Healthy eating is one of the best things that we can do for our body. By giving ourselves the nourishment that we need, we are able to live a fuller and more vital life. There are a lot of benefits that could be derived from healthy eating. For people intent on losing weight, eating a well-balanced diet coupled with plenty of exercise are the most sensible steps they can take. Crash diets usually do not work in the long term. Although they may help people lose weight very quickly, it has been observed frequently that this very people rapidly regain the pounds they have lost. Sometimes, they even end up heavier than when they started their crash diets. Healthy eating habits, however, provide the long-term solution to fluctuating weight control problems.

Woman Measuring Stomach ca. 2001

Woman Measuring Stomach

Healthy eating also gives us a better skin tone. In fact, what we put on our plate is even more important than what we put on our skin. The healthier the foods that we eat, the better our skin will look. Healthy eating is the key to a glowing, vibrant and younger-looking skin.

Eating healthy foods gives us increased energy. A lot of people who complain of chronic fatigue are eating the wrong foods or are eating them at the wrong time. Once you start eating healthy foods, you will feel more energetic. You might even increase your metabolism.

Healthy eating has also been inversely correlated to the incidence of specific types of diseases such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, osteoporosis, and dental diseases. Most of these chronic ailments have been linked to high-fat, energy-dense diets and sedentary lifestyles.

It has also been discovered that your diet and your schedule for eating foods can affect your sleep patterns. Eating too much food late at night, especially high-fat meals, can cause digestive problems that lead to wakefulness. Consumption of caffeine or alcohol can result in difficulty in sleeping or fragmented sleep. On the other hand, there are certain foods that help promote sleep. Milk, for instance, contains the chemical tryptophan, a natural dietary sleep inducer. When taken with a little honey, the tryptophan in milk is facilitated into the brain by the carbohydrates in honey.

Healthy eating is also very important for maintaining and promoting mental health. Depression, anxiety and mood swings have been linked to dietary changes. Healthy foods provide our body with the necessary nutrients for maintaining a balance in our thoughts, actions and emotions that are important for our peace of mind.

Healthy Eating Pyramid Is Now My Plate and the Basic Food Groups

There is no question that healthy eating is a primary component for maintaining over-all good health. However, there are some conflicting advice regarding the choice of food and how much of each type of food one should get. Two of the most influential groups that have released recommendations regarding this matter are the US Department of Agriculture and the Harvard School of Public Health.

My Plate took the place of the food pyramid in May of 2011. It was released by the USDA to encourage people to choose a variety of foods from the 5 basic food groups. It was updated to help people visually see what they need to put on their plate and also to help with portions of each food group.
The different colors on the plate represent the 5 basic food groups. The largest color is green which represents vegetables. Vegetables are following closely by grains, then protein, fruits, and dairy.

The updated message stresses to enjoy your food, but eat less. Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables, make at least half of your grains whole grains, and switch to 1% low fat milk. Compare sodium in foods like soup, bread, and frozen means and be sure to drink water instead of sugary drinks.

The importance of daily physical activity is still tressed as well. Around 30 to 60 minutes of daily physical activity is needed to maintain a healthy weight. For the purposes of losing weight, one might need to sustain up to 90 minutes of daily physical activity. Children and teenagers are recommended to have 60 minutes of physical activity most days of the week.

In this healthy eating pyramid, Harvard School of Public Health asserts that recommending just 50% of the grain allowance to come from whole grains is misleading. They visually presented their recommendation of whole grain sources as a whole brick in the lower part of the pyramid, and placed refined grain products together with sugar and salt at the very apex of the pyramid, signifying that they must be taken sparingly.

Both organizations, however, agree with their recommendations concerning vegetables and fruits. In the USDA My Plate, vegetables are represented by green, while the red stands for fruits. In a 2000 calorie diet, they suggest eating 2 ½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruits. This corresponds to the 4 ½ cup combined recommendation of HSPH for vegetables and fruits, visually presented as a single brick in their healthy eating pyramid. Both encourage the eating of a variety of types and colors of vegetables and fruits to ensure that the body gets the different nutrients it needs from these food sources.

The yellow band in the old USDA pyramid represents oils. My Plate doesn’t have a yellow color on the plate. But oils are still a necessary part of the diet as they are a primary source of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. Foods that are rich in healthy oils include fish, nuts and vegetable oils. The recommended daily allowance for oils is just around 5-6 teaspoons. The USDA discourages excessive consumption of oils and fats primarily because they have very high calorie content. A tablespoon of trans-fat free margarine or vegetable oil, for instance, already packs around 100-120 calories.

Recent studies, however, have debunked the belief that a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet is good for the health. Despite the increase in the number of Americans who reduced their oil and fat intake since the 1960s, both obesity and diabetes cases multiplied several folds. Research revealed that it is not so much the amount of fats and oils in the diet that are linked with disease or being overweight. Rather, it is the type of fat that we ingest that has a strong correlation to our health status.

Bad fats, such as saturated fats in meat and dairy products, and most especially, trans fats or partially hydrogenated oils used in commercially prepared baked goods, snack foods, fast foods and processed foods, are the ones that increase a person’s risk for certain diseases. However, good fats, such as monounsaturated fats and poly-unsaturated fats, are good for the heart and other parts of the body.

The HSPH recommends getting as much as 35% of our calorie needs from the good fats, that is, around 25% from monounsaturated fats such as the ones found in almonds, hazelnuts, canola and olive oil, and 10% from polyunsaturated fats such as the ones in sunflower, soybean and corn oil, flax seeds, walnuts and fish. Mathematically speaking, for a 2000-calorie diet, 35% would actually amount to 700 calories!

The blue color on the USDA My Plate represents dairy products, a rich source of calcium. They recommend drinking around 3 cups of milk or its equivalent every day for most people.

HSPH, however, discourages the consumption of more than 2 servings of dairy daily. Although mindful of the body’s need for calcium, the institution advises people to choose non-dairy sources of calcium, such as green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans and tofu, over milk products. According to HSPH, there are no definitive studies that correlate daily consumption of more than a glass of milk to reduced risks for fractures. Furthermore, high milk and calcium intake seems to have been correlated with higher incidence of ovarian and prostate cancer. Although more studies need to be conducted concerning the matter, as of now, we cannot assume that high milk or calcium intake is safe.

Lastly, the purple color on the USDA My Plate represents protein foods which include meat, poultry, and fish, as well as dry beans and peas, eggs, nuts and seeds. The USDA advises people to choose fish, nuts, and seeds as protein sources over meat and poultry, and that if we do eat meat and poultry, we would do better if we choose lean or low-fat cuts. Around 5-6 ounces of protein is the recommended daily intake on the average.

HSPH makes similar recommendations but in a more visually understandable presentation. They included the ideal sources of protein on the third level of their healthy eating pyramid with one brick representing animal sources of protein such as fish and poultry, and another brick for plant sources of protein such as nuts, seeds and tofu. They have also placed red meats way up in the apex to indicate that these proteins should be eaten sparingly due to their high saturated fat content.

Healthy Eating: Summary of Recommendations

1176500_healthy_juiceIn summary, we need to eat nutrient-dense foods that supply our bodies’ nutritional needs while providing us with just the right amount of calories to sustain our energy needs. Choose more plant-based foods such as non-starchy vegetables, fruits and whole grains. We must reduce consumption of processed meat, refined grains, potatoes, sugary drinks and salty snacks, and solid fats such as the ones found in red meat. When eating meat, it is preferable for us to choose fish or poultry.

Although not discussed in this paper, it is worth mentioning that aside from making nutritious food choices, healthy eating also encompasses the prevention of food-borne illnesses. We can reduce our risks from such illnesses by following the four basic principles of food safety which are to clean, separate, cook and chill.

Lastly, we have to keep in mind that diet is just one part of maintaining a healthy body. Regular physical activity and exercise work hand in hand with a nutritious diet to help maintain a healthy weight and lower our risks for varied types of diseases.