Healthy Diet Explained
What is a Healthy Diet?
Healthy eating habits (combined with regular physical activity) are the foundation of good health and a healthy weight. However, there is no accepted definition of what a healthy diet is, or what proportion of foods it should contain. Some populations (eg. Italian, Greek) prefer to eat a traditional Mediterranean type diet, others (eg. Japanese) eat a diet based on fish, soy and wholegrain carbohydrates, while others (eg. India) eat largely vegetarian diets. See also: How Healthy Are Your Eating Habits?
Healthy American Diet
Even in America, there are several ideas about what constitutes the healthiest diet. Some dietitians, nutritionists and organisations (eg. American Heart Association) emphasise a lower-fat approach to healthy eating, while others emphasise the need to reduce consumption of refined carbohydrates, especially refined white flour foods, and follow low-GI eating plans. Still others recommend the nutritional benefits of raw food, soy products and organic foods. The eating advice contained in the US government sponsored Dietary Guidelines (2005) steers a middle course by advocating lower-fat protein choices and dairy foods, while promoting the health benefits of low-GI whole grain carbohydrates.
Benefits of a Healthy Diet
Healthy eating habits benefit us in two main ways:
Good Nutrition For General Health
First, they help us to obtain adequate nutrition. The key macronutrients are: fats, proteins and carbohydrates. The key micronutrients are vitamins and minerals. As well as providing us with sufficient nutrients, a healthy diet should also give us adequate dietary fiber (14 grams per 1,000 calories eaten). Fiber, whether soluble or insoluble, is not a nutrient, as we don't digest it, but it affords significant protection against digestive disorders and diet-related disease. A nutrient-dense diet helps us to maintain an efficient metabolism, thus protecting against metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity. It also strengthens our immunity, thus protecting us against cancers and other immune-related illness. Also, a healthy diet helps to prevent the build-up of fatty deposits in our arteries (atherosclerosis) which can lead to heart disease and stroke. Digestive complaints such as Diverticulitis and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBS) are also helped by healthy eating habits.
Second, healthy eating habits help us to maintain a normal weight, meaning a body mass index (BMI) of roughly 20-24.99. For example, by recommending us to avoid "empty calorie" or "nutrient-light" foods - such as foods high in refined carbohydrates - a healthy diet helps us to avoid sudden rises in blood glucose levels ("sugar spikes") which can play havoc with appetite, hunger pangs, and weight. Over consumption of these high-GI foods is closely associated with both diabetes and obesity, both of which are at epidemic levels in America.
Improved Quality of Life
By helping us to maintain good general health as well as a healthy weight, a healthful diet helps to improve our mood, mobility and thus our general quality of life.
What Does a Healthy Diet Consist Of?
Despite differing opinions concerning the food content of a healthy diet, most nutritionists and dietitians would agree on the following calorie percentages of macronutrients, like fats, protein and carbs:
Fat Intake: Between 20-35 percent
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