The food choices we make each day can determine how healthy we are. It is undeniable that good nutrition is essential for us to stay healthy. It is important for us to keep our diet balanced and include foods like fruits and vegetables, protein, whole grains, fiber, nuts and legumes more regularly. In general, diet that is too high in calories, salt, added sugars, trans-fat, and alcohol contribute to numerous diseases, including heart disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, cancer, osteoporosis among many others. Combined with adequate physical exercises, a proper diet can help to achieve and maintain healthy weight, prevent many chronic diseases as well as to reduce risk of facing overwhelming health care costs! Following are the important aspects you should consider in your diet:
Incorporate unsaturated fats in your diet but limit saturated fats and avoid trans-fats
Not all fats are bad, in fact our body needs fat for energy and absorption of certain nutrients such as vitamins and antioxidants. Furthermore, avoiding fats totally is not necessarily a good way to lose weight and we need good fats to maintain a healthy body. The two main forms of dietary fats are saturated and unsaturated fats. Saturated fats are fats that are tightly packed and are mostly solid at room temperature. They can be found in animal meat and dairy products such as red meat, poultry, pork, cheese, butter and whole milk. A diet high in saturated fat may increase low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels or bad cholesterol, resulting in higher risk of heart disease. However, many recent studies showed that saturated fats are not completely bad and removing saturated fats from our diet is not the best way to prevent heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that 5 to 6 percent of our daily calories come from saturated fats, which is about 13 grams of saturated fat per day. Unsaturated fats are divided into monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and they typically liquid at room temperature. These types of fats mainly come from plants sources such as plant oils, avocados, seeds, nuts as well as fatty fish like salmon and tuna which contain omega-3 fatty acids. Unsaturated fats, when eaten in moderation, can help to lower the risk of heart diseases. Trans fats, however, are fats that can increase your bad LDL cholesterol levels, leading to higher risk of developing heart disease and diabetes. They are mainly found in fried fast foods, doughnuts, frozen pizza, microwave popcorn, cookies and cakes. Small quantity of trans fats are also naturally found in the gut of some animals like milk and meat products. Because trans fats generally has no nutritional value, hence it is recommended to cut back on foods that contain them.
High intake of fruits and vegetables and consume adequate folic acid
Fruits and vegetables provide nutrients essential for our general health. A diet rich in fruits and vegetables can lower risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent certain types of cancer, promote healthy eyes and digestive system, and have a positive effect upon blood sugar. We should not only eat more fruits and vegetables, but also to eat a variety of types and colors of produce in order to get different types of nutrients our body require. Besides that, foods such as leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits, dry beans, peas and yeast contain folic acid also known as vitamin B-9, which is important in producing red blood cells, promoting brain health and cell growth. In addition, folic acid is essential for pregnancy women in developing the baby’s neural tube into brain and spinal cord. Inadequate folic acid during pregnancy raises the risk of a neural tube defect.
Include more whole-grain, high-fiber products in diet
Whole grains are part of a healthy diet and they are important sources of dietary fibers, B vitamins and minerals such as iron and magnesium. Consumption of whole grains helps in lowering blood cholesterol levels and reducing risk of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Besides that, eating whole grains also appears to facilitate weight control, improve bowel function and prevent constipation. B vitamins found in whole grains are important in body energy production as well as promoting healthy nervous system.
Limit consumption of sugar
Many of us understand the risks of having too much sugar in our diet. High sugar consumption can lead to health problems such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and nutritional deficiency. Sugars are naturally found in some foods, like milk, fruits and vegetables, and limiting the consumption of these foods is not necessary. However, sugars that are added to foods or beverages generally provide no additional nutrients other than extra calories. It is recommended that we should limit our calories from added sugars to 6 teaspoons or 100 calories per day for women and 9 teaspoons or 150 calories for men.
Limit sodium or salt intake
Sodium or salt plays an important role in muscles contraction, transmission in nerve impulses and maintaining fluid balance within our cells. However, an intake of more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day increases blood pressure and poses health risks. These health problems include hypertension, stroke, coronary disease, water retention or swelling in parts of our body, dehydration, and increased risk of developing stomach cancer, kidney stones or osteoporosis.
Limit excessive caloric intake
Calories come from a variety of sources, including carbohydrates, fats, protein and alcohol. They are essential for all living things, but excessive consumption of energy lead to overweight and obesity. Given the importance of obesity and overweight in the causation of many chronic diseases, limiting caloric intake is fundamentally important.