When it comes to food, there are a lot of different opinions out there about what is healthy and what isn’t. But there are some basic guidelines that can help you make better choices for your health. Here are a few things to consider when you’re trying to figure out what makes food healthy.
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When we think of healthy food, we often think of food that is low in calories or fat. However, there is more to healthy food than just calories and fat. Macronutrients are the three main nutrients that our body needs to function properly. They are carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Carbohydrates are found in a wide array of both healthy and unhealthy foods, so they often get a bad rap. But carbs are an important macronutrient—the body’s preferred source of energy—so they shouldn’t be completely avoided.
There are two main types of carbs: simple and complex. Simple carbs are found in refined grains (think: white bread, pastries, and candy), as well as in fruit and milk. Complex carbs, on the other hand, are found in whole grains (such as oats and quinoa), legumes (beans and lentils), starchy vegetables (such as potatoes and corn), and fruit.
Complex carbs are generally healthier than simple carbs because they’re packed with fiber and other nutrients that have been shown to have health benefits, like reducing the risk of heart disease and obesity. Fiber is a type of carb that the body can’t digest, so it passes through the digestive system mostly intact. This means that it doesn’t raise blood sugar levels like other carbs can.
Though all carbs provide energy, complex carbs tend to be a more slowly absorbed form of energy, which is why they’re often favored by athletes or people who need sustained energy throughout the day. Simple carbs, on the other hand, tend to cause a more quick and spiked rise in blood sugar levels.
Both complex and simple carbs should be included as part of a healthy diet, but complex carbs should make up the majority of your carb intake.
Proteins are large, complex molecules that play many critical roles in the body. They do most of the work in cells and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs.
Proteins are made up of smaller units called amino acids. There are 20 different amino acids that can be combined to make a protein. The sequence of amino acids determines each protein’s unique function.
The body needs protein for:
-Immune system support
Fat is an important macronutrient in our diets, and is necessary for good health. Fat provides a concentrated source of energy, and helps to absorb fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K). Fat also helps to insulate our bodies and protect our organs.
There are four main types of fats: saturated, monounsaturated, polyunsaturated and trans fats. Saturated fats are found in animal products such as butter, cream and red meats. Monounsaturated fats are found in olive oil, avocados and nuts. Polyunsaturated fats are found in oily fish, seeds and some vegetable oils. Trans fats are found in processed foods such as margarine, biscuits and cakes.
Eating too much saturated fat can increase your cholesterol levels and your risk of developing heart disease. It is recommended that you limit your intake of saturated fat to less than 7% of your total daily energy intake. Eating a diet that is rich in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats can help to lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease. It is recommended that you include these healthy fats in your diet every day.
Food may be divided into two broad categories: macronutrients and micronutrients. Macronutrients are those nutrients that the body needs in large amounts. Micronutrients, on the other hand, are those nutrients that the body needs in small amounts.
Vitamins are organic compounds that are needed in small quantities to sustain human life. More than a dozen vitamins are essential to human health, and each vitamin has a specific role to play. For example, vitamin A is important for vision, vitamin B12 is needed for the formation of red blood cells, and vitamin C helps the body heal wounds.
Most people get the vitamins they need from the foods they eat, but some people may need to take vitamin supplements to ensure they get enough of certain vitamins. For example, pregnant women and elderly people are at risk of deficiencies in certain vitamins. People who follow restrictive diets (such as vegetarians) or who have certain medical conditions (such as Crohn’s disease) may also need to take supplements to ensure they get enough vitamins.
Minerals are essential nutrients that are required for many biochemical reactions in the body. They are obtained from the diet and are either tightly bound to proteins or exist in solution in body fluids. The body cannot synthesize minerals, so they must be obtained through food.
Minerals can be divided into two categories: macrominerals and trace minerals. Macrominerals are minerals that are required in relatively large amounts (greater than 100 mg/day), and they include calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, potassium, chloride, and sulfur. Trace minerals are minerals that are required in small amounts (less than 20 mg/day), and they include iron, cobalt, copper, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and zinc.
Most people get the majority of their minerals from eating a balanced diet that includes a variety of fruits and vegetables. However, some people may need to take mineral supplements to ensure adequate intake. For example, iron supplements may be necessary for pregnant women or people with anemia. Speak to a healthcare provider if you think you need to take a mineral supplement.
Phytochemicals are the biologically active compounds found in plants. Many of these compounds have been linked with lower rates of chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease, when they are consumed as part of a healthy diet. Researchers believe that phytochemicals work by helping to protect cells and molecules in the body from damage.
There are many different types of phytochemicals, and they are found in a wide variety of food sources, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and tea. Some common examples of phytochemicals include lycopene, beta-carotene, flavonoids, lutein, and ellagic acid.
While more research is needed to understand the exact role that phytochemicals play in human health, current evidence suggests that consuming a diet rich in these compounds may help to reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases. For this reason, it is recommended that people consume a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains every day.
Other Aspects of Healthy Eating
While we may think we know what healthy eating is, there is more to it than just eating our veggies and avoiding processed foods. There are other aspects of healthy eating that are just as important, if not more so. Let’s take a look at some of those other aspects.
Frequency of Meals
How often you eat is also important. Three meals a day with snacks in between is a good goal. If you get too hungry, you’re more likely to make unhealthy food choices or overeat. Try not to skip meals, especially breakfast. It’s also important not to eat too late at night. Give your body time to digest before you go to bed.
Balance of Foods
Feeling overwhelmed by all of the food rules out there? Use this simple rule of thumb: Make half your plate fruits and vegetables, a quarter whole grains, and a quarter protein—and don’t forget the dairy. It’s that easy!
The USDA’s ChooseMyPlate program recommends that adults eat 2½ cups of vegetables and 2 cups of fruit each day. A cup is equivalent to:
-1 large banana
-8 large strawberries
-1 cup green peas
-1 cup broccoli florets