A healthy diet typically includes nutrient-dense foods from all of the major food groups, including lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, and fruits and vegetables of many colors.

Healthy eating habits also include replacing foods that contain trans fats, added salt, and sugar with more nutritious options.

Following a healthy diet has many benefits, including building strong bones, protecting the heart, preventing disease, and boosting the mood.

This article discusses the top 10 benefits of a healthful diet and the evidence behind them.

A spread of healthful foods against wooden chopping boards and a gray, scrunched-up tablecloth. The foods are blueberries, bananas, spinach leaves, avocado, and apples, and a jug of milk.Share on Pinterest
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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States.

The American Heart Association (AHA) states that almost half of U.S. adults live with some form of cardiovascular disease.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a growing concern in the U.S. The condition can lead to a heart attack, heart failure, and a stroke.

It may be possible to prevent up to 80% of premature heart disease and stroke diagnoses with lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity and healthful eating.

The foods people eat can reduce their blood pressure and help keep their hearts healthy.

The DASH diet, or the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet, includes plenty of heart healthy foods. The program recommends:

  • eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
  • choosing fat-free or low fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
  • limiting saturated and trans fat intake, such as fatty meats and full-fat dairy products
  • limiting drinks and foods that contain added sugars
  • restricting sodium intake to less than 2,300 milligrams per day — ideally 1,500 mg daily — and increasing consumption of potassium, magnesium, and calcium

High-fiber foods are also crucial for keeping the heart healthy.

The AHA states that dietary fiber helps improve blood cholesterol and lowers the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.

The medical community has long recognized the link between trans fats and heart-related illnesses, such as coronary heart disease.

Limiting certain types of fats can also improve heart health. For instance, eliminating trans fats reduces the levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. This type of cholesterol causes plaque to collect within the arteries, increasing the risk of a heart attack and stroke.

Reducing blood pressure can also promote heart health. Most adults may achieve this by limiting their salt intake to no more than 1,500 mg per day.

Food manufacturers add salt to many processed and fast foods, and a person who wishes to lower their blood pressure should avoid these products.

A person may eat foods that contain antioxidants to help reduce their risk of developing cancer by protecting their cells from damage.

The presence of free radicals in the body increases the risk of cancer, but antioxidants help remove them to lower the likelihood of this disease.

Many phytochemicals found in fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes act as antioxidants, including beta carotene, lycopene, and vitamins A, C, and E.

According to the National Cancer Institute, there are laboratory and animal studies that link certain antioxidants to a reduced incidence of free radical damage due to cancer. However, human trials are inconclusive and doctors advise against using these dietary supplements without consulting them first.

Foods high in antioxidants include:

Having obesity may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer and result in poorer outcomes. Maintaining a moderate weight may reduce these risks.

In a 2014 study, researchers found that a diet rich in fruits reduced the risk of upper gastrointestinal tract cancers.

They also found that a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and fiber lowered the risk of colorectal cancer, while a diet rich in fiber reduces the risk of liver cancer.

Read more about cancer-fighting foods here.

Some evidence suggests a close relationship between diet and mood.

In 2016, researchers found that diets with a high glycemic load may trigger increased symptoms of depression and fatigue in people who have obesity but are otherwise healthy.

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.

Recent research also found that diet can affect blood glucose levels, immune activation, and the gut microbiome, which may affect a person’s mood. The researchers also found that there may be a link between more healthful diets, such as the Mediterranean diet, and better mental health. Whereas, the opposite is true for diets with high amounts of red meat, processed, and high fat foods.

It is important to note that the researchers highlighted a necessity for further research into the mechanisms that link food and mental health.

If a person suspects they have symptoms of depression, talking with a doctor or mental health professional may help.

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. They may also help fight harmful bacteria and viruses.

A diet high in fiber may decrease inflammation in the gut. A diet rich in fibrous vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains may provide a combination of prebiotics and probiotics that help good bacteria thrive in the colon.

These fermented foods are rich in probiotics:

Prebiotics may help improve a range of digestive issues, including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) symptoms.

A healthful diet may help maintain cognition and brain health. However, further conclusive research is necessary.

A 2015 study identified nutrients and foods that protect against cognitive decline and dementia. The researchers found the following to be beneficial:

Among other diets, the Mediterranean diet incorporates many of these nutrients.

Read more about foods to boost brain function here.

Maintaining a moderate weight can help reduce the risk of chronic health issues. A person who has more weight or obesity may be at risk of developing certain conditions, including:

  • coronary heart disease
  • type 2 diabetes
  • osteoarthritis
  • stroke
  • hypertension
  • certain mental health conditions
  • some cancers

Many healthful foods, including vegetables, fruits, and beans, are lower in calories than most processed foods.

A person can determine their calorie requirements using guidance from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2020–2025.

Maintaining a healthy diet can help a person stay within their daily limit without monitoring their calorie intake.

In 2018, researchers found that following a diet rich in fiber and lean proteins resulted in weight loss without the need for monitoring calorie intake.

A healthy diet may help a person with diabetes:

  • manage their blood glucose levels
  • keep their blood pressure and cholesterol within target ranges
  • prevent or delay complications of diabetes
  • maintain a moderate weight

It is vital for people with diabetes to limit their intake of foods with added sugar and salt. They should also consider avoiding fried foods high in saturated and trans fats.

Read about the best foods for diabetes here.

A diet with adequate calcium and magnesium is important for strong bones and teeth. Keeping the bones healthy can minimize the risk of bone issues later in life, such as osteoporosis.

The following foods are rich in calcium:

  • dairy products
  • kale
  • broccoli
  • canned fish with bones

Food manufacturers often fortify cereals, tofu, and plant-based milk with calcium.

Magnesium is abundant in many foods, and some of the best sources include:

  • leafy green vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • whole grains

A variety of factors, including sleep apnea, can disrupt sleep patterns.

Sleep apnea occurs when a condition repeatedly blocks the airways during sleep. Risk factors include obesity and drinking alcohol.

Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake may help a person gain restful sleep, whether they have sleep apnea or not.

Children learn most health-related behaviors from the adults around them, and parents who model healthy eating and exercise habits tend to pass these on.

Eating at home may also help. In 2018, researchers found that children who regularly ate meals with their families consumed more vegetables and fewer sugary foods than their peers, who ate at home less frequently.

There are plenty of small ways to improve a person’s diet, including:

  • swapping soft drinks for water or herbal tea
  • ensuring each meal consists of some fresh produce
  • choosing whole grains instead of refined carbohydrates
  • consuming whole fruits instead of juices
  • limiting red and processed meats, which are high in salt and may increase the risk of colon cancer
  • eating more lean protein, which people can find in eggs, tofu, fish, and nuts

A person may also benefit from taking a cooking class and learning how to incorporate more vegetables into their meals.

Healthy eating has many benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. A person may also boost their mood and gain more energy by maintaining a balanced diet.

A doctor or dietitian can provide further tips for eating a more healthy diet.