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products, such as milk, yogurt, cheese, or fortified soy beverages.
Choose a variety of protein foods, which include seafood, lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans and peas, soy products, and unsalted nuts and seeds.
Increase the amount and variety of seafood consumed by choosing seafood in place of some meat and poultry.
Replace protein foods that are higher in solid fats with choices that are lower in solid fats and calories and/or are sources of oils.
Use oils to replace solid fats where possible.
Choose foods that provide more potassium, dietary fiber, calcium, and vitamin D, which are nutrients of concern in American diets. These foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and milk and milk products.