Eating healthfully also means avoiding foods with high amounts of added salt and sugar.
In this article, we look at the top 10 benefits of a healthful diet, as well as the evidence behind them.
1. Weight loss
Losing weight can help to reduce the risk of chronic conditions. If a person is overweight or obese, they have a higher risk of developing several conditions, including:
- heart disease
- non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
- poor bone density
- some cancers
Whole vegetables and fruits are lower in calories than most processed foods. A person looking to lose weight should reduce their calorie intake to no more than what they require each day.
Determining an individual’s calorie requirements is easy using dietary guidelines published by the United States government.
Maintaining a healthful diet free from processed foods can help a person to stay within their daily limit without having to count calories.
Fiber is one element of a healthful diet that is particularly important for managing weight. Plant-based foods contain plenty of dietary fiber, which helps to regulate hunger by making people feel fuller for longer.
In 2018, researchers found that a diet rich in fiber and lean proteins resulted in weight loss without the need for counting calories.
2. Reduced cancer risk
An unhealthful diet can lead to obesity, which may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Weighing within a healthful range may reduce this risk.
Also, in 2014, the American Society of Clinical Oncology reported that obesity contributed to a worse outlook for people with cancer.
However, diets rich in fruits and vegetables may help to protect against cancer.
In a separate study from 2014, researchers found that a diet rich in fruits reduced the risk of cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract. They also found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber lowered the risk of colorectal cancer and that a diet rich in fiber reduced the risk of liver cancer.
Many phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes act as antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that can cause cancer. Some of these antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E.
Trials in humans have been inconclusive, but results of laboratory and animal studies have linked certain antioxidants to a reduced incidence of free radical damage associated with cancer.
3. Diabetes management
Eating a healthful diet can help a person with diabetes to:
- lose weight, if required
- manage blood glucose levels
- keep blood pressure and cholesterol within target ranges
- prevent or delay complications of diabetes
It is essential for people with diabetes to limit their intake of foods with added sugar and salt. It is also best to avoid fried foods high in saturated and trans fats.
A diet with adequate calcium and magnesium is necessary for strong bones and teeth. Keeping the bones healthy is vital in preventing osteoporosis and osteoarthritis later in life.
The following foods are rich in calcium:
- low-fat dairy products
- canned fish with bones
Also, many cereals and plant-based milks are fortified with calcium.
Magnesium is abundant in many foods, and the best sources are leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
7. Better mood
Emerging evidence suggests a close relationship between diet and mood.
In 2016, researchers found that a diet with a high glycemic load may cause increased symptoms of depression and fatigue.
A diet with a high glycemic load includes many refined carbohydrates, such as those found in soft drinks, cakes, white bread, and biscuits. Vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains have a lower glycemic load.
While a healthful diet may improve overall mood, it is essential for people with depression to seek medical care.
There are plenty of small, positive ways to improve the diet, including:
- swapping soft drinks for water and herbal tea
- eating no meat for at least 1 day a week
- ensuring that produce makes up about 50 percent of each meal
- swapping cow’s milk for plant-based milk
- eating whole fruits instead of drinking juices, which contain less fiber and often include added sugar
- avoiding processed meats, which are high in salt and may increase the risk of colon cancer
- eating more lean protein, which can be found in eggs, tofu, fish, and nuts
A person may also benefit from taking a cooking class, and learning how to incorporate more vegetables into meals.
A doctor or dietitian can also provide tips on eating a more healthful diet.
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