What Should I Eat Healthy? When it comes to staying healthy many of us have a lot on our plates. There are countless diets and options that you can choose from to eat healthy. But where do you start? If your answer is by stocking in your fridge with healthy foods, be careful; stocking the wrong kind of foods could dismantle all your good intentions. So what does one need to know about eating healthy? Here are some pointers to get you started
What does a healthy, balanced diet look like?
Canada’s Food Guide recommends eating a variety of healthy foods each day. This includes eating plant-based foods more often and choosing highly-processed or ultra-processed foods less often.
A healthy diet includes:
1. Eating lots of vegetables and fruit
- This is one of the most important diet habits. Vegetables and fruit are packed with nutrients (antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fibre) and help you maintain a healthy weight by keeping you full longer.
- Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit at every meal and snack.
2. Choosing whole grain foods
- Whole grain foods include whole grain bread and crackers, brown or wild rice, quinoa, oatmeal and hulled barley. They are prepared using the entire grain. Whole grain foods have fibre, protein and B vitamins to help you stay healthy and full longer.
- Choose whole grain options instead of processed or refined grains like white bread and pasta.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with whole grain foods.
3. Eating protein foods
- Protein foods include legumes, nuts, seeds, tofu, fortified soy beverage, fish, shellfish, eggs, poultry, lean red meats including wild game, lower fat milk, lower fat yogurts, lower fat kefir and cheeses lower in fat and sodium.
- Protein helps build and maintain bones, muscles and skin.
- Eat protein every day.
- Try to eat at least two servings of fish each week, and choose plant-based foods more often.
- Dairy products are a great source of protein. Choose lower fat, unflavoured options.
- Fill a quarter of your plate with protein foods.
4. Limiting highly and ultra-processed foods
- Highly processed foods — often called ultra-processed — are foods that are changed from their original food source and have many added ingredients. During processing, often important nutrients such as vitamins, minerals and fiber are removed while salt and sugar are added. Examples of processed food include: fast foods, hot dogs, chips, cookies, frozen pizzas, deli meats, white rice and white bread.
- Some minimally processed foods are okay. These are foods that are slightly changed in some way but contain few industrially made additives. Minimally processed foods keep almost all of their essential nutrients. Some examples are: bagged salad, frozen vegetables and fruit, eggs, milk, cheese, flour, brown rice, oil and dried herbs. We are not referring to these minimally processed foods when we are advising you not to eat processed foods.
- Heart & Stroke funded research found that ultra-processed foods make up almost half of Canadians’ diets.
- 5. Making water your drink of choice
- Water supports health and promotes hydration without adding calories to the diet.
- Sugary drinks including energy drinks, fruit drinks, 100% fruit juice, soft drinks and flavored coffees have lots of sugar and little to no nutritional value. It is easy to drink empty calories without realizing, and this leads to weight gain.
- Avoid fruit juice, even when it is 100% fruit juice. Although fruit juice has some of the benefits of the fruit (vitamins, minerals), it has more sugar than the fruit and less fiber. Fruit juice should not be consumed as alternative to fruits. Canadians should eat their fruits, not drink them.
- When safe drinking water is not available, quench your thirst with coffee, tea, unsweetened lower-fat milk, and previously boiled water.
What are the benefits of eating healthy?
A healthy diet typically includes nutrient-dense foods from all of the major food groups, including lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables of many colors.
Healthy eating habits also include replacing foods that contain trans fats, added salt, and sugar with more nutritious options.
Following a healthy diet has many benefits, including building strong bones, protecting the heart, preventing disease, and boosting the mood.
This article discusses the top 10 benefits of a healthful diet and the evidence behind them.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States.
The American Heart Association (AHA) states that almost half of U.S. adults live with some form of cardiovascular disease.
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a growing concern in the U.S. The condition can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, and a stroke.
It may be possible to prevent up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke diagnoses with lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and healthful eating.
The foods people eat can reduce their blood pressure and help keep their hearts healthy.
The DASH diet, or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, includes plenty of heart healthy foods. The program recommends:
- eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- choosing fat-free or low fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- limiting saturated and trans fat intake, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy products
- limiting drinks and foods that contain added sugars
- restricting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day — ideally 1,500 mg daily — and increasing consumption of potassium, magnesium, and calcium
High-fiber foods are also crucial for keeping the heart healthy.
The AHA states that dietary fiber helps improve blood cholesterol and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
The medical community has long recognized the link between trans fats and heart-related illnesses, such as coronary heart disease.
Limiting certain types of fats can also improve heart health. For instance, eliminating trans fats reduces the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This type of cholesterol causes plaque to collect within the arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack and stroke.
Reducing blood pressure can also promote heart health. Most adults may achieve this by limiting their salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day.
Food manufacturers add salt to many processed and fast foods, and a person who wishes to lower their blood pressure should avoid these products.
Reduced cancer risk
A person may eat foods that contain antioxidants to help reduce their risk of developing cancer by protecting their cells from 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.
Many phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes act as antioxidants, including beta carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E.
According to the National Cancer Institute, there are laboratory and animal studies that link certain antioxidants to a reduced incidence of free radical damage due to cancer. However, human trials are inconclusive and doctors advise against using these dietary supplements without consulting them first.
Foods high in antioxidants include:
- berries, such as blueberries and raspberries
- dark, leafy greens
- pumpkin and carrots
- nuts and seeds
Having obesity may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer and result in poorer outcomes. Maintaining a moderate weight may reduce these risks.
In a 2014 study , researchers found that a diet rich in fruits reduced the risk of upper gastrointestinal tract cancers.
They also found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber lowered the risk of colorectal cancer, while a diet rich in fiber reduces the risk of liver cancer.
Some evidence suggests a close relationship between diet and mood.
In 2016, researchers found that diets with a high glycemic load may trigger increased symptoms of depression and fatigue in people who have obesity but are otherwise healthy.
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.
Recent research also found that diet can affect blood glucose levels, immune activation, and the gut microbiome, which may affect a person’s mood. The researchers also found that there may be a link between more healthful diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, and better mental health. Whereas, the opposite is true for diets with high amounts of red meat, processed, and high fat foods.
It is important to note that the researchers highlighted a necessity for further research into the mechanisms that link food and mental health.
If a person suspects they have symptoms of depression, talking with a doctor or mental health professional may help.
Healthy foods you should be eating
It seems like every day we wake up to a new “superfood” that will change your life. With the abundance of information available, how do you know what’s actually good for you? Here are the top 15 foods you should be eating according to our experts:
“Eat plenty of fish, which are high in healthy omega 3 fatty acids, and smaller portions of red meat to reduce your risk of diseases like stroke, heart disease and cancer.” – Bob Canter, professor of surgery at UC Davis Division of Surgical Oncology
2. Broccoli or any of the cruciferous vegetables
“These foods are rich in nutrients including glucosinolates, which are key in detoxification processes. These are best served raw or quick-steamed for five to ten minutes.” – Alex Nella, pediatric registered dietitian
“No matter which color – red, yellow, golden – or which part – root or greens – they contain a wonderful variety of protective carotenoids. Evidence suggests their dietary nitrates can be converted to nitric oxide and improve endurance exercise.” – Alex Nella, pediatric registered dietitian
4. Spinach and other leafy green vegetables
“These are packed with lutein and zeaxanthin: nutrients that can help protect against macular degeneration.” – Jeffrey Caspar, professor of ophthalmology at the UC Davis Eye Center
“It’s a green leafy veggie that I love chopped in salad or cooked with onion and garlic. It is nutrient dense, has lots of antioxidants and can help lower cholesterol.” – Brandee Waite, director of the UC Davis Sports Medicine fellowship
6. Peanut butter
“My favorite food is peanut butter. It has protein, carbs and sugars. It’s a great recovery food and my kids love it!” – Brian Davis, clinical professor of the UC Davis Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
**UC Davis Health is not affiliated with any other brand.
“Almonds have a lot of vitamin E, which protects against macular degeneration as well as cataracts. I recommend eating just a handful a day.” – Jeffrey Caspar, professor of ophthalmology at the UC Davis Eye Center
“They are low calorie, high in fiber and vitamins A and C. They also have other vitamins, minerals and antioxidants and have been linked with multiple health benefits. Plus, all my kids like them, so it is something we can all agree on.” – Bob Canter, professor of surgery at UC Davis Division of Surgical Oncology
“Blueberries are excellent frozen because they will cool down your oatmeal with bonus fiber and antioxidants. They contain resveratrol, like red wine without the alcohol, hangover or extra calories.” – Alex Nella, pediatric registered dietitian
10. Mediterranean Diet
“We know that physical fitness helps your mental health, so in general, eat throughout the day and don’t miss meals or depend on snacks too much. Ideally, eat a Mediterranean-style diet with lean meat and lots of vegetables and make sure you keep your weight within a healthy range.” – Peter Yellowlees, professor of general psychiatry and chief wellness officer at UC Davis Health