Medically Reviewed By Elizabeth A. Swick, MS, RDN
The Kitchen Is the Heart of Good Health and Wellness
No one can live forever, but research shows that many of the deaths in the United States every year may be preventable. Heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and many other medical conditions may be prevented or better controlled through lifestyle changes. Among the many changes you can make to support health and wellness, eating healthy foods made from healthy recipes at home is one of the most powerful steps. Read on to learn more about why healthy diets are so important.
You Are What You Eat, Literally
The human body is fantastic. Every day, it performs thousands of reactions and activities to keep your mind working and your organs functioning. But to complete all of those tasks, your body requires fuel. Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients are essential ingredients to these vital processes, and you can't make them on your own. When you consistently consume healthy food, you ensure that your body has what it needs to thrive. Conversely, if your diet is high in fats, added sugars, and artificial ingredients, you fill your body with junk and deprive yourself of what you need.
What Is Healthy Food?
Healthy foods are foods that are natural or minimally processed. Generally speaking, the less that happens to your food before you eat it, the better. Fruits and vegetables are denser in calories when consumed raw, and natural foods that are free of preservatives, added sugar, and additives tend to be richer in nutrients than heavily processed foods. Freezing, blanching, and mixing unprocessed ingredients are examples of minimal food processing that don't alter the nutritional value of foods.
Some examples of healthy foods include:
- Lean proteins like eggs, fish, shellfish, poultry, and lean cuts of lamb, pork, and beef
- Fruits and vegetables that are fresh or flash-frozen rather than canned
- Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, black beans, kidney beans, and black-eyed peas
- Whole grains, such as whole wheat, bulgur, quinoa, farro, and barley
- Dairy products like skim milk, yogurt, and cheese
Your body also needs small amounts of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats like:
- Olive oil
- Vegetable oil
If you suffer from cardiovascular disease or are at risk, heart-healthy recipes may help you avoid complications. A heart-healthy diet includes all of the above foods and also emphasizes reducing your intake of added sodium and sugars as much as possible. Many doctors recommend the Mediterranean diet, which:
- Features vegetables, beans, and whole grains as the staples of meals
- Includes two servings of fish per week
- Uses olive oil in place of butter
- Substitutes fruit for sugary desserts
- Includes one 5- or 6-ounce glass of red wine every day
Many people don't eat enough vegetables, and salad recipes are a simple, delicious way to boost your intake of veggies. Keep in mind that not all salads are created equal. Healthy salad recipes include:
- Vegetables in a wide variety of colors
- Legumes or whole grains for added flavor and nutrients
- Fatty ingredients like olives or cheese in moderation
- Homemade healthy salad dressing that is free of processed ingredients, made with healthy fats, and used sparingly
You can add protein to your salads in grilled or baked chicken, fish, or hard-boiled eggs, but limit yourself to 3 ounces of protein to practice reasonable portion control.
Preparing smoothie recipes is another way to add more fruits and vegetables to your diet. Healthy smoothies should include:
- No added sugar. Try adding a little honey or selecting very sweet fruits if you need the sweetness.
- A Healthy base. Yogurt, skim milk, nut milk, soy milk, and water are excellent smoothies bases. Avoid whole milk and ice cream to keep the calorie content in check.
- A colorful selection of key ingredients: as with salads, a rainbow of fruits will give you the broadest spectrum of vitamins and minerals.
- Supportive ingredients that fit your health and wellness goals: you can add ingredients to smoothies to supercharge them. For example, you may make a collagen smoothie to support skin elasticity or healthy joints or a magnesium smoothie to promote restful sleep and relaxation.
Healthy Diet Plans
Just as your personality and appearance aren't identical to anyone else's, your nutritional needs are also unique. All of the information listed above is general advice, but you may have different dietary requirements. That's why it's wise to talk to your doctor about healthy foods. You may even wish to see a registered dietitian for nutritional counseling. Professionals can provide you with concrete guidelines about which foods are best for you and how many calories you should eat each day. At which time, you can take this information and use it as a guide when choosing healthy recipes for entrees, sides, salads, and smoothies.