The Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 defines a healthy diet as one that includes nutrient dense foods to meet your energy needs and provide adequate nutrition. You need energy for growth and activity and the correct nutrients to maintain health. To meet these requirements, the guidelines recommend eating a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat dairy products and lean protein. A diet structured in this way provides many benefits for the short- and long-term.
A significant short-term benefit of eating a healthy diet is weight loss. A healthy diet replaces high calorie, low nutrient foods such as pizza and candy with lower calorie, higher nutrient foods such as salads, grilled meat or fish and fresh fruit. And the dietary fiber in a healthy diet leaves you feeling full, helping you lose weight and keep it off. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you strive to lose 1 to 2 lb per week by changing your eating habits and engaging in exercise. Changing your habits will ensure long-term success in keeping your weight at the right level.
A healthy diet limits your intake of fat, salt and sugar and increases the amount of fiber and nutrients you eat. The short- and long-term effects of a healthy diet include lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar levels, each of which contributes to the development of disease when uncontrolled. The US National Cholesterol Education Program states that high cholesterol levels and elevated blood pressure can lead to heart disease. And controlling your blood sugar levels can help reduce the risk of getting diabetes.
One effect of eating a healthy diet is that your body receives all the nutrients and calories it needs to function properly. Eating too many calories or calories from less nutritious foods makes your body work harder to process and store those calories, leaving you feeling sluggish and tired. Nutritious foods eaten as part of a healthy diet not only increase your energy levels, but the US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development notes that these foods can improve your body’s ability to fight off illnesses.
The Better Health Channel says a healthy diet combined with physical and mental exercise can help improve your cognitive function. To benefit your brain, eat a variety of nutritious foods that are high in B vitamins, such as lean beef, oats and avocado. Eat unrefined carbohydrates, such as whole grain cereals and breads to provide energy for your brain and choose low fat foods to keep blood flowing smoothly through your arteries.
A healthy diet is rich in fiber from fruit, vegetables and foods made from whole grains. In addition to decreasing your risk of heart disease and diabetes, the Harvard School of Public Health notes that dietary fibre reduces the risk of diverticular disease, which is a painful inflammation of the intestines. It also helps prevent constipation, although you should drink plenty of water to keep the fibre moving through your digestive system.
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005: Chapter 2 – Adequate nutrients within calorie needs
- US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Losing weight
- US National Cholesterol Education Program: High blood cholesterol – what you need to know
- US National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: Diet and nutrition
- Better Health Channel: Healthy ageing – staying mentally active