Are you getting enough fiber in your diet? How about Vitamin D? Would increasing your intake of those nutrients and others make a difference to your health?
It would, because, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, a balanced diet affects your overall health every day. From preventing chronic illnesses and improving your mental health, read on to find out why eating a balanced diet is essential.
Why is a Healthy Diet Important?
Abiding by a healthy, nutritious diet helps individuals maintain overall health by allowing them to retain a healthy weight, reduce their risk of chronic diseases, and live longer.
A healthy diet means giving your body the nutrients it needs to function properly. Without these elements, you could become more prone to disease, infection, and fatigue, a report from Healthline notes.
Healthy Diets & Obesity
Consuming an unhealthy diet is one of the main factors contributing to the likelihood an individual will become obese.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, the United States currently faces an obesity epidemic, with about 33% of adults and 17% of children considered obese.
Obesity is defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more. BMI is a calculation that takes a persons' weight and height into account, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because most Americans do not consume the proper nutrients to qualify as a healthy diet, they are more at risk of gaining weight and falling into obesity.
Health Issues & Diseases
Weight gain associated with obesity and a lack of proper nutrients and vitamins can lead to many chronic diseases among individuals, including diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension.
Type 2 diabetes, the type of diabetes most associated with one's weight, occurs when the body doesn't produce enough insulin to function correctly, or when the body's cells don't react to insulin, according to the CDC.
Heart disease and hypertension (high blood pressure) are also strongly correlated to one's diet. The CDC notes that getting too much sodium can lead to high blood pressure. Eating foods low in saturated fats and high in fiber, along with regular physical activity, can help prevent high blood cholesterol.
While many of the health issues associated with poor nutrition are manageable with medication and physical care, they can impact your quality of life, and they cost a pretty penny.
The CDC estimates that obesity-related illnesses cost the U.S. healthcare system $147 billion a year.
There's good news, though: Eating a healthy diet that includes lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and a moderate amount of unsaturated fats, meat and dairy can help you maintain a steady weight, thus reducing your risk of chronic illnesses.
When eating a poor diet, you not only put your physical health at risk, you put your mental health at risk, too.
Eating a diet of high-quality foods that contain lots of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, nourish the brain and protect it from stress, according to an article by Harvard Health Publishing.
Additionally, the Harvard article notes that because serotonin, which helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain, is produced in your gastrointestinal tract, it makes sense that the food you consume would affect your mood.
Dr. Eva Selhub, the author of the Harvard article, suggests that paying attention to the way eating different foods makes you feel can show just how connected our food and moods can be.
What is a Healthy Diet?
Now that we know why consuming a healthy diet is essential, what exactly makes a diet healthy?
The U.S. Department of Agriculture outlines the details of a healthy diet with its Choose My Plate platform.
The program, which serves as a reminder to find your healthy eating style, focuses on variety, portions, and nutrition. That means your first order of business should be to make healthy food and beverage choices from all five food groups: fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy.
When it comes to fruits and vegetables, the USDA recommends focusing on whole fruits, whether they be fresh, frozen, dried, or canned. According to the agency, the more colorful you make your plate, the more likely you are to get the vitamins, minerals, and fiber your body needs to be healthy.
As a rule of thumb, the average adult, depending on their age and weight, should consume between one and two cups of fruit and one to three cups of vegetables each day.
When looking to fill the corner of your plate with grains, it's important to know the difference between whole grains - which are better for you - and refined grains, which can lack some essential nutrients.
Again, depending on your weight and age, the average adult should consume between 3-ounces and 8-ounces of grains each day. Of those items, half should be whole grains, according to the USDA.
When it comes to filling your plate with protein, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends focusing on lean proteins. While the USDA notes that most adults eat the recommended amount of protein each day between 2-ounces and 6.5-ounces they should focus on choosing lean and varied options.
An easy way to increase your overall health is to make a subtle change to your dairy intake. While the USDA recommends consuming 2 cups to 3 cups each day, choosing the appropriate product is just as important as the volume.
For instance, the Department of Health and Human Services notes that fat-free and 1% milk have the same amount of calcium and other essential nutrients as whole milk, but fewer calories and less saturated fat.
Keeping your diet in mind will no doubt help you achieve a healthier lifestyle.