Eating healthfully also means avoiding foods with high amounts of added salt and sugar.
In this article, we look at the top 5 benefits of a healthful diet, as well as the evidence behind them.
1. Weight loss
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:
- heart disease
- non-insulin dependent diabetes mellitus
- poor bone density
- some cancers
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.
2. Reduced cancer risk
An unhealthful diet can lead to obesity, which may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Weighing within a healthful range may reduce this risk.
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 linkedcertain antioxidants to a reduced incidence of free radical damage associated with cancer.
3. Diabetes management
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.
4. Heart health and stroke prevention
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.
There is some evidence that vitamin E may prevent blood clots, which can lead to heart attacks. The following foods contain high levels of vitamin E:
- 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.
5. The health of the next generation
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.