Obesity can cause all sorts of diseases, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, osteoarthritis, and cancer. Over the years, it has become a worldwide epidemic with at least 2.8 million people dying every year as a consequence of being overweight. The good news is that obesity is preventable with healthy eating habits and the right amount of physical activity.
When we say eating healthy, this implies more than just eating nutritious foods. It also means eating the right amount of food at the right time. Fortunately, a healthy diet is measurable with the Healthy Eating Index (HEI). But what is it, and how does it work?
What Is the Healthy Eating Index?
The HEI measures the overall quality of your diet. It was developed in 1995 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to evaluate how well certain foods and the American diets comply with the dietary recommendation of the Food Guide Pyramid and the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs).
Its latest iteration, the HEI-2015, has 13 components that were designed to align with the key recommendations of the 2015-2020 DGAs. This version of the HEI, like its predecessors, places emphasis on the nutrient density of different food groups and the improvement of beverage and food choices as they relate to calorie needs.
The two groups of the HEI components include:
Adequacy components. This category represents the desired food groups, subgroups, and dietary elements. In this instance, higher scores are desirable because higher intake is encouraged.
Moderation component. This category comprises the dietary elements and food groups that should be taken in moderation. Lower intakes are more desirable in this case. That’s why higher scores reflect lower intakes.
Each of the 13 components is assigned a score. These scores are then summed to generate the total HEI-2015 score. The score ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the highest. All the HEI components’ scores are weighted equally, because they all have the same importance. Some parts of your diet may be represented by two components with a maximum score of five points each. The rest of the components may be scored a maximum of 10 points each.
Fruit, for example, is represented by two components: Whole Fruits and Total Fruits. Each of these two components may be given up to five points, giving you a total of 10 points for the fruit component of your diet.
Why You Should Eat Healthy
A healthy diet means eating a variety of vegetables and fruits of many different colors, good fats, and lean protein, as well as non-GMO whole grains and starches. It also means you should avoid foods that are high in added sugar, salt and preservatives.
Here are some of the many reasons why you should eat healthy foods.
1. Weight loss
Obese or overweight people are at a higher risk of developing severe health conditions, such as heart disease, poor bone density, and diabetes. Losing weight can help reduce those risks. If you want to shed a few pounds, lowering your calorie intake is the first step. That means eating plenty of whole vegetables and fruits, since they have fewer calories than most processed foods and have the right nutrition to clean and strengthen your body.
However, do take note that calories are actually not bad for you. The human body needs them to survive. It just needs to be the right amount from the right sources (not every calorie is created equal). You can use the dietary guidelines developed by the U.S. Health Department to determine how many calories you need per day.
2. Heart health
Just because you’re young doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be concerned about your heart health. Anyone can develop cardiovascular disease at any stage of life, especially if you don’t pay attention to what you eat. Did you know that there are approximately 92.1 million adults in the U.S. with some type of a heart problem? Healthy eating habits can help prevent you from developing one in the first place.
3. Reduced risk of cancer
A diet rich in vegetables and fruits can offer you vast protection against cancer. The phytochemicals found in nuts, vegetables, legumes, and fruits act as antioxidants, which fight free radicals that cause cell damage. Fruits are known as nature’s cleansers and energizers, while vegetables and nuts build and fortify tissues and organs.
4. Improved gut health
Aside from eating healthy foods, you should also make sure that you don’t skip meals, as this can seriously harm your health. For example, skipping breakfast may cause your blood sugar levels to plummet.
Constantly skipping meals can also cause gastric problems, because the stomach’s digestive juices will continue to do their job, whether or not there is food to break down. This may lead to gastritis, acid reflux, and stomach acid issues. It might even erode the intestinal lining of your stomach and cause ulcers in more severe cases.
5. Blood sugar management
Eating a healthy diet can help people with high sugar levels manage their glucose levels, while keeping their cholesterol and blood pressure within target ranges. It can also help delay or even prevent complications of diabetes.
If you have diabetes, you should make sure to limit your processed sugar and salt consumption. Likewise, you should avoid fried foods high in trans and saturated fats.
6. Better mood
A diet rich in refined carbohydrates, such as those found in cakes, sodas, biscuits, and white bread, has a high glycemic load. Such a diet may increase symptoms of fatigue and depression. To lower your glycemic load, you should turn to fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
7. Migraine prevention and relief
It is reported that about 75% of people aged between 18 and 65 years old have had headaches, and 30% of those are said to have been migraine attacks. Did you know that there is a connection between diet and migraines? Foods like dairy products can trigger a migraine. The correct diet, together with the use of a migraine air pressure device, can give you the migraine relief you need to feel better and thrive.
What to eat when you have a migraine
Avoid eating dairy products and citrus fruits, as they can trigger your migraine. Instead, try the following foods to bring on relief:
Yellow, green, and orange vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, summer squash, spinach, and carrots
Poppy, pumpkin, sunflower, and sesame seeds
Unflavored crackers, such as Club crackers or saltines
Most cereals, except ones that contain dried fruits, aspartame, or nuts
How Often Should You Eat to Stay Healthy
This is a tricky one, because you’ll get a lot of different advice depending on whom you ask. Some will say that you should eat every two hours, while others will argue that three square meals a day are enough.
But if you ask health experts, they’ll tell you that you should eat a meal every three to five hours. This gives your stomach enough time to empty into the small intestine, ensuring that a true appetite has returned, as opposed to eating purely out of habit.
However, waiting too long in-between meals can also cause problems, such as acidity, lack of focus, shakiness, low blood sugar levels, low energy, and irritation. This may also lead to overeating to make up for the lack of calories.
Formula for Well-Balanced Nutrition
A balanced diet fuels the body with the right nutrients, so it can function correctly throughout the day. Without balanced nutrition, you are more prone to infection, fatigue, sickness and chronic disease. You may also develop unhealthy eating habits that may prove addictive and hard to break.
To get all the nutrition your body needs, make sure you get your calories from healthy foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and lean proteins. Avoid foods that provide empty calories, such as cookies, cakes, doughnuts, sodas, energy drinks, processed meats, chips and fries, pizza, ice cream, and anything with added sugar.
A balanced diet typically consists of:
Minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants
Carbohydrates, including fiber and starches
Eating healthy is extremely important. What you put in your gut can make or break your health. Unhealthy foods like pizza and soda may be delicious, but they provide nothing nutritious and overload your body with waste that it must work hard to expel. In fact, eating too much junk food can endanger your health and longevity. If you want to stay healthy, be more responsible when planning your meals and always include plenty of fruits and vegetables. Prevention is worth a thousand cures!
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