Eating healthy consists of consuming a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, low fat dairy and lean animal or plant-based proteins. This balance is outlined in the United States Department of Agriculture’s healthy foods pyramid. This pyramid acts as a basic guideline to eating in such a way that you promote a healthy body. Of course, this pyramid can be altered to fit your lifestyle (such as that of a vegetarian), but the same principles apply in getting the right mixture of carbohydrates, healthy fats and protein needed for the body to function correctly.
When eating a balanced diet, one of the first ways that your body benefits is through weight control. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2006 alone, over 72 million Americans over the age of 20 were considered obese. Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) score of 30 or more. Eating healthy helps prevent obesity in several ways. First, those who eat healthy tend to take in less calories during meals. Second, eating healthy ensures higher amounts of fiber (such as those found in fruits vegetables and whole grains). Fiber gives your body the sensation of feeling fuller longer, which reduces the overall intake of food during the day. Finally, eating healthy influences your metabolism, allowing you to burn more calories each day.
A healthy diet replaces unhealthy fatty foods packed full of LDL (bad) cholesterol with foods that are full of HDL (good) cholesterol (such as olive oil or salmon). High levels of LDL cholesterol in the blood create plaque buildup in the blood vessels. This can lead to arterial hardening and heart disease. HDL cholesterol removes bad cholesterol from the bloodstream to the liver, where it can then be processed and removed from the body. A healthy diet is also high in fiber, which can help control the levels of bad cholesterol in the blood.
Eating healthy also benefits your body by helping control your blood sugar levels. This is mostly achieved through eating healthy forms of carbohydrates. Eating foods full of sugar and other unhealthy forms of carbohydrates can quickly cause the levels of blood glucose to rise in your circulatory system. Although your cells need glucose to create energy, too much glucose can result in insulin resistance, known as diabetes. Insulin is an important hormone that unlocks the cell’s ability to absorb glucose from the bloodstream. When the cells become resistant, they no longer can absorb the glucose from the blood. This causes the glucose levels to rise above healthy levels in the bloodstream, resulting in serious damage to the blood vessels.
Eating healthy also helps the body prevent disease. Healthy foods, especially vegetables, tend to contain higher levels of phytochemicals. Pytochemicals are substances that increase your immune system’s ability to fight diseases. Eating healthy also helps prevent conditions that promote disease. For example, according to the Mayo Clinic, by eating less fatty foods and increasing the amount of plant-based foods you consume, you can actually prevent certain cancers. Eating healthy can also help prevent heart disease, diabetes, strokes and even Alzheimer’s disease.