Having a healthy, balanced diet is extremely important in maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding chronic diseases, improving energy levels, and optimising well-being. But why? And what does ‘healthy eating’ mean? This article will dive into this, explaining why it’s important for you to feed your body with highly nutritious foods and all the benefits you gain from it.
Health benefits of eating healthy
Although we all know that having a healthy diet is good for us, many individuals’ diets are still lacking. Understanding why appropriating a healthy diet style is important may help you implement some positive changes. The World Health Organization discusses how eating healthy benefits our health; some benefits include protecting against malnutrition and reducing non-communicable diseases, which are diseases that are not passed from person to person, like diabetes, heart disease, stroke, or cancer. Foods impact this and supply you with various benefits. Fruit and vegetables, protein, dairy foods, fats and oils, and whole grains are some of the main food groups to focus on. Outlined below are just a few of their abundant benefits.
Fruits and vegetables
Some benefits of adding fruits and vegetables to our diet include:
- Vitamin C – growth, development, and repair of body tissue
- Vitamin A – maintenance of normal vision, skin, and the immune system
- Folate – important for normal cell function
- Fibre – helps maintain a healthy gut and prevents constipation
- Potassium – helps health blood pressure levels and supports the nervous system
Some benefits of adding protein to our diets include:
- Provides essential muscle and bone tissue
- Building blocks for cells
- Body tissue repair and growth
- Provides immunity
- Range of micronutrients
Some benefits of adding dairy products to our diets include:
- Source of calcium
- Source of protein, phosphorus, potassium, iodine, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, and B vitamins
- Maintains muscles, bones, skin, teeth, vision, and nerves
Fats and oils (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated)
- Reduces harmful LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol
- Reduces risk of stroke, heart disease, and blood vessel disease
- Helps in the development and maintenance of cells in the body
- Improves levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein), ‘good cholesterol'
- Lowers triglycerides
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of diabetes
Some benefits of adding whole grain products to our diets include:
- High in fibre
- High in vitamins e.g., niacin, thiamine, folate
- High in minerals, e.g., zinc, iron, magnesium
- High in antioxidants
- Lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, type 2 diabetes
Of course, all of these food groups can be combined in a range of ways. Every food group is different, with calorie and nutrient ranges varying dramatically. Nevertheless, these foods and health attributes are universally associated with improvements in individuals’ quality of life and longevity.
Other notable benefits of an all-inclusive, diverse diet involve the relationship between food and mental health. For example, avoiding the more common Westernised inflammatory diet and opting for a healthier Mediterranean diet (higher healthy fats and plant-based food), seems to protect against depression in observational studies.1
Likewise, do you ever feel lethargic throughout the day? This could be due to your blood sugar levels spiking and then dropping, causing tiredness and irritability. An easy fix for this is to eat regularly with lots of fibre. This helps regulate blood sugar by slowing down digestion and improving your body’s response to insulin (a hormone involved in keeping your blood sugar levels stable). Eating regularly also avoids the dreaded ‘hanger’ emotion (hunger and anger), where you struggle to keep concentration and experience a noticeable decline in mood.
Your brain also needs these nutrients to develop properly. Getting sufficient vitamins and minerals through whole grains, fruits and vegetables, coupled with adequate unsaturated fats, enables your brain to keep working well. Studies show that this is particularly important in children’s health and brain development.2 Gathered from these studies is the idea that adequate dietary habits optimise early-life nutritional status to avoid later-life negative consequences.
How does food impact health?
Food is a vital player when considering individual and worldwide health. The depth of knowledge we have about what constitutes a healthy diet has never been so accurate. Even so, the negative impacts of food on our health are clearly shown through the epidemics of obesity and hunger. Studies indicate this impact of food by investigating food-driven diseases such as obesity, the risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus, fatty liver disease, hypertension, myocardial infarction, stroke, and cancers.3 Equally, the effects of hunger can have implications for physical, mental, and behavioural development. Both can include malnutrition and a general decline in quality of life and longevity.
Therefore, in the same way, good food can facilitate positive effects, less healthy food habits can result in detrimental physical and mental changes. As stated, malnutrition, as well as overnutrition are two very serious problems in modern-day society. Malnutrition leads to weight loss, fatigue, and deficiencies. Whereas overnutrition leads to issues including obesity and inadequate micronutrient intake. Harmful outcomes of these health irregularities include:
- Weight gain
- Poor immune function
- Chronic disease development, e.g., cardiovascular disease, obesity, diabetes
- Eating disorders
- Mental health struggles
Evidently, the quality of food you have access to and your food environment will shape the food you eat. So, it’s important to understand why individuals still tend to fail to meet dietary requirements, even when food security is not a threat. Modern, westernised approaches to diets deviate from traditional fruit and plant-centred diets and instead include more convenient high-sugar, high-animal-fat, and low-fibre foods. This makes you vulnerable to both micronutrient deficiencies and overconsumption of calories. Unhealthy food should be had occasionally and not on an everyday basis. Maintaining a healthy weight and fuelling your body with nutritionally dense foods, as well as limiting bad food habits (such as junk food), will have an exponential impact on your life.
What foods have the most health benefits?
Now, the question of what foods to eat to optimise your diet is more complex. There are abundant contrasting works within the nutrition field about what is good or bad for you. Considering them all, it comes down to the quality, quantity, diversity, and balance of your meals.
The British Nutrition Foundation outlines some key principles:
- Include at least 5 fruits and vegetables per day in your meal
- High fibre intake, with a focus on whole grains
- Include a range of protein sources
- Include some dairy or fortified substitutes
- Choose unsaturated fats and oils over saturated fats
- Reduce high-fat, salt and sugar foods and drinks
This is largely cohesive with many other guidelines; for example, the Eatwell Guide is a reliable model devised to guide you to the correct proportions of each food group.
Foods associated with good health:
- Whole grain cereals, e.g., oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice
- Fruit, e.g., apples, bananas, tangerines
- Vegetables, e.g., spinach, carrots, broccoli
- Legumes e.g., lentils, peas
- Nuts, e.g., almonds, brazil nuts, cashews
- Olive oil, e.g., extra virgin olive oil
- Fish, e.g., salmon, mackerel, cod
It is important to note that the single biggest killer worldwide is cardiovascular disease(CVD).4 Obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes are predisposing many people to CVD. An overall energy imbalance is what causes individuals to be overweight. So, although what you eat is extremely important, making sure you are eating the correct amounts for your individual body’s needs is equally important.
How does eating healthily change your life?
Individuals who take positive steps in their dietary habits tend to feel improvements in other areas of their lives. Creating a fundamental base of healthy eating habits will enable many physical and mental gains. These include:
- Boosts the immune system
- Weight control
- Longer life
- Supports brain development
- Lowers risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers
Of course, if you are not used to eating a diet that is considered ‘healthy’, changing your dietary habits all at once becomes challenging. Slowly making modifications is the way to go. Implementing small positive decisions in your everyday life will have a profound effect on your overall health and progressively build up to a healthy lifestyle.
Why is it important to stay healthy?
Making healthy food choices inevitably coincides with a healthy lifestyle overall. Whereas making bad dietary choices leads to the negative effects of poor nutrition. When choosing an unhealthy diet, you are setting yourself up to compromise any of your body’s essential functions. This could mean you lack energy, have poor weight maintenance, become more inclined to disease, and much more.
Of course, this doesn’t just come down to healthy eating habits. A healthy lifestyle is an umbrella term that also includes getting adequate sleep, cooperating in physical activity, looking after your mental health, and keeping hydrated. Dedicating time to improving all of these aspects will give you the best chance to be happy and feel good and healthy.
Claims about what comprises a healthy diet range considerably. The obesity epidemic shows individuals are entertaining energy imbalances, either through an excess of calories, an inactive lifestyle, or both. More concerningly, this may lead to detrimental effects on your health and enable the biggest non-communicable killers worldwide. Healthy eating will improve your overall lifestyle and help negate these diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and stroke.
A healthy diet not only has a profound effect on your physical health, but it also has substantial effects on your mental well-being. This includes reducing stress, improving brain function and development, and improving overall mood. Naturally, individual differences will come into play, coupled with other elements that impact your health and well-being. Nevertheless, the undeniable impact nutrition has on all of us should not be pushed aside.
So, next time you’re thinking about picking a more unhealthy dietary option, think about these benefits. Opt for protein-rich, fibre-fueled, micronutrient-dense, whole-grain foods.
- Lassale C, Batty GD, Baghdadli A, Jacka F, Sánchez-Villegas A, Kivimäki M, et al. Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Mol Psychiatry [Internet]. 2019 Jul [cited 2023 Oct 26];24(7):965–86. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41380-018-0237-8
- Mattei D, Pietrobelli A. Micronutrients and brain development. Curr Nutr Rep [Internet]. 2019 Jun [cited 2023 Oct 26];8(2):99–107. Available from: http://link.springer.com/10.1007/s13668-019-0268-z
- Blüher M. Obesity: global epidemiology and pathogenesis. Nat Rev Endocrinol [Internet]. 2019 May [cited 2023 Oct 26];15(5):288–98. Available from: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41574-019-0176-8
- Tocantins C, Diniz MS, Grilo LF, Pereira SP. The birth of cardiac disease: Mechanisms linking gestational diabetes mellitus and early onset of cardiovascular disease in offspring. WIREs Mechanisms of Disease [Internet]. 2022 Jul [cited 2023 Oct 26];14(4):e1555. Available from: https://wires.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/wsbm.1555