Eating healthy foods on a daily basis can enhance your energy, wellness and brain function while reducing your risk of serious conditions, such as heart disease. Because each healthy food provides unique nutrients and benefits, aim for a variety from each good group. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests a diet based on nutrient-rich whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and fewer processed foods.
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Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables provide a broad assortment of vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants, which enhance your immune system and help reduce the severity and frequency of viruses, infections and disease. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that most people eat at least 2 cups of fruit and 2 1/2 cups of vegetables per day. For added benefits, consume a variety of colors and types of vegetables. Fruits particularly rich in nutrients include berries, citrus fruits, apples, pears, bananas, papaya, cantaloupe, guava, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, string beans, artichokes, sweet potatoes and bell peppers. Though fresh produce tends to provide the densest nutrients, frozen and canned varieties stored in water or natural juices are options.
Whole grains are complex carbohydrates, meaning they are digested more slowly than simple carbohydrates, such as sugar, and contain rich amounts of fiber and nutrients. A diet rich in whole grains may reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke while enhancing digestive wellness and weight management. The American Heart Association suggests at least six servings of grains daily, three of which should be whole grains. One serving is equal to a slice of 100 percent whole-grain bread, 1/2 cup brown rice, wild rice or oatmeal, one whole wheat English muffin or five whole-grain crackers. Incorporate a variety of whole grains into your diet routinely for broadest nutritional benefits. When purchasing foods made from whole grains, check the packaging to ensure that a whole grain is listed as a main ingredient. Less common whole grains that provide ample nutrients include quinoa, barley, bulgur, cracked wheat and air-popped popcorn.
Lean Protein and Fatty Fish
Protein provides amino acids -- building blocks of muscle tissue. Protein is also necessary for tissue repair and enhances brain function, sustained energy and satiation after meals. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest at least 3 cups of low-fat dairy products or equivalents daily for most adults. Sources of lean protein include lean meats, poultry and fish, egg whites, tofu and legumes such beans and lentils. Fatty fish, such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, flounder, sardines and halibut, provide omega-3 fatty acids -- healthy fats linked with improved heart health and cholesterol levels. If you do not consume dairy products, incorporate other sources of calcium and vitamin D, such as fortified soy products or fish. To preserve the leanness of meat, fish and poultry, select low-fat cooking methods, such as grilling, baking and steaming.
In addition to fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocados and plant-based oils provide healthy fats, which are vital to your overall wellness. Fats help your body absorb certain nutrients, support brain function and add pleasure and texture to foods. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggests limiting your fat intake to 20 to 35 percent of your total daily calories and selecting healthy unsaturated fat sources most often. To accomplish this, incorporate one to two servings of healthy fat into your meals. One serving of fat is equal to 1 teaspoon of olive oil or full-fat salad dressing, 2 tablespoon reduced-fat salad dressing or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, nuts or ground flaxseed.