The food choices we make don’t only affect our health in the present but in the future as well. Good nutrition is an important part of leading a healthy lifestyle. When combined with physical activity, your diet can effectively help you reach and maintain weight goals, reduce the risk of chronic diseases and improve your overall health.
Sadly, the unhealthy eating habits of modern times have contributed significantly to the obesity epidemic in the United States where 1/3 (35.7 %) of all adults are obese. Even for those who are at a healthy weight, a poor diet can lead to stress, tiredness, and major health risks including heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and even certain types of cancer.
The link between good nutrition and healthy weight, risk of chronic disease and overall health are too important to ignore. It’s essential to understand that by ensuring that you eat a healthy diet, you will be on your way to getting the nutrients that are needed by your body to stay healthy, active, and strong.
When it comes to a healthy diet, there are lots of dos and don’ts to follow – don’t eat this, cook the veggies in a certain way, etc. It can be exhausting for many to keep up with the foods they should and shouldn’t eat. Plus, instead of concentrating on the foods that are vital for your health, you are left thinking about the foods you are forbidden to eat. However, this kind of mindset is not sustainable as you can be missing out on essential nutrients if you are not actively trying to include a variety of foods in every meal. So, instead of blacklisting all the unhealthy food items, here is a list of foods you should include in your diet regularly to remain fit naturally:
- Whole eggs
Although the fat and cholesterol present in egg yolks is avoided by the majority, a new research indicates that it doesn’t adversely affect blood cholesterol and hence doesn’t cause heart attacks either.
And, the best thing is that it’s great for weight loss. A study conducted on 30 overweight women showed that eating eggs for breakfast, instead of the traditional bagels, made them feel fuller and consequently made them eat less for the next 36 hours.
This is because eggs are high in protein, enriched with healthy fats, and can make you feel full for longer periods of time.
Additionally, eggs are incredibly nutrient dense. This means that by including eggs in your diet, you can get all the required nutrients in a calorie-restricted diet. And, since most of the nutrients are found in the yolks – it is time that you stopped tossing them out and included them in your diet as well.
Avocados is a unique type of fruit that was originated in Mexico between 7,000 to 5,000 BC. While most fruits are high in carbs, avocados are loaded with healthy fats. A medium sized avocado has approximately 23 grams of monosaturated fat – the same type found in olive oil. Plus, it contains 40% of your daily fiber needs and is a good source of lutein – the antioxidant that helps protect vision.
Avocados are a perfect addition to salads as well. Studies have shown that the fats in them can increase the nutrient uptake from the vegetables from 2.6 to 15-fold.
Moreover, the sodium and cholesterol free fruit can replace many unhealthy items in your regular diet such as the mayo in your sandwich, the sour cream in your baked potatoes and even the butter on your toast. However, it should be remembered that avocadoes are very high in calories, so you should generally eat no more than ¼ of an avocado at a time.
Fatty fish like salmon are incredibly healthy and have been associated with many health benefits ranging from fighting heart diseases to keeping blood pressure at bay and even reducing the risk of cancer. A growing number of studies also suggest that salmon also wards off the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Moreover, a recent study showed that the brain test of participants who consumed fatty fish on a regular basis were found to have more grey matter in their brain. Researchers claimed that this could reduce the risk of memory loss later in life.
Salmon is also an excellent source of vitamin A and protein and just like other nutrient-rich foods, salmon also makes you feel full and controls your appetite. Research also confirms that salmon aids in weight loss and decreases belly fat in overweight individuals.
Above all, salmon is undeniably delicious and has a unique, appetizing taste that is unlike any other fatty fish. It’s extremely versatile and can be steamed, smoked, grilled, baked, sautéed, and even poached depending on one’s preference.
- Leafy greens
All vegetables are good for health but the dark leafy green variety is the most helpful. Spinach, kale, Swiss chards, and collards all fall under this category and are abundant in vitamins and minerals. They are also a perfect addition to a weight loss diet. They are low in calories and carbohydrates but are enriched with fiber which means that you can pile them up on your plate without adding up on weight.
Dark leafy green vegetables contain lutein and other carotenoids which are known to lower the risk of heart diseases. The carotenoids act as antioxidants and help the body get rid of harmful free radicals which can lead to the hardening of arteries.
Dark leafy greens may lower cholesterol levels as well by binding to bile acids and assisting the body in excreting more cholesterol.
Leafy green vegetables are full of vitamins, minerals, calcium, and antioxidants. According to recent studies, their consumption also helps reduce the risk of mental decline and keep cognitive abilities sharp as well.
A simple way to incorporate them in your diet is by adding them to your salads or shakes/smoothies and enjoy their many benefits.
- Herbal tea
Tea is one of the most popular drinks owing to its pleasant taste and its ability to stimulate your mind and wake you up. And although most Americans are known to be coffee lovers – an estimated 158 million Americans drink tea every day, with tea being the most widely consumed beverage after water in the world. Be it hot or cold, tea is a refreshing drink which can be served at any occasion.
It also provides a host of benefits that can actually improve your health and make you fit.
Some benefits of including tea in your diet are:
- Antioxidants present in it protect your health
- Reduces risk of heart disease
- Boosts immunity
- Aids in weight loss
- Suppresses appetite
- Helps in cough and sore throat
- Protects from cancer
- Reduces stress and depression
- Soothes the digestive system
And above all, tea is calorie-free. And believe it or not – herbal blends have no caffeine while the traditional tea has less than 50 per cent of what’s typically found in coffee. Herbal teas such as green tea, oolong, chamomile tea, peppermint, white tea and breathe easy tea are particularly good for various physical ailments too.
- Boiled potatoes
Contrary to what the majority of us think, potatoes are not at all fattening. In fact, apart from being nutritious, boiled potatoes are also weight-loss friendly. Yes, you read that right! On a scale called the Satiety index which measures how filling and satisfying certain food items are, boiled potatoes scored the highest of all foods that were tested. This means that by eating boiled potatoes, you will feel more satisfied and are likely to eat less of other foods.
On the nutrition front, boiled potatoes are high in potassium and since most Americans ’don’t get enough of the essential nutrients from their diet, potatoes are a good way to increase the count. The intake of potassium helps control blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart attacks.
Furthermore, potatoes also contain resistant starch – a type of fiber that is essential for improving digestion. The resistant starch is also important for regulating blood sugar levels. If you boil the potatoes, make sure to let them cool and then use according to preference. By following this method, large amounts of resistant starch is formed which will provide you with plenty of benefits.
Almonds, pistachios, walnuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, and pecans – nuts come in a vast variety. However, many of us avoid eating too many nuts as they are considered to be high in fats. Nuts contain healthy fats that are essential for good health.
Nuts are an excellent snack and a rich source of protein and fiber too. They also contain omega-3 fatty acids, l-arginine, Vitamin E, and plant sterols that control blood pressure, reduce cholesterol, and lessen the risk of heart attacks and strokes.
Studies have also shown nuts to improve metabolic health and even cause weight loss. According to a recent study, those who eat nuts regularly tend to be healthier and leaner than those who don’t. In fact, individuals who eat nuts regularly live longer than those who don’t.
Additionally, nuts can also reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases and can even reduce the risk of certain cancers. Nuts are also known to improve blood sugar levels in diabetic patients.
One study conducted on over 1,200 participants found that eating a Mediterranean diet plus 30 grams of nuts everyday decreased the prevalence of metabolic syndrome more than a low-fat diet or a Mediterranean diet with olive oil.
Of course, they are high in calories but when taken in moderation – they do provide a lot of benefits. Make sure you don’t go overboard as consuming too many nuts at the same time can cause digestive troubles such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and constipation. It is also a good idea to buy nuts without added flavors and salt in them.
- Chili peppers
We all know of the chili peppers that are primarily used as spices in various dishes and sauces. However, not many are aware that the hot spice is enriched with many vitamins and minerals including:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B 6
- Vitamin K 1
Chili peppers are also a rich source of spicy-hot capsaicin and antioxidants which provides many health benefits such as protection from eye-related diseases, reduces risk of chronic illnesses, and pain-relief.
One study showed that participants who took 3gms of chili regularly for 6 weeks had improved heartburn symptoms.
Some evidence also shows capsaicin, a plant compound found in chili peppers, to contribute in weight loss by promoting fat burning and controlling appetite. Capsaicin can also reduce calorie intake which is further supported by a study in which 24 regular users of chili pepper were found to have reduced caloric intake.
Another study also showed that intake of 10gms of chili regularly contributed greatly to the fat burning process in both men and women.
Nevertheless, you should only take chili pepper in moderation and avoid over-consuming the herb as it can cause stomach disturbances and burning sensation. Few studies are also showing that the excess-consumption of chili pepper can increase the risk of cancers especially that of mouth, throat, stomach, and gallbladder.
These were just some of the many food items that should be included in every individual’s diet for weight loss, protection from chronic diseases, and improvement in overall health. Of course, these are not enough to make the most of your health but when combined with better lifestyle choices including partaking in physical exercises, drinking sufficient water, getting enough sleep, staying away from stressors, and avoiding excess-consumption of alcohol and smoke, you will a noticeable difference in your body – naturally.
Audrey Throne is a mother of a 2-year old and a professional blogger by choice. Throne is passionate about health, technology and management and blogs frequently on these topics.
Find her on Twitter: @audrey_throne.