Eating healthy foods isn’t just about serious dieting, avoiding your favorite treats or becoming model-thin. Proper nutrition is a way of life that allows you to be as mentally and physically healthy as possible. There is no one ideal nutritional plan for everyone, but choosing a healthy eating plan that works for you will offer you some major benefits.
Eating healthy carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables and fruits will help keep your energy levels stable throughout the day because they break down into a slow stream of sugar in your blood. Conversely, eating mostly refined carbohydrates such as candy, French fries and white bread will lead to spikes and dips in your blood sugar, which can cause you to go through mood swings and have trouble focusing on daily tasks. The American Council on Exercise recommends eating a nutritious breakfast, such as oatmeal with berries, to reduce early morning sluggishness. Follow up with small “slow carb” snacks between meals for sustained energy.
You must consistently eat the same amount of calories as you burn to maintain your weight. Therefore, you increase your risk of gaining weight when you eat mostly high-calorie foods such as fast food and drink mostly high-calorie drinks such as regular soda. You are less likely to become overweight or obese if you focus on eating mostly nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products and lean proteins. This improves your overall quality of life – for instance, you will have less trouble with daily activities such as walking and climbing stairs – and lowers your chances of developing life-threatening health problems.
You increase your risk of heart disease if your diet is rich in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium. Having too many saturated and trans fats, particularly, increases your chances of having heart disease because they increase your blood cholesterol levels and contribute to damaging artery plaques. Common sources of heart-unhealthy fats are red meat, whole-fat dairy, palm oil, coconut oil, deep-fried foods, boxed baked goods and crackers. Replace most of these fats with polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats – found in foods such as nuts, seeds, avocados and oily fish – and you will be less likely to have unhealthy cholesterol levels and high blood pressure.
Reduced Diabetes Risk
You are more likely to get Type 2 diabetes if most of the carbohydrates you eat are refined. Conversely, the bran and fiber in whole grains slowly increase your blood sugar and insulin levels and place less stress on your insulin-producing machinery, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Whole grains also contain vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that may also play a role in lowering your risk of Type 2 diabetes. Increasing your intake of polyunsaturated fat in place of “bad” fats can also reduce your chance of having Type 2 diabetes.
A diet rich in cholesterol and saturated fat is linked with an elevated risk for high cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. However, having a higher level of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats in your diet can improve your cholesterol levels and help protect your brain cells. Other foods that may help protect your brain cells are dark-skinned vegetables and fruits such as kale, broccoli, red bell peppers, blueberries, red grapes and cherries.