Developing healthy eating habits is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Our body is fueled by the foods we eat each day. In order to function at the most optimum level, it’s important to have a well-balanced diet. Healthy eating habits increase energy levels, improve one’s mood and help to maintain overall good health.
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.
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 high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
Sugars are found naturally in foods such as fruit and milk, however, processed sugar has more negative health outcomes associated with it. Processed sugars are loaded with empty calories, which is a contributor to conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Foods rich in processed sugar should be limited in consumption;
Calcium is an essential mineral for our bodies because it helps maintain healthy teeth, bones, and regulates the heart’s rhythm. It is important to have a variety of foods rich in calcium, such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. The food pyramid recommends 2-3 servings of dairy each day. Plant-based and lactose-free milk are alternatives for individuals with dairy intolerances and allergies.
Meat, Poultry, Fish, Beans
Foods such as poultry, eggs, beans, and legumes provide good sources of protein for the body. Maintaining a good amount of protein is necessary because the muscles depend on it for structure and growth. It’s recommended to have 2-3 daily servings, equivalent to 5-7 oz of cooked meat or poultry. Contrary to what some believe, vegetarians and vegans are able to meet their daily protein needs by eating protein rich foods such as cottage cheese, quinoa, nuts, and beans.
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 mood.
Incorporating 2-4 servings of fruit provides the body with vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, and potassium. Vitamins found in fruits help to improve the appearance of the skin, aid in digestion, and improve the immune system. Fruits also make good snacks, as they contain natural sugars.
Like fruits, vegetables provide necessary vitamins and minerals essential to the body such as vitamins A, C, calcium, iron, magnesium and folate. The daily recommended amount of vegetables is 3-5 servings of vegetables. Good sources of these nutrients can be found in foods such as spinach, cucumber, broccoli, cauliflower, and carrots.
Grains & Carbohydrates
Carbs are the main source of energy for our bodies. A daily diet should consist of 6-11 servings of carbohydrates (carbs) such as grains, rice, pasta, and bread. Discussion in the diet world exists about limiting carbs or cutting them completely out of one’s diet. Prior to making any drastic changes to your diet, consult with your doctor or registered dietician.
How Diet Affects Energy and Mood
Energy levels rely on the combination of the six food groups to help balance out different chemical levels in the body. 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 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, which result in increased serotonin levels.
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 best diet to try. Before adopting a new diet, you want to make sure you speak with your physician or a licensed nutritional expert.