Eating is an essential and important part of life. After all, food gives us the calories and nutrients we need to survive and it also provides us with the energy we need to go about our daily business. And, though we often forget to think about it, the food we eat has a direct impact on our physical, mental, and emotional health. For these reasons (and many more!) it is important that healthy eating becomes a vital part of our daily lifestyle. But what exactly is healthy eating? Here are some of the basics that can help get you started on the path to healthy eating.
What is Healthy Eating?
Most of us are familiar with the term "healthy eating", but few of us are actually sure what it means. There are so many different definitions of the term that it can be very difficult to know exactly when you are eating healthily and when you aren't. Too make it simple, healthy eating involves consuming a diet that combines a balance of all the nutrients that your body needs to function properly. It involves:
- eating three meals and two snacks everyday
- eating a daily diet that incorporates all of the different food groups
- maximizing your intake of essential vitamins and minerals
- minimizing your intake of less beneficial foods (particularly those that are high in saturated or trans fats, salt, or caffeine)
Why Eat Healthy?
You may be wondering what all the fuss is about when it comes to eating healthy. Well, healthy eating has a direct impact on all aspects of our health. Healthy eating can actually help you to:
- maintain an active lifestyle
- improve your immune system and bodily functions
- increase your energy
- improve your mood
- regulate your body weight
Healthy eating has also been proven to reduce the risk of certain diseases, including:
The Essential Nutrients
Healthy eating helps to provide your body with all of the essential nutrients that it requires to function. Your body actually needs 40 different nutrients to work properly.
- Water: Water makes up 50% of your total body weight. It helps to provide your cells with energy while removing waste products from the body.
- Electrolytes (3 types): Electrolytes help your cells to function correctly. They work to maintain proper cell pressure, preventing dehydration.
- Vitamins (13 types): Vitamins help your body to regulate chemical reactions. Your body cannot manufacture these vitamins on its own. Instead, vitamins can only be obtained from food.
- Minerals (12 types): Minerals work to regulate various different processes in your body. They also help to form a number of different bodily structures.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are your body's main energy source. Without carbs, your body won't have enough energy to carry out basic functions.
- Fat: Though often considered a diet no-no, fat is essential to your body. It provides fuel for your muscles and brain, and it is your main energy source during rigorous exercise.
- Protein (9 types): Protein helps to build and repair muscles and tissues throughout your body. It is also a major factor when it comes to regulating hormones and producing red blood cells.
The Food Groups
In order to maintain a healthy diet and to make sure that your body gets all of its essential nutrients, it is important to eat foods from each of the food groups on a daily basis. Often depicted as a food pyramid, the food groups incorporate a variety of different healthy food choices.
- Grains: Grains include all of those foods made from wheat, rice, oats, and cereal grains. They provide you with carbohydrates, fiber, and iron. There are two main types of grains: whole grains and refined grains. Whole grain products include the entire grain sheath, while refined grains have the bran and germ removed during processing. Refined grains are lower in vitamins and fiber than whole grains. It is important to get between 5 and 12 servings of grains each day, with a focus on whole grain products. Servings can include a slice of bread, a cup of cereal, or a bagel.
- Vegetables and Fruit: This category includes all types of fruits and vegetables as well as 100% fruit and vegetable juices. Fruits and vegetables provide you with essential vitamins, including vitamins B and C. Focus on brightly colored fruits and vegetables as these have the most vitamin content. Try to eat between 5 and 10 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. Possible servings may consist of one piece of fruit, half a cup of fruit juice, or one cup of salad.
- Meat and Alternatives: Incorporated in this category are all those foods that are made from meat, poultry, fish, eggs, legumes, nuts, or seeds. These foods provide you with the protein that your body needs. Try to eat between 2 and 3 servings of meat and alternatives every day. A serving might include 3 ounces of lean red meats, poultry or fish, 1 egg, or one-third of a cup of tofu.
- Milk Products: The dairy food group includes products that are made primarily from milk sources, such as milk, yogurt, and hard and soft cheeses. These products provide you with vitamins and minerals, including calcium and vitamin D. Try to get 2 to 4 servings of milk everyday. One serving may consist of one cup of milk, 50 grams of cheese, or three-quarters of a cup of yogurt.
Foods to Limit
Healthy eating does not mean that you have to cut out all of your favorite foods. Instead, it just means incorporating more of your favorite nutritious foods, while limiting some of those less nutritious foods. Try to limit your intake of:
- trans-fats and saturated fats
- added sugars
When you follow a healthy diet, there is room for all foods, including your favorite cake, so long as certain foods are eaten in moderation.