A healthful diet includes a variety of fruits and vegetables of many colors, whole grains and starches, good fats, and lean proteins.
Eating healthfully also means avoiding foods with high amounts of added salt and sugar.
In this article, we look at the top 10 benefits of a healthful diet, as well as the evidence behind them.
Losing weight can help to reduce the risk of chronic conditions. If a person is overweight or obese, they have a higher risk of developing several conditions, including:
Whole vegetables and fruits are lower in calories than most processed foods. A person looking to lose weight should reduce their calorie intake to no more than what they require each day.
Determining an individual’s calorie requirements is easy using dietary guidelines published by the United States government.
Maintaining a healthful diet free from processed foods can help a person to stay within their daily limit without having to count calories.
Fiber is one element of a healthful diet that is particularly important for managing weight. Plant-based foods contain plenty of dietary fiber, which helps to regulate hunger by making people feel fuller for longer.
In 2018, researchers found that a diet rich in fiber and lean proteins resulted in weight loss without the need for counting calories.
Also, in 2014, the American Society of Clinical Oncology reported that obesity contributed to a worse outlook for people with cancer.
However, diets rich in fruits and vegetables may help to protect against cancer.
In a separate study from 2014, researchers found that a diet rich in fruits reduced the risk of cancers of the upper gastrointestinal tract. They also found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber lowered the risk of colorectal cancer and that a diet rich in fiber reduced the risk of liver cancer.
Many phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes act as antioxidants, which protect cells from damage that can cause cancer. Some of these antioxidants include beta-carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E.
Trials in humans have been inconclusive, but results of laboratory and animal studies have linked certain antioxidants to a reduced incidence of free radical damage associated with cancer.
Eating a healthful diet can help a person with diabetes to:
- lose weight, if required
- manage blood glucose levels
- keep blood pressure and cholesterol within target ranges
- prevent or delay complications of diabetes
It is essential for people with diabetes to limit their intake of foods with added sugar and salt. It is also best to avoid fried foods high in saturated and trans fats.
According to figures published in 2017, as many as 92.1 million people in the U.S. have at least one type of cardiovascular disease. These conditions primarily involve the heart or blood vessels.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, up to 80 percent of cases of premature heart disease and stroke can be prevented by making lifestyle changes, such as increasing levels of physical activity and eating healthfully.
- sunflower seeds
- green vegetables
The medical community has long recognized the link between trans fats and heart-related illnesses, such as coronary heart disease.
If a person eliminates trans fats from the diet, this will reduce their levels of low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. This type of cholesterol causes plaque to collect within the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Reducing blood pressure can also be essential for heart health, and limiting salt intake to 1,500 milligrams a day can help.
Salt is added to many processed and fast foods, and a person hoping to lower their blood pressure should avoid these.
Children learn most health-related behaviors from the adults around them, and parents who model healthful eating and exercise habits tend to pass these on.
Eating at home may also help. In 2018, researchers found that children who regularly had meals with their families ate more vegetables and fewer sugary foods than their peers who ate at home less frequently.
In addition, children who participate in gardening and cooking at home may be more likely to make healthful dietary and lifestyle choices.
The following foods are rich in calcium:
- low-fat dairy products
- canned fish with bones
Also, many cereals and plant-based milks are fortified with calcium.
Magnesium is abundant in many foods, and the best sources are leafy green vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.
Emerging evidence suggests a close relationship between diet and mood.
A diet with a high glycemic load includes many refined carbohydrates, such as those found in soft drinks, cakes, white bread, and biscuits. Vegetables, whole fruit, and whole grains have a lower glycemic load.
While a healthful diet may improve overall mood, it is essential for people with depression to seek medical care.
A healthful diet may help prevent dementia and cognitive decline.
A study from 2015 identified nutrients and foods that protect against these adverse effects. They found the following to be beneficial:
Among other diets, the Mediterranean diet incorporates many of these nutrients.
The colon is full of naturally occurring bacteria, which play important roles in metabolism and digestion.
Certain strains of bacteria also produce vitamins K and B, which benefit the colon. These strains also help to fight harmful bacteria and viruses.
A diet low in fiber and high in sugar and fat alters the gut microbiome, increasing inflammation in the area.
However, a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains provides a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that help good bacteria to thrive in the colon.
Fermented foods, such as yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, miso, and kefir, are rich in probiotics.
Fiber is an easily accessible prebiotic, and it is abundant in legumes, grains, fruits, and vegetables.
Fiber also promotes regular bowel movements, which can help to prevent bowel cancer and diverticulitis.
A variety of factors, including sleep apnea, can disrupt sleep patterns.
Sleep apnea occurs when the airways are repeatedly blocked during sleep. Risk factors include obesity, drinking alcohol, and eating an unhealthful diet.
Reducing the consumption of alcohol and caffeine can help to ensure restful sleep, whether or not a person has sleep apnea.
There are plenty of small, positive ways to improve the diet, including:
- swapping soft drinks for water and herbal tea
- eating no meat for at least 1 day a week
- ensuring that produce makes up about 50 percent of each meal
- swapping cow’s milk for plant-based milk
- eating whole fruits instead of drinking juices, which contain less fiber and often include added sugar
- avoiding processed meats, which are high in salt and may increase the risk of colon cancer
- eating more lean protein, which can be found in eggs, tofu, fish, and nuts
A person may also benefit from taking a cooking class, and learning how to incorporate more vegetables into meals.
A doctor or dietitian can also provide tips on eating a more healthful diet.