Your body needs fuel in the form of food every day, but the wrong kind of fuel can lead to health problems. A balanced diet consists of fruits, vegetables, low-fat or fat-free dairy, whole grains, protein and fats, but it limits cholesterol, saturated fats, trans fats and sodium. When poor eating habits spiral out of control, it could cause serious health problems down the road.
Physical and Mental Health
Healthy eating habits affect both mental and physical wellness. What you eat affects your immune system, bone health and athletic performance, among other functions. It plays a role in your mental health, too -- healthy eating supports cognition, problem solving, memory, alertness, sleep and information processing, according to the Linus Pauling Institute, which also notes that good nutrition is important for proper brain development and maintenance of normal cognitive function.
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When combined with regular physical activity, a balanced diet can help prevent such conditions as cardiovascular disease, type-2 diabetes and obesity. Columbia University reports that the three leading causes of death in the United States -- coronary heart disease, some types of cancer and stroke -- are directly linked with dietary behavior. To help prevent such conditions as cardiovascular disease, you need to keep your blood cholesterol, blood pressure and weight under control. All of this can be done through healthy eating and exercise.
Source of Macronutrients
While most foods contain more than one nutrient, no one food provides all the nutrients your body requires. It's important to eat a variety of healthy foods to make sure your diet is nutritionally balanced and providing all the nutrients your body needs to function. The three macronutrients -- carbohydrates, protein and fat -- provide energy to your body in the form of calories, among other key functions. Carbohydrates are the body's main energy source, fats increase vitamin absorption and proteins are vital for growth, maintenance and structural support of muscle tissue.
The Micronutrient Mix
Along with macronutrients, your body also requires micronutrients, or the vitamins and minerals needed to keep the body functioning properly. Some important micronutrients include vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, iron, calcium, zinc, copper, iodine, manganese and cobalamin. Micronutrients play vital roles in growth, metabolism and affecting enzyme function in cells.
Simple changes in your daily eating behaviors such as eating more slowly and avoiding large serving sizes can result in healthier eating over time. Eating slowly, for example, can reduce overeating, heartburn, indigestion and feeling bloated. The University of Arkansas notes that it takes 15 to 20 minutes for the stomach to send signals to the brain, letting you know you are full. Other ways to support healthy eating habits include recording your eating habits throughout the day and shopping with nutrition in mind by reading food labels and focusing on fresh vs. processed foods.
- University of Arkansas: Eat Smart, Be Active
- Columbia University: Columbia University’s Guide for Healthier Eating
- Linus Pauling Institute: Micronutrient Information Center
- University of Missouri: Slow Down, You Eat Too fast!
- Harvard School of Public Health Nutrition Source: Healthy Eating Plate and Healthy Eating Pyramid