In addition to sleep and physical activity, a balanced diet is one of the key elements of health and well-being. Healthy eating not only makes you feel good but also has a variety of physical health benefits. Since food fuels bodily processes, it makes sense that good food encourages optimal overall function. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, for maximum health benefits.
Healthy eating prevents a variety of chronic diseases. Emerging research and laboratory studies have shown that a balanced diet may even reduce the chances of developing cancer. The American Cancer Society's "ACS Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention" recommends eating a balanced diet with an emphasis on plant sources for optimal cancer prevention benefits. Likewise, the Rush University Medical Center suggests that diet plays an important role in preventing Alzheimer's disease. Diabetes and obesity are other chronic diseases that may be prevented with the aid of a healthy diet. Eating well also boosts the immune system and fortifies the body against other types of communicable diseases.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, may result in heart failure and premature death. A diet high in whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts but that limits red meat, fats, sweets and sugary drinks reduces the risk of developing hypertension. Salt and sodium intake is also a primary contributing factor in heart disease. Many processed and prepared foods have high sodium levels; avoid these products if you have any heart problems. For optimal results, combine a heart-healthy diet with regular aerobic exercise, which helps keep blood flowing and the heart pumping.
Energy and Growth
A healthy diet provides adequate amounts of vitamins and nutrients, which are essential for growth, energy and proper development. When vitamin levels are inadequate, serious health problems can result. Vitamin A deficiency, for example, can cause blindness in children and is particularly dangerous for pregnant women. Vitamin deficiency anemia is caused by insufficient vitamin C, folate and vitamin B12 levels, leading to extreme fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, weight loss and other undesirable symptoms. If you think you might have a vitamin deficiency, see your doctor for some dietary suggestions, and consider taking a daily multivitamin.
For maximum health results, avoid foods that contain trans fats or high amounts of sugar, cholesterol or salt. Although a healthy diet provides benefits on its own, it is best when combined with regular physical activity, so find a way to incorporate exercise into your daily routine. Avoid skipping breakfast, and always try to eat at least three meals a day, or five small meals throughout the day. Strive for balance, and avoid eating too much of one food group. The U.S. Department of Agriculture provides helpful dietary guidelines for specific ages and gender.