No one eats perfectly all the time, and choosing less than stellar quality food once in a while is unlikely to cause major problems. However, a consistent pattern of eating low-quality foods -- foods that are nutritionally imbalanced -- can negatively affect your health. Your body relies on you to get the right nutrients in the right amounts from your diet so that it can function optimally. The goal is to choose a variety of nutrient-dense foods most of the time.
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Understanding Food Quality
Food quality refers to the balance of nutrients per volume of food. It's common knowledge that regularly consuming excess amounts of sodium, saturated fat, added sugar and calories spells trouble. A food item is of poor food quality when it contains too few vital nutrients such as fiber, vitamins and minerals and too many food components such as sodium, added sugar and saturated fats. Low-quality foods often cost less, but over the long term, eating a poor diet has a high health cost.
Diet and Chronic Diseases
Eating a diet made up of poor-quality foods increases your risk for chronic diseases, while consuming a high-quality diet provides protection. When you regularly eat excess calories, you risk weight gain and obesity. Like a domino effect, excess weight raises your risk for diabetes. Eating too much salt, saturated fat or trans fat hikes up your risk for heart disease. Diet even influences certain types of cancers. A nutritious diet lowers the risk for cancers of the colon, breast and kidney among others, according to the World Health Organization.
Diet and Mental Health
Not only does a poor-quality diet have negative consequences for your physical health, it can also put your mental health at risk. Low-quality diets often fail to provide enough of the nutrients your brain needs to function properly. A diet deficient in omega-3 fatty acids may increase the risk for depression and other mental health issues, according to a study published in the July 2008 edition of the journal "Nature." This is just one example of how diet may influence your emotional health.
Improving Diet Quality
High-quality foods are nutrient-dense, unrefined and minimally processed. Some examples include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, lean meats and healthy fats, such as those found in fish. Low-quality foods are highly processed, refined and have elevated amounts of sugar, salt or fat. Sugar-sweetened beverages, potato chips and red meat are most strongly linked to weight gain, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Vegetables, whole grains, fruits, nuts, and yogurt are linked to weight loss.