Developing healthy eating habits is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Our body is fueled by the food we eat each day. In order to function at the best level possible, it’s important to have a well-balanced diet. As a result of healthy eating habits, you are likely to have more energy, be in a better mood, and maintain good physical health. You may also feel better about yourself, which allows you to fully enjoy each day.
I admit developing healthy eating habits can be challenging some days. If I have a busy day or am experiencing stress, I may not eat the best quality of food. Creating a balanced diet doesn’t have to be limiting as there are many resource guides available. The food pyramid is perhaps the most recognized guide in helping people develop better eating habits.
Composed of six groups, the food pyramid provides recommended serving sizes for a balanced diet. These recommended servings help you to obtain the right amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients throughout the day. While the food pyramid is a good guide for developing healthy eating habits, it’s important to remember that everyone is built differently. Some may require more or less of certain groups due to food allergies, pre-existing conditions, and dietary restrictions.
Fats, Oils, & Sweets
Sitting at the top of the food pyramid are oils, fats, and sweets. Foods from this group should be consumed the least unfortunately, they make up quite a large part of the American diet. The recommended serving of dietary fat varies from person to person, as it’s determined by daily calorie needs. A diet based on 1600 calories requires 53 grams of fat. A diet requiring 2200 calories a day would require 73 grams of fat, and 93 grams of fat is needed for a diet consisting of 2800 daily calories.
It must be noted that not all dietary fats are harmful, in fact, some aid in daily functioning. Healthy fats, such as omega-3, are required for proper physical and emotional health. Unhealthy fats, such as trans-fat and saturated fats are known for having negative effects on the body. Foods high in trans and saturated fats can lead to increased cholesterol levels. Over time, high-fat diets can result in health problems such as cardiovascular disease.
Sugar, sugar, sugar! How could such a sweet thing be bad for our health? Sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, however, it’s the processed sugar that is harmful to our health. Processed sugars are loaded with empty calories, which leads to conditions such as obesity and diabetes. The food pyramid doesn’t give an exact serving size for daily sugar intake, only that we should limit them. Depending on your definition of “limiting”, the serving size varies from person to person.
It is important to have a variety of foods rich in calcium, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Calcium is an essential mineral for our bodies because it helps maintain healthy teeth, bones, and regulates the heart’s rhythm. The food pyramid recommends having 2-3 servings a day from dairy products. It may be difficult for some individuals to meet this requirement, due to dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. Fortunately, there are some alternatives for these individuals. Plant-based and lactose-free milk are good substitutes for cow’s milk.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans
Foods such as poultry, eggs, beans, and legumes provide sources of protein, for the body. Maintaining a good amount of protein is important because our muscles depend on it for structure and growth. It’s recommended to have 2-3 daily servings, equivalent to 5-7oz of cooked meat or poultry. Contrary to what some believe, vegetarians and vegans are able to meet their daily protein needs by eating foods such as cottage cheese, quinoa, nuts, beans, and other supplemental sources.
Regardless of your dietary preferences for meat, it’s important to incorporate healthy sources of protein into your daily diet. In addition to the physical needs, protein affects energy levels, supports cognitive function, and influences our mood.
Incorporating 2-4 servings of fruit is beneficial to the daily diet because they provide good amounts of vitamins A, C, and potassium. The vitamins found in fruits help to improve many aspects of the body such as our skin, digestion, and immune system. Fruits also make good snacks, as they contain natural sugars, however, you still want to make sure you’re not consuming too much sugar.
Like fruits, vegetables provide necessary vitamins and minerals essential to the body such as vitamins A&C, calcium, iron, magnesium and folate. It is recommended to have 3-5 servings of vegetables, which can be found in a variety of foods such as spinach, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots. There are so many different types of vegetables that you should never get bored with eating them. With the right herbs and spices, you can turn any “bland” vegetable dish into a fiesta bowl!!
Grains & Carbohydrates
A large portion of our diet should consist of 6-11 servings of carbohydrates (carbs) such as grains, rice, pasta, and bread. There’s always some discussion in the diet world about limiting carbs or cutting them completely out of your diet. Like with all “expert advice”, it’s important to do your own research and consult with your medical professional. The truth is we need carbs, as they are the main source of energy for our bodies. Without them our muscles wouldn’t have the energy needed to carry us through the day, we would feel extremely sluggish, and our moods would twist and turn more than a rollercoaster ride.
How Diet Affects Energy and Mood
Our energy levels rely on the combination of the six food groups to help balance out different chemical levels in our bodies. Carbohydrates provide the body with the needed energy for muscular endurance and regulating blood sugar levels. A diet low in carbs would leave you feeling sluggish, tired, and even irritable.
Proteins help to boost serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that influences our mood and regulates the sleep cycle. A decrease in this chemical could lead to short tempers and restlessness. Fiber is another food source that influences the brain. You can find it in food such as beans, oats, and whole grains. Fiber is important because it helps to regulate blood sugars levels in the bloodstream, which results in increased serotonin levels. So for sanity’s sake, grab something healthy to eat.
It can feel overwhelming as you try to decide the right diet for yourself. There are many magazines, diet books, and news reports suggesting the latest and greatest way for healthy eating. Before adopting a new diet, you want to make sure you speak with your physician or a licensed nutritional expert. This is especially important if you have any past or current medical conditions. While certain diets may work for everyone else, you may be the exception. It’s important to base your diet on the needs of your body, not the average population.
Eating healthier is a lifestyle choice and just like the city of Rome, it’s not something that will be built in a day. Some days will be easier than others when it comes to eating a balanced diet. Each day you should try to replace unhealthy foods with a healthier choice. Before long you will notice your eating habits changing for the better. A healthier lifestyle begins with you and the choices you decide each day, however, don’t completely deprive yourself of “comfort foods”. A little “treat” is ok once in a while, right 🙂
Thanks for reading,