Most people consider a balanced diet to be one where most of your calories come from fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, lean proteins, and whole grains. However, sticking to a balanced diet is easier said than done. For example, Americans tend to eat too many refined grains and sugar and 80% of Americans do not eat enough fresh fruits and vegetables. Here are 15 reasons why healthy eating is worth the effort.
Benefit #1: Heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American adults. It is believed that the majority of heart disease diagnoses could be prevented by lifestyle changes. One lifestyle change that is used to treat heart disease is starting the dietary approach to stop hypertension diet, or DASH diet. The DASH diet has many similarities to what is commonly described as following a balanced diet, and demonstrates that practicing healthy eating is crucial to heart health.
Benefit #2: Gut health
A key component in gut health is naturally occurring bacteria that aid in digestion. “Junk foods” that are high in sugar and fat can have a negative impact on gut bacteria and cause inflammation to occur. Meanwhile, diets rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains provide prebiotics and probiotics that encourage healthy bacteria to thrive.
Benefit #3: Bone and teeth health
Having strong bones and teeth is influenced by levels of calcium and magnesium in the diet. Foods rich in calcium include dairy products, certain vegetables, tofu, legumes, and some fish. The best dietary sources of magnesium include vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Following a diet consisting of these foods can help improve bone and teeth health and avoid conditions like osteoporosis later in life.
Benefit #4: Stronger immune system
Deficiencies in different vitamins and minerals can lead to immune system weaknesses. Taking a multivitamin or ensuring recommended daily consumption of vitamins and minerals important to producing cells that fight disease during an immune response.
Benefit #5: Reduced cancer risk
Free radicals present in the body damage cells and can cause cancer to develop. Eating a variety of berries, dark leafy greens, pumpkins, carrots, nuts, and seeds ensures that you are receiving antioxidants that protect cells from these free radicals.
Benefit #6: Diabetes management
People with diabetes have to manage blood glucose levels, blood pressure, and cholesterol in order to delay or prevent the onset of complications associated with the disease. An important aspect of managing diabetes is avoiding foods high in added sugar and salt by practicing healthy eating.
Benefit #7: Weight loss
The biggest dietary component of weight loss is staying in a target calorie range. The best way to limit caloric intake without monitoring calories or feeling overly hungry is to avoid processed foods. Healthy foods like beans, fruits, and vegetables are lower in calories and more filling than “junk foods.”
Benefit #8: Less medical expenses
Anyone who has dealt with serious health problems knows how expensive medical bills can be. According to the Department of Agriculture, as much as $71 billion in medical expenses could be saved every year by dietary changes.
Benefit #9: Improved memory and mental function
A 2015 study found that vitamin D, vitamin C, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and other nutrients can be beneficial in protecting against dementia and cognitive decline. These vitamins and nutrients are found in certain vegetables, unsaturated fats, and fish, among other healthy foods.
Benefit #10: Better sleep
Sleep apnea is a common sleep disorder that occurs when airways are blocked while someone is sleeping. Common causes of sleep apnea include obesity, an unhealthy diet, and alcohol consumption. Following a balanced diet and limiting alcohol can help anybody sleep better, but is especially beneficial for people suffering from sleep apnea.
Benefit #11: Boost energy
Energy levels are directly linked to consuming the proper nutrients to fuel your body. Nutrient deficiencies, such as iron deficiency, cause people to feel fatigued and worn out. By eating nutrient dense foods instead of “empty calories,” you can feel a significant boost in energy.
Benefit #12: Improved mood and mental health
In addition to physical health, diet can influence mental wellbeing. A 2016 study found that diets with high glycemic loads, such as those consisting of refined carbohydrates and sugary drinks, can increase fatigue and depression. If someone is suffering from depression, practicing a balanced diet and talking with a mental health professional can be positive steps.
Benefit #13: Slowing effects of aging
In addition to their anti-cancer properties, antioxidants have been linked to reducing the effects of aging. By neutralizing free radicals in the body, antioxidants can help prevent wrinkles and other effects of cell damage during aging. Berries, dark leafy greens, nuts, and seeds are great sources of antioxidants.
Benefit #14: Longevity
Complications related to obesity include some of the leading causes of death in the United States. Following a balanced diet and avoiding a sedentary lifestyle are great ways to help live longer and stay healthy for longer.
Benefit #15: Our children’s health
If you are a parent, one way to help ensure that your child is staying healthy is by practicing healthy eating at home. Children learn many of their eating habits from their parents. Additionally, a 2018 study found that children who ate meals at home more often tended to eat more vegetables and fewer sugary foods and kids who ate less meals at home.