Food is a vital source of energy, but also provides the nutrients that make up our cells and keep us healthy. Eating a variety of foods from each of the five food groups daily helps ensure you get all the important vitamins and minerals your body needs to function well.
People’s diets vary widely, from one country to the next and even within a single region. Differences are mainly due to climate and economic factors, but cultural influences also play a role. For example, in many countries, immigrants have broadened traditional cuisines by adding foods not found naturally in their homeland. Many popular “Indian” dishes, for example, use tomatoes and potatoes that are not native to India.
A well-balanced diet means eating from all the food groups, and limiting foods and beverages that contain too much fat, sodium (salt) or added sugars. It is also important to drink enough water.
Choose lean meats, fish and poultry, as well as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy and beans. Eat a small amount of nuts and seeds to provide fiber, which is not only good for your health but also has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Limit processed foods, such as cookies, cakes and other baked goods. Instead, opt for whole grain breads and cereals, fresh or frozen vegetables, canned fish, soups made with vegetable or low salt broth, risotto, brown rice, beans and lentils, or salads with leafy greens and chopped veggies.
When you go out to eat, make an effort to control portion sizes. At restaurants, try sharing an appetizer or dessert, and order items that are not fried or covered in sauces. When eating at home, use smaller plates and bowls to help with portion control.
It is also a good idea to avoid too many foods high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise your cholesterol levels and lead to heart disease. Instead, choose healthier oils for cooking, such as canola and olive oil, or a blend of omega-3 and omega-6 fats like flax seed oil.
Getting adequate nutrition is essential for good health, but it’s not always easy to do when you’re busy or living in an urban environment. If you have limited time to prepare meals, consider keeping frozen or canned fruits and vegetables in your pantry, and adding them to meals as needed. Keep a variety of healthy snacks on hand, such as yogurts without added sugars and unsweetened applesauce, nuts or seeds.