What is a Healthful Diet?

A healthful diet provides a combination of energy and nutrients. It has the characteristics of being adequate, moderate, balanced, and varied. Whether you’re young, old, overweight, underweight, healthy or ill, if you keep these characteristics in mind, you will be able to select foods that provide you with the optimal combination of nutrients and energy each day.

Ok let’s break this down a little. An adequate diet provides enough of the energy, nutrients, and fibre to maintain a person’s health. A diet may be inadequate in only one area, or many areas. For example, many people in Canada do not eat enough vegetables and therefore are not consuming enough of the fibre and micronutrients vegetables provide. However, their intake of protein, fat, and carbohydrates may be adequate. In fact, some people who eat too few vegetables are overweight or obese because they exceed their energy needs. On the other hand, a generalized state of under nutrition can occur if an individual’s diet contains an inadequate level of several nutrients for a long period of time. A diet that is adequate for one person may not be adequate for another. For example the energy needs of a young woman who is lightly active are approximately 7100 KJ to 8400 KJ (1700-2000 calories) each day, whereas a highly active male athlete may require more than 4000 calories a day to support his body’s demands. These two individuals differ greatly in their activity level and in their quantity of body fat and muscle mass, which means they require very different levels of fat, carbohydrates, protein, and other nutrients to support their daily needs.

A healthful diet is moderate. Moderation.refers to eating any foods in moderate amounts – not too much and not too little. If we eat too much or too little of certain foods, we cannot reach our health goals. For example, some people drink as much as 1875 ML of soft drinks on some days. Drinking this much contributes an extra 765 calories of energy to a person’s diet. To allow for the extra energy and avoid weight gain, most people would need to reduce their food intake significantly. This could mean eliminating many healthful food choices. In contrast, people who drink mostly water, or other beverages that contain little or no energy can consume more nourishing foods that will support their health. Excess intake of sweets and fats are associated with overweight and obesity and high salt intake is associated with high blood pressure and heart disease.

A balanced diet contains the combinations of foods that provide proper proportions of nutrients. The body needs many types of foods in varying amounts to maintain health. For example, fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of fibre, vitamin c, potassium, and magnesium. In contrast meats are not good sources of these nutrients. However, meats are excellent sources of protein, iron, zinc, and copper. By eating the proper balance of all healthful foods, including fruits, vegetables, and meats, we can be confident that we’re consuming the balanced nutrition we need to maintain health.

And finally – a healthful diet is varied. Variety refers to eating many different foods from the different food groups on a regular basis. With thousands of healthful foods to choose from, trying new foods is a fun and easy way to vary your diet. Eat a new vegetable each week it substitute one food for another, such as raw spinach on your turkey sandwich in place of iceberg lettuce. Selecting a variety of foods increases the likelihood that you will consume the multitude of nutrients your body needs. As an added benefit, eating a varied diet prevents boredom and helps you avoid the potential of getting into a food rut.

Resources
1.) Janice Thompson, Melinda Manore, Judy Sheeshka –  Nutrition: A functional Approach
2.) http://www.dietitians.ca – Dietitians of Canada
3.) http://www.5to10aday.com – 5-to-10-a-day for better health.

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