Variety of foods for a Healthy diet - HEALTH CARE DEPARTMENT CALIFORNIA

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Eat a wide variety of foods for a healthy diet
The Ultimate Guide for your Diet and Wellness

One of the most frequently cited reasons that diets and attempts at healthy eating fail is boredom.  Many people simply do not know how to keep a healthy diet interesting day after day, and it can be quite a challenge.

Given the huge variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, meats and other healthy foods at the local grocery store, however, it is definitely possible to create exciting, nutritious meals that will keep boredom at bay.

Your key to healthy eating
The key to the success of any plan for healthy eating is to eat what you like, but to exercise moderation when it comes to the less healthy foods.  Improving your level of health and fitness does not mean forgoing that piece of chocolate cake, for instance.
It does mean, however, limiting yourself to one piece.  A healthy diet contains all types of foods, including carbohydrates, proteins, and even fats.  The key is choosing foods that provide the best combination of taste and nutrition.  After all, if your diet consists of foods you hate, you will not stick with it.

The revised USDA food pyramid contains five major food groups – grains, vegetables, fruits, milk and dairy, and meat and beans.  When choosing foods from these groups, it is important to eat a wide variety of foods from every food group.  Doing so will not only give you a great deal of variety and keep boredom from setting in, but it will provide the best nutritional balance as well.  In addition the widely known micronutrients, such as vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin C, etc. all foods contain a variety of macronutrients, like fats, proteins, fiber and water.  Though present in extremely tiny amounts, micronutrients are vitally important to good health.  That is why a healthy, varied diet is so important.

In addition, when choosing foods from within the various food groups, some choices are naturally better and healthier than others.  For instance, choosing skim or 2% milk instead of full fat whole milk is a good way to cut down on both fat and calories.  And choosing poultry or lean meat is a great way to get the protein you need every day without extra fat, cholesterol and calories.

Likewise cereals and breads that carry the whole grain label are healthier than those who do not.  Even in the world of fruits and vegetables some choices are better than others.  For instance, peaches packed in heavy syrup add unnecessary sugar to the diet, while those packed in water or juice provide only good nutrition.
There has been a trend lately to add vitamin fortification to food, and this can sometimes be a good way to maximize nutrition.  It is important to remember, however, that proper nutrition comes from a healthy diet, not from vitamin supplements.  It is fine to buy calcium fortified cereal, but the bulk of your calcium intake should still come from milk, dairy products and green leafy veggies.

Choosing the best foods

Choosing the best foods to lose weight
Knowing the five major food groups and how much of each to eat every day is only part of the picture.  The other part is choosing the best foods from within those food groups.  That means things like choosing the leanest cuts of meat, using egg substitutes instead of whole eggs, choosing the freshest fruits and vegetables, etc.

Even with fruits and vegetables, some choices are better than others.  Some fruits, such as avocados, for instance, are packed with fat and calories.

It is important to check the nutritional qualities of the fruits and vegetables you buy, and not simply assume that all fruits and vegetables are equally healthy.

One way to maximize nutrition while minimizing cost is to buy fruits and vegetables that are in season.  Fruits and vegetables that are in season are usually quite a bit cheaper than those that must be shipped hundreds or even thousands of miles, and they are generally much fresher too.  

Understanding fats and carbs

Fats and carbohydrates are two building blocks of a healthy diet, but many people do not understand their role in proper nutrition. While the daily intake of fats and oils should be limited, these elements are still a vital part of the diet.  The key is to make smart choices when it comes to fats and oils.  That means substituting saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and using healthier, lighter oils in cooking.

Let’s look at the role fats and oils play in the diet.  Fats are necessary for supplying energy to the body.  In addition, fats supply essential fatty acids and act as carriers for fat soluble vitamins like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, vitamin K and the carotenoids. In addition, fats have an important role to play as building blocks for various tissues and membranes, and they also play a key role in regulating numerous bodily functions.

Dietary fat is available from a variety of plant and animal sources, and most diets do contain adequate amounts of fat.  Most nutrition experts recommend keeping the intake of fat to less than 20% of calories, but studies have shown that severely limiting fat intake can be dangerous.  Extreme low fat diets should only be undertaking with a doctor’s approval and oversight.

The type and amount of fat in the diet makes all the difference. A diet high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol has been associated with a variety of ills, including heart disease, stroke and other associated diseases.  In addition, many long term chronic problems, such as obesity, are associated with high levels of dietary fats.

The greatest risk of complications from excessive fat intake appears to lie with saturated fats and trans fats (fats that are solid at room temperature).  One of the best ways to keep levels of saturated fat low is to limit the amount of animal fats that are consumed.  These animal based fats include meats like bacon and sausage, as well as butter and ice cream.  Dietary cholesterol can be limited by watching the consumption of eggs, organ meats and other foods high in cholesterol.

Food labels do make the complicated process of choosing the right fats somewhat easier.  For instance, trans fats will be listed on the ingredient list of foods that contain them.  In general, trans fats are found mainly in processed foods.

Some fats, such as polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, are better choices for healthy eating.  Examples of these fats include canola oil and olive oil.  Cooking with these lighter oils can be a big step toward a healthier diet.  Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature, and they have been found to have heart protecting qualities.

Many types of fish have also been found to be sources of good fat.  Fish are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids.  These omega-3’s have been found to promote good health, and they may even lower cholesterol levels.

Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet
Carbohydrates are an important part of a healthy diet as well, and carbs are necessary for providing energy and many essential nutrients.  Carbohydrates are found in fruits and vegetables, in grains and in milk and dairy products.  It is important to choose carbohydrates carefully, however, since not all are equally healthy.  

When choosing breads and cereal, for instance, try to select those made with whole grains, while avoiding the more highly refined varieties.  It is also important to limit the intake of sugars, such as soda, candy and highly processed baked goods.  Consuming large amounts of such high calorie, low nutrient foods, can make it very difficult to stay on a healthy diet without gaining weight.

Most Americans tend to have too much of certain elements in their diet.  Sugar is one such element and salt is the other.  While a basic level of sodium in the form of salt is important to proper nutrition, most people consume too much salt in their daily diet.  Excess salt consumption can lead to water retention, high blood pressure and other complications.  Choosing low sodium foods, and limiting the use of the salt shaker, can go a long way toward cutting levels of excess salt in the diet.

The importance of antioxidants in the diet

We are sure even you have heard the news about antioxidants and their importance to good health and proper nutrition. It seems the more scientists learn about antioxidants, the more their value and potential increases.  Antioxidants have shown promise in everything from preventing heart disease to slowing the degeneration of the eyes and brain.  

Antioxidants work in a fairly straightforward way.   What makes them so effective is their ability to neutralize a group of highly reactive, highly destructive compounds known as free radicals.

The production of free radicals is a normal bodily process, and it is part of the process of breathing and living.  Free radicals are normally neutralized by the body’s natural defense system, rendering them harmless.  However, anything that weakens the body’s natural defenses weakens its ability to fight off these free radicals.  Those weakening agents include environmental pollution, excess UV radiation and even excessive consumption of alcohol.  

When free radicals are not properly neutralized, the body is left open to damage.  Free radicals can damage the structure and function of cells in the body, and recent evidence suggest that free radicals contribute to the aging process and may play a role in a great many illnesses, including cancer and heart disease.

While vitamin supplements containing antioxidants such as vitamin C can be important, there is no substitute for a healthy diet.  It is estimated that foods contain more than 4,000 compounds that have antioxidant qualities.  Eating a healthy diet is the only way to take advantage of these antioxidant properties.  In addition to the well known antioxidants like vitamin C and vitamin E, healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains also contain lots of lesser antioxidants.  Scientists are only now discovering the important role these lesser known antioxidants have in keeping the body healthy.

Let’s examine some of the dietary sources for the major antioxidant vitamins.

Vitamin C and its antioxidant value
Vitamin C
Vitamin C is probably the most studied of all the antioxidant vitamins.  Also known as ascorbic acid, vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin found in all bodily fluids, and it is thought to be one of body’s first lines of defense against infection and disease.  Since vitamin C is a water soluble vitamin, it is not stored and must be consumed in adequate quantities every day.  Good dietary sources of vitamin C include citrus fruits such as oranges and grapefruits, green peppers, broccoli and other green leafy vegetables, strawberries, cabbage and potatoes.

Vitamin E
Vitamin E is a fat soluble vitamin that is stored in the liver and other tissues.  Vitamin E has been studied for its effects on everything from delaying the aging process to healing a sunburn.

While vitamin E is not a miracle worker, it is an important antioxidant, and it is important that the diet contain sufficient amounts of vitamin E.  Good dietary sources of this important nutrient include wheat germ, nuts, seeds, whole grains, vegetable oil, fish liver oil and green leafy veggies.

Beta-carotene
Beta-carotene is the nutrient that gives flamingos their distinctive pink color (they get it from the shrimp they eat).  In the human world, beta-carotene is the most widely studied of over 600 carotenoids that have thus far been discovered.  The role of beta-carotene in nature is to protect the skins of dark green, yellow and orange fruits from the damaging effects of solar radiation.  Scientists believe that beta-carotene plays a similar protective role in the human body.  Sources of beta-carotene in the diet include such foods as carrots, squash, sweet potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, collard greens, kale, cantaloupe, peaches and apricots.

Selenium
Selenium is one of the most important minerals in a healthy diet, and it has been studied for its ability to prevent cell damage.  Scientists see this ability to protect cells from damage as possibly important in the prevention of cancer, and selenium is being studied for possible cancer preventative properties.  It is important to get the selenium you need from your diet, since large doses of selenium supplements can be toxic.  Fortunately, selenium is easily found in a healthy diet.  Good sources of dietary selenium include fish and shellfish, red meat, whole grains, poultry and eggs, and garlic.  Vegetables grown in selenium rich soils are also good sources of dietary selenium.

Healthy eating with fruits and vegetables

We must say, dietary experts recommend that every person should eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  The importance of fruits and vegetables to a healthy diet has been known for quite some time, but studies have shown that very few people eat the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended for a healthy diet.

That’s a shame, since eating a sufficient number of fruits and vegetables just may be the single most effective thing you can do to improve your overall health.  The five a day approach to healthy eating may be the single most important strategy you can adopt for a healthier lifestyle.

The many health benefits of eating fruits and vegetables have been established for quite some time now.  Study after study has shown that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables lowers the risk of certain cancers, heart disease and other chronic diseases and conditions.  Some studies have suggested that as many as 35% of cancer deaths can be attributed to diet, and that diets high in fats and low in fruits and vegetables contributes to unnecessary cancer deaths.

Fruits and vegetables as the best healthy dietFruits and vegetables have a lot of advantages besides just their nutritional importance.  For one thing, they taste great and add a great deal of variety to everyday meals.  Fruits and vegetables come in such a wide variety of colors, textures and flavors that they can be used in virtually every meal. Those seeking to maximize their consumption of fruits and vegetables should get into the habit of using fruits in salads, as toppings and as garnishes.

In addition to their great taste, fruits and vegetables are packed full of many essential vitamins and minerals, including many micronutrients that are not included in packaged vitamin supplements.  

For instance, foods like butternut squash, pumpkins, carrots, mangoes, peaches, pawpaws and green leafy vegetables are rich in beta carotene.  Beta carotene, as reported before, is vital for healthy skin and eyes.

Men and women alike should always strive to eat a healthy diet, but women have an extra incentive to get all the nutrition they need.  Proper nutrition is essential to a healthy pregnancy, and some of the baby’s biggest nutritional needs happen before the pregnancy is discovered.  Folic acid is perhaps the best known essential nutrient for pregnant women.  Folic acid has been proven effective at preventing a variety of birth defects, including Spina Bifida. Good dietary sources of folic acid include Brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach and oranges.  In addition, due to its importance to women of child bearing years, many common foods such as cereals and breads, are supplemented with folic acid.

In addition to their importance as source of vitamins and minerals, fruits and vegetables also provide essential dietary fiber.  Adequate fiber in the diet is important in preventing heart disease and some kinds of cancer.

Another great feature of fruits and vegetables, especially to those watching their weight, is the high nutrition, low fat, low calorie nature of these foods.  Fruits and vegetables contain very low levels of fats, and a diet low in fat can be quite effective for long term weight loss.  In addition, fruits and vegetables contain no cholesterol, and they are lower in calories than many other types of foods.

fruits and vegetables that are locally grown from local farms are more healthy
With all these things going for them, it is no wonder so many dietary experts recommend eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.  Not only are fruits and vegetables delicious and nutritious, but they can be quite inexpensive as well.  
Buying fruits and vegetables that are locally grown or even produced from local farms, and that are in season, is usually the most cost effective way to get the freshest fruits and veggies at the lowest possible cost.  

This buying strategy also helps to ensure a steady stream of new fruits and vegetables every month, as some go out of season while others are just coming in.  

Trying a variety of different fruits and vegetables, including some you may not be familiar with, is also a great way to create exciting new dishes and prevent yourself from becoming bored with the same old diet.  Whether your goal is to lose weight or just increase your level of fitness, it is hard to go wrong with a  diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

Eat a variety of veggies for a healthier you

And Yes. The new food guidelines issued by the United States government recommend that all Americans eat between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables each and every day.  When you first hear that number, it may seem like a lot, but it is actually much easier than you think to fit that many servings of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet.  For one thing, the shelves of the grocery stores are fairly bursting with fresh fruits and vegetables.  In addition, vegetables and fruits are some of the least expensive, most nutrient rich, foods in the supermarket.  With all these fruits and vegetables to choose from, it is very easy to make these nutritious, delicious foods part of your daily meals and snacks.

When you take into account how much a serving really is, it is actually quite easy to get five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables per day.  For instance, the recommended daily amount actually equates to a quite reasonable two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of vegetables every day. When you consider how many fruits and vegetables are available, and how low the prices usually are, it is easy to see how easy to reach this daily goal really is.

One great way to get the nutrients you need from fruits and vegetables every day is to take full advantage of the variety of these foods available.  Eating the same thing every day quickly becomes boring, so why not pick a variety of fruits and vegetables, in every color of the rainbow and in every conceivable shape, size and texture, to give yourself a varied diet every day.
When shopping for fruits and vegetables, it is important to choose a variety of different colors.  This is for more than purely artistic reasons.  Different color fruits and vegetables have different types of nutrients, and choosing a variety of colors will help ensure you get all the vitamins and minerals you need each and every day.

Finding new recipes is another great way to ensure you get those five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.  Everyone likes to try out new recipes, and these new recipes may just provide the impetus you need to eat all those fruits and veggies.

New recipes can also provide you the important opportunity to try out some fruits and vegetables you have never tried before.  For instance, everyone has eaten oranges, but have you tried kiwi fruit or mangoes?  How about spinach or kale?  Trying new things is a great way to find new favorites while getting the best nutrition available.

Many people mistakenly think that they do not need to eat five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day if they just take a vitamin supplement. Actually, nothing could be further from the truth.  That is because fruits and vegetables contain far more than the micronutrients identified by science and synthesized in some cheap vitamin pills.  While these micronutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin E are important to good health, so too are the hundreds of other elements that are contained in healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.  These elements are not available in any pill, they must be ingested through a healthy, balanced diet that contains plenty of fruits and vegetables.

In addition, fruits and vegetables are much less costly than vitamin pills. Fruits and vegetables are very inexpensive, especially when purchased in season and grown locally. In the long run, getting the nutrition you need from the food you eat is much less expensive, and much better for you, than popping those vitamin pills (good quality ones) every day.

So don’t forget to get your five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables every day.

It may seem like a lot, but you can meet this quite reasonable goal simply by including fruits and vegetables as snacks, as garnishes, as side dishes and as meals.


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