What is healthy food can be quite confusing and contradicting since what one considers healthy may not be the case for someone else.
Some people may believe that healthy food is anything organic and free of pesticides, while others believe healthy food is anything low in calories and fat.
This may make it seem like it’s up to the individual to decide what’s healthy for them. However, numerous evidence-based studies have helped us better understand what healthy food should or should not be.
Keep reading to know what you should include in your list of healthy foods for better health and nutrition.
What is Healthy Food?
Healthy food simply refers to food that provides you with the nutrients your body needs to keep functioning optimally.
These foods are often found in their natural forms, free of added sugars, excessive processing methods, additives, and preservatives.
They include plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
These foods are often rich in nutrients like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants while being low in unhealthy fats, sugar, and sodium.
That being said, balance is key in ensuring you get all the nutrients in the required amounts. The best way to achieve this is to include a variety of these foods in your meals throughout the day rather than focusing on a few or just those you like the most.
Nutrients That Make Up Healthy Food
Healthy food is a nutrient-dense food that contains beneficial compounds like
Vitamins are a group of organic compounds produced by plants that the body needs in small amounts for major biochemical processes, including growth and development, healing, ad repair.
They can be grouped into two: Water-soluble and fat-soluble vitamins.
Water soluble vitamins
Water soluble refers to those vitamins that dissolve in water and can be eliminated through urine.
Thus they can’t be stored in the body, so no matter how much you consume, the body will only take what it needs, and the rest will be eliminated. That’s why it’s impossible to have water-soluble vitamin toxicity.
Likewise, these vitamins need to be replenished from time to time. Otherwise, you can easily run into deficiencies.
There are nine water-soluble vitamins, including:
- Vitamin B1 (Thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin)
- Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
- Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- VitaminB7 (Biotin)
- vitamin B9 (Folate)
- Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)
- Vitamin C
Fat-soluble vitamins are those that dissolve in fats and oils and are often found in fat-containing foods.
Unlike water-soluble vitamins that are lost in the urine, fat-soluble vitamins are stored within the fat cells in the body, and too much of them can cause toxicity.
They are four in number: vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Minerals are naturally occurring inorganic substances found in the earth. They are typically solid with a crystal structure. Unlike vitamins that plants and animals can make, minerals are found in water and soil and often find their way into foods by being absorbed from the soil.
Minerals fall into two categories:
Macro-minerals are also referred to as major minerals. This is because you need them in large amounts. They include:
Microminerals are also referred to as trace minerals because they are needed in smaller amounts – but that doesn’t mean they are less important.
Proteins are large molecules (macromolecules) that consist of one or more long chains of amino acids.
There are a total of 20 amino acids that make up protein. And they are classified into essential amino acids and non-essential amino acids.
Proteins are generally present in every cell in the body, where they perform various biochemical processes like boosting metabolism, improving digestion, producing energy, DNA replication and repair, and cell signaling.
Healthy food sources of protein include whole grains, seeds, nuts, some vegetables, and legumes.
Carbohydrates, often referred to as carbs, are sugar molecules that the body breaks down to produce glucose. Glucose is the main source of fuel for cells to function.
Carbohydrates can be found in a wide range of foods, including healthy and unhealthy foods.
Healthy foods often contain complex carbohydrates, meaning they have all their nutrients intact, especially fiber and vitamins.
On the other hand, processed foods contain refined carbohydrates, which are often highly processed and have their fiber and other nutrients removed. So all they can really offer is glucose.
You can find carbs in a wide range of foods, including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, fruit juices, soft drinks, etc. It’s best always to eat carbohydrates in their natural forms and avoid anything processed.
5. Healthy Fat
While fat often gets a bad rap, not all fats are bad. Certain healthy fats can actually boost your health and wellbeing.
Healthy fats like omega-3 fatty acids can fight inflammation, lower blood pressure, prevent heart disease, and lower cholesterol. Te can also boost the immune system, regulate body temperature, and increase energy.
Fats can also boost the absorption of fat-soluble vitamins like vitamins A, D, E, and K.
Best sources of healthy fats include plant foods like avocadoes, nuts, seeds, olives, and olive oil.
Benefits of eating healthy foods
Healthy foods ensure that the body is well supplied with every nutrient it needs to stay at its best
Common benefits include:
1. Lower high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a condition that occurs when the force of blood against the arterial walls is too high.
A major cause of high blood pressure is an unhealthy diet rich in saturated fats, trans fats, and cholesterol.
To bring your pressure back to normal, it’s essential to eliminate such foods from your diet.
Instead, replace them with healthy foods like whole grains, healthy fats, nuts and seeds, vegetables, and fruits.
These are rich in various nutrients that can bring the pressure down and keep it within normal.
For instance, such foods are a good source of fiber, which is the carbohydrate part of food that doesn’t get digested.
Fiber helps trap cholesterol and eliminate it from the body, lowering overall cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
Also, foods like whole grains are rich in minerals, including magnesium and potassium, that have also been shown to lower blood pressure.
Potassium helps counteract the negative effects of sodium, which may lead to increased blood pressure.
Magnesium, on the other hand, reduces blood pressure by increasing nitric oxide production.
Nitric oxide is a vasodilator that relaxes the inner muscles of your blood vessels, causing them to dilate, leading to a drop in blood pressure.
2. Reduced inflammatory markers
Inflammation is the root cause of common chronic conditions today. Although acute inflammation can health the body protect itself from danger, too much of it can actually be harmful.
Healthy foods like berries, leafy greens, nuts, and olive oil, are rich in anti-inflammatory compounds that help the body offset the effects of inflammation.
One such compound is omega-3 fatty acids. Foods rich in this nutrient include olive oil, avocado, nuts like walnuts and almonds, and seeds like chia and flax seeds.
Healthy foods are also a good source of various antioxidants, most of which exhibit anti-inflammatory properties.
Eating foods that fight inflammation can improve or prevent common inflammatory conditions like arthritis, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and type 2 diabetes, among others.
3. Improved digestive health
A healthy digestive system is essential for various reasons, including boosting the immune system, promoting mental health, and enhancing proper nutrient absorption from the foods you eat.
Eating healthy foods can help supply your gut with the needed nutrients to boost its function.
Fiber is one of the nutrients that help the body eliminate waste and toxins from the gut. It can also promote bowel regularity which can prevent constipation.
Additionally, certain types of fiber are known to feed the good gut bacteria (probiotics).
Probiotics help keep the harmful bacteria in the gut from getting out of control and causing disease. They also increase the integrity of your gut lining, preventing any harmful bacteria ingested through food from getting into your bloodstream. Finally, probiotics help you produce important vitamins like vitamin k and some B vitamins.
4. Strong immune system
A strong immune system is a defense against internal and external pathogens.
It protects the body from disease-causing organisms, germs, and cell changes that may cause disease.
Various nutrients in healthy foods, such as vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants can help strengthen your immune system.
Vitamin C, for instance, is very beneficial in fighting against colds and flu, while vitamin A can help maintain a healthy mucous membrane and protect the epithelium, which prevents any pathogen invasion.
Besides, research shows that 70% of the immune system is located in the gut. So if you want to be disease free, maintaining a healthy gut is essential and healthy foods can help you achieve it.
5. Ability to fight cancer
Healthy foods like berries and other colored fruits and vegetables are rich in antioxidants, plant-based compounds that can help neutralize free radicles in the body.
Free radicles are unstable molecules that are highly reactive and can cause cell damage leading to disease. Cancer develops when these damaged cells undergo mutations, causing a change in their DNA structure.
Additionally, healthy plant-based foods can hinder cancer progression by inhibiting cancer cell growth or initiating programmed cancer cell death, a process known as apoptosis.
6. Improved mental health
Antioxidants in healthy foods have also been shown to protect the brain against depression and depressive symptoms. In fact, research shows that vegans (who often consume healthy foods) have a lower risk of depression than anyone on a different diet.
The anti-inflammatory benefits of healthy foods can also fight inflammation in the brain, helping boost cognitive abilities, prevent brain fog, fight anxiety, improve mood and increase energy levels.
7. Better sleep
Getting enough sleep each night is essential for good health and wellbeing.
It has been shown to lower the risk of serious health issues like heart disease and diabetes, reduce stress and improve mood, boost immunity, maintain a healthy weight, and promote clarity.
However, most people find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep long enough to experience the benefits.
This could be due to various reasons, including the pressure of everyday life, poor food choices, medical conditions, etc.
Various nutrients in healthy foods such as tryptophan, have been shown to promote better sleep. Tryptophan is an amino acid that promotes the release of serotonin in the brain.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter associated with improving mood and happiness but can also promote melatonin production. Melatonin is a hormone your brain produces in response to darkness to help you fall asleep.
Are animal products healthy?
If you’re keen enough, you’ve probably noticed we dint mention animal foods as part of healthy food. And that’s because it’s not. Does it contain nutrients? Yes, it does. In fact, it’s a good source of iron, protein, and vitamin B12, but that doesn’t make it healthy.
While some people may argue about this, it’s been proven that animal products, including meat and dairy, can harm your health.
What makes it even worse is how these foods are often prepared. They are generally high in trans fats, saturated fats, and other additives that further increases the risk of various conditions, including
- Higher risk of stroke, high blood pressure, and heart disease
- Doubles the risk of heart disease
- Increased risk of diabetes
- Increased risk of colorectal cancer and early death
- Increased risk of bladder and prostate cancer
- It makes it harder to maintain a healthy weight
- Carries a high risk of foodborne illnesses
- Most meat and dairy contain hormones that may disrupt your normal hormonal balance
- Most of them contain antibiotics that may lead to drug resistance
- Increases the risk of death from any cause
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Healthy foods are foods that offer the various nutrients needed by the body to keep you healthy.
Examples include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds.
Building your meals around these foods is important in promoting good health and fighting disease.
They can help you lower blood pressure, prevent cancer, reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, boost immunity, and promote mental health, among others.
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