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  • Writer's pictureFarhad Nassiri Afshar

What is a Healthy Diet?

Updated: Dec 11, 2023

A healthy dietary habit can extend longevity and reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension, and cancer. It can also help you to keep a healthy weight and improve your quality of life.

A healthy diet emphasizes limited consumption of red and processed meats, unhealthy fats (saturated and industrial trans-fats), sugar, sodium, and alcohol. On the other hand, a greater intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, and whole grains is recommended.

Examples of healthy diets with proven health benefits include the Mediterranean diet, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, plant-based and vegetarian diets, a low-fat diet, and a low-cholesterol diet.

These above-mentioned diets are typically high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, beans, nuts, and seeds. They generally include low to moderate amounts of fish, poultry, and low-fat dairy products, and they contain little red meat consumption. It is recommended to reduce dietary cholesterol as much as possible.

One example of these diets is the DASH diet. The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet is comprised of 4-5 servings (2 Cups) of fruit, 4-5 servings (2.5 cups) of vegetables, and 2-3 servings (3 Cups) of low-fat dairy per day, with less than a quarter of daily caloric intake from fat. This is in contrast with a ketogenic diet which is high in dietary fat (>45 percent of daily caloric intake) and low in carbohydrates (no more than 25 percent of daily caloric intake), which per a recent study in the United Kingdom can aggravate dyslipidemia, overweight, diabetes, and cardiovascular disorders in the long term.

While Low-carbohydrate diets may aid in weight loss over the short term, the health effects of low-carbohydrate diets over the longer term remain unclear and may depend upon overall dietary food quality; unhealthy low-carbohydrate diets with higher consumption of animal protein and saturated fat are associated with an increased mortality risk while healthy low-carbohydrate diets with higher plant protein and unsaturated fats are associated with a lower risk.

Although we focus on overall dietary patterns, individual dietary components can play an important role in nutrition and health outcomes, which includes eating plenty of fruits and vegetables and eating most carbohydrates as whole grains. Consuming low-fat dairy products in moderation is advised. Saturated fat consumption should make up no more than 10 percent of total caloric intake and instead, individuals should choose poly- and monounsaturated fats. It’s recommended to use healthy protein-rich foods as the major source of protein. These include poultry, beans, peas, seeds, nuts, fish, and soy products. Nut consumption in moderation is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. The recommended amount of dietary fiber is approximately 30 g per day for most adults.

Individuals should avoid the consumption of a typical "Western" diet which is characterized by the consumption of red and processed meats, full-fat dairy products, refined grains, high-sodium foods, and sugar, as well as low amounts of fiber, whole grains, legumes, and fruits and vegetables. It is recommended to avoid or minimize the consumption of unhealthy fats (i.e., saturated, and trans fats), added sugars (including sugar-sweetened beverages), red and processed meats, highly processed foods, and alcohol.

In conclusion, individuals should be seen at least once a year by their professional health provider for an assessment of their lifestyle including their diet as part of their annual physicals to identify and correct unhealthy habits like having a bad diet to improve their quality and quantity of life.

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