What Constitutes A Healthy Diet?

healthy dietJacquieIconBy Jacquie Eubanks

With so many conflicting studies, negotiating the maze of nutrition advice is not easy.  Many of us rely on government recommendations in deciding what constitutes a healthy diet and what foods we should or should not eat and in what amounts.  However, large corporations and lobbyists often dictate government policy, everything about our food is now big business, and the agricultural industry is set up to produce subsidized grain products for lower margins and higher profits, not health.  Walk any supermarket aisle and you will see thousands of food products that are low in fat and high in added sugars, refined oils and processed grains, all designed for shelf life but which may be secretly sabotaging your health.  Where does that leave people who believe that nutrition is the most important factor in protecting their health and avoiding chronic disease?  The fact is that it’s your body and your health and we are all left to make our own informed choices. 

Grains, grain products and added sugars are the most pervasive foods in the American diet.  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which developed the Food Guide Pyramid, recommends a diet that keeps all fats, even healthy fats, to a minimum and suggests that the largest portion of the daily diet be devoted to grain products, including breads, cereals and pastas.  More recent scientific research suggests that turning the food pyramid upside down may be a much healthier option.  Healthy fats, it turns out, are not only necessary but are good for your health and help you to better manage your weight.  Many nutritionists, physicians and scientists are now challenging the belief that grain carbohydrates should form the basis of our diets.  Refined carbohydrates, it seems, cause inflammation.  Inflammation is the basis for most chronic illnesses, including metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disorders and some types of cancer. 

A number of health professionals now believe that a low carbohydrate diet, higher in saturated fat and protein, is a much better option when it comes to avoiding obesity and other chronic diseases.  Some health advocates now think that in 10 years time, a low-carb, high-fat diet will become the norm.  And although dietary cholesterol was, and in many circles still is, touted as a precursor to developing cardiovascular disease, cholesterol is vital to many bodily functions, most importantly cognitive functions such as learning and memory.  Some wonder when the war waged against cholesterol will end and are questioning the science behind the dietary cholesterol blockade, as studies show that dietary cholesterol does not raise the blood levels of unhealthy cholesterol in the body. 

As nutrition science changes, the conflicting information may leave one to wonder what exactly constitutes a healthy diet.  A good approach is a balanced nutritional lifestyle that maintains growth and energy and promotes good health.  Current popular lifestyle approaches include the Paleo diet, the Mediterranean diet, the gluten-free diet and the low carb-high fat diet.  While the scientific debate continues, perhaps taking good advice from all of these diets is a sensible approach.  Again, eating whole foods as close to nature as possible is highly recommended for overall health and wellness.  Essentially, to ensure you are getting your daily vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and fiber:

  • Eat mostly plant foods, including a good variety of vegetables, especially cruciferous and green leafy types, fruit in moderation, and legumes for fiber and protein.
  • Many people need to avoid gluten, but if you are not gluten sensitive, consume whole stone ground grain products also in moderation.  Try naturally gluten-free grains such as wild rice, amaranth or quinoa. 
  • Limit or avoid refined grains as found in white bread, pasta and snack foods, which have been stripped of nutrients and contain little or no dietary fiber. 
  • Avoid added sugars found in soda, candy, alcohol and other foods, which are simply empty calories with a high glycemic load and raise blood sugar and insulin levels associated with cardio-metabolic diseases.   
  • Eat more fatty fish, preferably wild caught, to get the benefit of omega-3 fatty acids. 
  • Consume healthy fat as found in butter, dairy, nuts, avocados, coconuts, olives and olive oil.   
  • Eliminate trans fats, hydrogenated and refined oils, which are found in fried foods and most pre-packaged and processed foods, and are associated with increased risk for cardiovascular disease and inflammation.   
  • Eggs are considered a perfect protein.  Add them back into your diet if you have been avoiding them due to cholesterol concerns.   
  • Eat good quality complete protein, such as grass fed beef, to get the full complement of amino acids, essential minerals, B vitamins and enzymes.
  • Drink enough water every day to stay hydrated.  In general terms, drink water with each meal, between meals and before, during and after exercise. 
  • No healthy lifestyle would essentially be complete without a recommendation for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. 

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