They say food can be medicine - and it is true! A healthy diet can help prevent a number of diseases such as diabetes type 2, heart disease, and many others. Still, there is often a lot of confusion about what exactly constitutes balanced and healthy. While specific diets are used for specific medical conditions, there are some general rules for those looking to be healthy.
The Mediterranean diet is one of the most studied health-promoting diets. The diet is particularly well researched for its cardiovascular (heart) benefits. This eating style is rooted in whole foods, meals high in fiber, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish. Let’s dive into some of the elements that make up a healthy diet.
Carbohydrates & Simple Sugars
Whole foods tend to have a moderate to low carbohydrate load compared to processed foods which tend to have added sugar, high fructose corn syrup, or highly processed grains. Keep simple carbohydrates and simple sugars low, with a focus on complex carbohydrates which contain fiber. Fiber slows down how quickly you digest food, making you feel fuller longer, and helps keep you regular.
Eating veggies with various colors ensures you're getting a variety of antioxidants and nutrients in your diet. You can add colors to your diet by adding vegetables such as peppers, broccoli, and carrots.
Above Ground Vegetables
Incorporate thick vegetables that grow above ground into as many meals as possible. Dense vegetables that grow above the ground are high in fiber, phytonutrients, minerals, and more. Filling your place with veggies helps you to increase your nutrient intake, fiber intake, and avoid excessive calories.
Try to eat green leafy vegetables at least once per day as green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach are high in minerals such as magnesium and calcium which are needed for your bones, muscles, and hundreds of other processes in your body. An easy idea is a salad with dinner or as a meal for lunch.
Veggies that grow below ground such as potatoes, beets, yams, and carrots tend to have higher sugar/starch concentrations than vegetables that grow above ground. For example, carrots and potatoes have a much higher glycemic (sugar) load in our blood than vegetables like broccoli and cauliflower. While still healthy choices, ensuring these veggies are paired with protein and fiber to slow their absorption down is a good idea.
Nuts, Beans & Legumes
Nuts, beans, and legumes are not only a great source of fiber, but they contain protein and healthy fats. Adding them to your diet promotes lower cholesterol which is a heart-healthy option for vegetarians and meat-eaters too. Try beans and legumes in soups, stir frys, or even on salads. Nuts can be eaten as a snack to keep you full between meals, or added to smoothies, salads, or stir-fries.
Fruits can be a great source of phytonutrients and antioxidants, but they can also be high in sugar. When incorporating fruits into your diet, choose dark-colored fruits such as blueberries and blackberries that tend to be higher in antioxidants and better at blood sugar management than other fruits. Of course, variety is essential, so don't eliminate other kinds of fruits entirely.
Fat Sources & Protein Choices
Healthy mono- or poly-unsaturated fats are found in plant sources such as olive oil or avocados. When eaten in moderation and in place of saturated fat, mono and polyunsaturated fats may help regulate cholesterol levels and promote cardiovascular health.
Fish is also a good source of polyunsaturated fats and is also a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids which are linked to a large list of health benefits. A diet high in seafood lower in meat can be a healthy option all around. You'll want to try and limit your intake of red meats to a few times per week as they are high in saturated fat, which is linked to cholesterol issues and colorectal cancers.
A balanced and healthy diet doesn't mean you have to eliminate sweets, but you should limit them. For example, instead of having a sweet treat every night, make it a special occasion you have on a particular night of the week and make sure it's a reasonable portion.
Keeping these tips in mind can help you make healthier choices in your diet and feel your best! Also, a balanced and healthy diet is also a diet of moderation. Portion control is an essential aspect of any diet as too much of a good can still be too much!
Dr. Kasey Nichols,
Co-Chief Medical Officer of Naguna Labs