A balanced diet is essential for maintaining throughout life to avoid many non-communicable chronic illnesses (NCDs), including obesity and diabetes.
It is crucial to achieving "sustainable health," which is described as "healthy and active aging without the risk of diseases," along with physical activity.
What is a Healthy Diet?
A healthy diet is one that includes all food groups in the right amounts. To maintain a healthy body, we all require a diet with a balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) agree on the basic principles of a healthy diet.
General Principles for Healthy Eating:
1. Consume a lot of fruits and veggies. a minimum of five pieces, or 400 g, of fruit and vegetables daily.
2. Eat whole grains, nuts, and healthy fats rich in unsaturated fatty acids.
3. Reduce your consumption of Saturated fats. To avoid unhealthful weight gain, adults' saturated fat intake should be reduced to less than 10% of total energy intake.
4. Reduce your sugar intake. For extra health benefits, free sugar intake should be decreased to less than 10% or less than 5% of total energy. This would equate to either 50 g or 25 g of free sugars each day. Consuming sugary meals and beverages regularly raises your chances of obesity and tooth damage.
5. Cutback on Salt Intake. Consume no more than 6 g (about one teaspoon) of salt every day. Your blood pressure can increase if you consume too much salt. Heart disease and stroke are more likely to occur in those with high blood pressure.
6. Hydration: Proper hydration is essential for body processes; not drinking enough water can be detrimental to cellular processes and organs. Try to consume a minimum of 2–3 liters of water every day.
7. Balanced Meals: Aim for a well-balanced meal that includes a variety of nutrients from different food groups, such as protein, healthy fats, carbohydrates, and a mix of vitamins and minerals.
8. Moderation: Portion control and eating in moderation are key to maintaining a healthy diet. This ensures that you do not crave certain foods, especially the ones that you may deprive yourself of if are on specific diets.
9. Listening to Your Body: This is very important because different people respond differently to various diets and foods. Pay attention to your body's signals of hunger and fullness. Eat when you're hungry and stop when you're satisfied. Train yourself not to overindulge.
10. Individual Variability: Everyone's digestive system is different, and what works best for one person may not work the same way for another.
Now, let’s see the benefits of consuming healthy foods in our diet.
Benefits of Eating Healthy:
A good diet has various advantages, such as strengthening bones, protecting the heart, preventing disease, and improving mood.
A balanced diet provides the necessary nutrients for the development, repair, and prevention of disease as well as the energy for everyday activity. Keeping active and eating well can help you manage your weight. The immune system can be weakened by deficiencies in essential minerals such as zinc, iron, selenium, and vitamins A, B, C, and E.
1. May Improve Heart Health:
With lifestyle modifications, such as increasing physical exercise and eating healthily, it may be feasible to prevent up to 80% of early heart disease and stroke diagnoses.
People can lower their blood pressure and maintain their heart healthy by eating certain foods.
The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet includes a lot of heart-healthy foods. The program suggests a dependable source. (Reference)
- Consuming a lot of fruits, veggies, and whole grains
- Selecting dairy products, fish, poultry, legumes, nuts, and vegetable oils that are low in fat or fat-free
- Minimizing consumption of saturated and trans fats, such as those found in full-fat dairy and rich meats
- Reducing intake of beverages and foods with added sugars
- Limiting daily salt intake to less than 2,300 milligrams, ideally 1,500 mg, and increasing potassium, magnesium, and calcium intake.
- Foods high in fiber are also essential for maintaining a healthy heart.
2. Reduce the Risk of Cancer:
Eating foods rich in antioxidants can help lower a person's risk of getting cancer by preventing cell damage.
The presence of free radicals in the body increases the risk of cancer, but antioxidants help remove them to lower the likelihood of this disease. (Reference)
Foods High in Antioxidants include:
- Dark, leafy vegetables
- berries like blueberries and raspberries
- Nuts and seeds
- pumpkin and carrots
3. Better Mood:
A high glycemic load diet contains a lot of refined carbs, such as those in soft drinks, cakes, white bread, and biscuits. A lower glycemic load is seen in vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains.
A study conducted in 2016 revealed that diets high in glycemic load could potentially increase symptoms of depression and fatigue, particularly among individuals with obesity who are in good health otherwise.
A high glycemic load diet contains a lot of refined carbs, as those in soft drinks, cakes, white bread, and biscuits. The glycemic loads of vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains are lower. (Reference)
[ Read: Indian Glycemic Index Food Chart ]
4. Improve Gut Health:
Natural bacteria found in the colon are essential for metabolism and digestion; some of these bacteria produce vitamins K and B and protect the body from harmful microbes.
Inflammation in the gut may be reduced by a fiber-rich diet. Prebiotics and probiotics may be found in a diet high in fiber vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains, which can support the growth of healthy bacteria in the colon.
5. Improved Memory:
A balanced diet may support cognition and brain health. However, more research is needed.
A 2015 study identified specific vitamins, minerals, and foods that act as defenses against dementia and cognitive decline.
The study emphasized the advantages of:
- Vitamins D, C, and E
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Flavonoids and polyphenols
- Fish consumption
6. Weight Loss:
Sustaining a moderate weight can effectively lower the chances of chronic health complications. Individuals with excess weight or obesity are potentially susceptible to various conditions, including
- Coronary heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
- Specific mental health disorders
- Certain forms of cancer
Healthier options such as vegetables, fruits, and legumes tend to be lower in calories compared to processed foods. Following a balanced diet can help individuals stay within their daily calorie limit without the need for strict calorie tracking.
A study conducted in 2018 showed that focusing on foods rich in fiber and lean proteins led to weight loss without the constant requirement to monitor calorie intake.
7. Helps Manage Diabetes:
For individuals dealing with diabetes, adopting a healthy diet can offer several benefits:
- Regulating blood glucose levels effectively.
- Maintaining optimal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Delaying or preventing diabetes-related complications.
- Managing a healthy weight.
In addition, people with diabetes should limit their intake of meals high in extra sugar and salt. Additionally, meals that are fried and high in saturated and trans fats should be avoided.
8. Helps to Strengthen Bones and Teeth:
An abundance of calcium and magnesium in the diet is essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth. Future bone-related issues like osteoporosis can be considerably reduced by promoting bone health.
Foods high in calcium include:
- Dairy products
- Canned fish with bones
Additionally, calcium is frequently added by food makers to tofu, plant-based milk, and cereals.
Magnesium is present in many foods, however, it is especially prevalent in:
- Green leafy vegetables
- whole grains
9. Getting Better Sleep:
Your quality of sleep may be impacted by a variety of variables, such as medical illnesses including diabetes, obesity, depression, and excessive alcohol use. On the other hand, not getting enough sleep can harm your general health. The key to resolving these interconnected dynamics is a balanced diet.
Improved eating habits can aid in addressing the underlying reasons for sleep problems and result in longer, better-quality sleep that will leave you feeling more refreshed.
10. May Improve Skin Health:
Consuming unhealthy junk food can potentially contribute to skin issues like damage and acne breakouts. Opting for nourishing choices such as fruits, vegetables, fatty fish, nuts, seeds, and whole grains, and hydrating beverages like water, coconut water, and green tea can promote clear and healthy skin.
Making the choice of healthy eating has several benefits, including lower chances of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Maintaining a balanced diet can also improve your mood and give you a visible energy boost. Moderation is the key. Restrictive diets are better avoided as they may lead to nutritional deficiencies.
For personalized tips on improving your diet, it's a good idea to chat with a doctor or a dietitian.