A healthy diet can be difficult to get started, but the payoffs are tremendous. According to the Mayo Clinic, a well-balanced diet that contains a variety of foods from each food group is your best bet when it comes to fulfilling your daily nutrient needs. A well-balanced diet can also offer protection from a wide range of health complications, from heart disease to cancer. The following five nutrients aren't the only ones you need, but they're an easy place to get started.
No diet is complete without a healthy dose of fiber every day. This nutrient plays a role in many aspects of your health. It helps promote healthy digestion, protects the health of your bowels, helps control blood sugar and aids in keeping your cholesterol levels in check, which can lower your risk of heart disease, reports the Mayo Clinic.
In addition, fiber digests slowly, which can help you control your appetite by keeping you feeling full for longer periods of time. In fact, according to a study published in the journal Nutrition, adding fiber to a weight loss meal plan is an effective way to promote success. However, many Americans don't get the recommended amount of fiber in their diets. Add high-fiber foods to your diet to get the many benefits.
Carbs often get a bad rap, but the truth is that your body needs them for energy and to function well, according to the Mayo Clinic. Carbohydrates are converted to glucose, which your body uses to fuel exercise and day-to-day activities. However, there are good and bad carbs. The trick is choosing the right ones.
Eat complex carbs, which digest slowly, giving you longer lasting energy. Stay away from most simple carbs, which give you a quick shot of energy, but are burned quickly, often leaving you fatigued soon after. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends eating no more than 10 to 15 percent of your calories from added sugars. According to research at the Harvard School of Public Health, a poor diet, which includes refined carbs, increases the risk of depression by as much as 41 percent.
Including carbs in your diet isn't necessarily difficult, but choosing the right ones can be tricky. The occasional "bad" carb isn't going to ruin your health goals, but sticking with the healthier version most of the time is an easy way to sustain your energy levels and regulate your mood.
Protein is the building block for many of your body's functions. Without it, you run the risk of a multitude of health problems. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, protein is important because it:
- Helps promote healthy energy levels
- Keeps your bones, skin, muscles, and cartilage healthy
- Plays a role in hormone and enzyme activity
Protein is available in a variety of food sources, so you're sure to find something that you enjoy eating.
Most Americans get enough protein, but it can be tricky to choose the right ones. In general, you want low-fat dairy products and lean cuts of meat, which help keep fat and calorie intake under control. That translates to a healthier weight and better overall health.
Vitamin D plays an important role in your bone health and it might even prevent certain types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer, notes the Harvard School of Public Health. Many Americans don't get enough vitamin D, so it's time to start paying attention to it. The best way to get vitamin D is from sunlight, which may be difficult during winter or in cloudy climates. Unfortunately, it isn't available in too many unfortified food sources, although you can consume it in fortified foods like cereals and milk. You can include a vitamin in addition to other foods rich in vitamin D. Talk to your doctor about adding a supplement to your diet.
You might be surprised to find that fats are actually an important part of a healthy diet. However, not all fats are created equal, so it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with the different types so you can make healthy choices. The American Heart Association encourages you to choose polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and omega-3 fatty acids and to limit or avoid trans fats and saturated fats. This ensures your body has energy and your cells are healthy.
Omega-3s can help prevent heart disease. Fats also insulate your body and internal organs and play a role in hormone production. Therefore, it doesn't pay to skip them altogether.
Make Eating Easy
With all this information, it might seem like eating healthy is just too overwhelming. It doesn't have to be. By choosing a variety of nutrient-dense, natural foods from each food group and eating everything in moderation, you can get the nutrients your body needs while also keeping your calorie and unhealthy fat intake under control.
Follow the advice of the Choose My Plate guidelines from the USDA and fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables. Divide the other half of your plate between protein and grains. With very little effort, you'll train yourself to make daily decisions that support good health.