What if all you ate were carrots? How about if your breakfast, lunch, and dinner were comprised of only cucumbers? Would you be healthy? Even though these are healthy foods, eating the same things day in and day out does not provide your body with the required mix of nutrients necessary for overall health and wellbeing. Variety, or balance, is the key to success when it comes to protection from disease and healing from such things as Type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
Fact: The US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) found that the more diverse the diet, the greater the protection from premature death from any cause.
One of the biggest challenges facing people who desire to have a truly healthy diet is figuring out what exactly they should be eating. While replacing candy bars with apples and white pasta with whole grain is admirable, understanding how variety works is equally as important. To be the metabolic powerhouse you are designed to be, you must keep your plate varied.
Taking a closer look
Here are a couple of convincing reasons why eating a balanced diet is essential to good health, prevention and healing:
A balanced diet means balanced nutrients
If you want to get adequate nutrition, at a varied diet. This is what a study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found. Nutritional science has found over 50 essential vitamins, minerals, amino acids and fatty acids that the body cannot make on its own, therefore, we must get these essential nutrients from the food we consume. There are also over 1200 phyto- chemicals that are found in fruits vegetables, beans, grains and animal products. All of these play a role in overall health and wellness. Balanced nutrients come from a balanced diet since not one single food or food group can provide everything we need.
Dietary diversity protects your from sickness and disease
According to research in the Journal of Nutrition, people who consume the same food over and over again tend to be less healthy than those who eat a varied diet. Participants in the study who ate the widest range of foods were 21% less likely to develop metabolic syndrome (a group of conditions including high blood pressure, high blood sugar and increased body fat that increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes) when compared to those who ate a standard, unvaried diet. Those that ate a varied diet were also more likely to have a healthy waist circumference than those who did not eat a healthy diet.
Various studies have shown that a diverse diet helps to keep blood sugar levels regulated and protects against the onset of type-2 diabetes. A nutrient-rich, balanced diet has been shown to protect against a variety of cancers including gastric cancer, colorectal cancer, laryngeal cancer and oral and pharyngeal cancer.
Furthermore, eating a varied diet appears to have a protective impact on our heart as it reduces consumption of dangerous refined foods such as sugar salt and unhealthy fats
Variety in action
So, now that you know how important a balanced diet is, it is time for the rubber to meet the road. First things first, just how many food groups are there? You will get different answers depending on where you look and who you talk to. While the latest attempt at a Food Pyramid, My Plate, from US government is leaps and bounds better than what it ever has been, it still has some fundamental flaws. It does encourage more plant foods but makes the mistake of suggesting low-fat dairy and doesn’t address the necessity of real saturated fat vs processed or hydrogenated fat.
Here is a look at the food groups that will keep you healthy, vibrant and protected. These food groups contain anti-inflammatory foods that are designed to promote balance and healing.
Vegetables: Consume 4-5 servings a day of colorful, raw and cooked vegetables. Choose organic when possible. Remember to keep it diverse.
If you are in a hurry, you can use frozen veggies. Try this delicious and nutritious vegetable dish that you can whip up in no time.
Fruit: It is always best to eat in season. What does your local farmer’s market have? Enjoy a 3-4 serving of fresh or fresh frozen fruit daily.
Whole and cracked grains: There has been a lot of confusion spread about the difference between whole grains and what is pulverized grains such as what you find in flour. Real, whole and cracked grains are quite different. For instance, a wheat berry or a rolled oat is a whole grain whole oat flour is not. So, when you read something about consuming whole grains, it is good advice as long as you understand what it means. If you consume whole wheat bread instead of white bread, you have not arrived as that whole wheat bread most likely spiked your blood sugar in the same way as the white bread. This is the sad but real, truth. Healthy choices include brown rice, quinoa, buckwheat, barley, steel cut oats and wild rice. Enjoy 3-5 ½ cup servings per day.
Pasta: If you enjoy pasta, do so with caution. Have 2-3 ½ cup servings a week but be sure that you are eating organic rice noodles, bean thread noodles or buckwheat noodles. It is also best to eat them al dente as the impact on your blood sugar will be less severe.
Here is a pasta dish that the whole family will love.
Beans/legumes: Rich in magnesium, folic acid, potassium and soluble fiber, beans and legumes are a great addition to any healthy diet. Enjoy 1-2 ½ cup servings daily including black beans, lentils, chickpeas and black-eyed peas.
Healthy fats: Healthy fats are critical to a healthy diet. Don’t be misled on this point; you must have healthy fat to burn fat. Healthy fats include such things as olive oil, coconut oil, organic/raw butter, raw nuts ( especially walnuts) and organic nut oils, hemp seeds, freshly ground flax seeds and avocados. Enjoy 5-7 servings per day. A serving is equal to one teaspoon of oil, one tablespoon of flax and other seeds and 1 ounce of avocado.
Fish and seafood: Fish is rich in omega-3 fats and is best enjoyed a couple of times each week. Healthy fish includes wild Alaskan salmon, herring, black cod and sardines. Keep your portion size to 4 ounces and if you don’t like fish take a molecularly distilled fish oil supplement with EPA and DHA ( 2-3 grams per day).
Protein: Add other high-quality protein sources 2-3 times a week including organic cheeses, organic eggs, free range chicken and grass fed meat.
Other: Use spices liberally, especially ginger, cinnamon, garlic, and turmeric. Consume 2-5 cups of green tea and at least eight glasses of water per day. Also, forgo all fast, processed and packaged foods – especially those including refined sugar and hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oil.
Keep it exciting, keep it balanced
An excellent way to keep your diet interesting is to pick different foods from the groups listed above at each meal. Remember, keep it colorful and keep it real!
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