Stroll down the aisles of your supermarket, and you will see a burgeoning array of food products that claim to be healthy. But which foods are actually best for your health? We'll give you a hint. If your diet consists mainly of foods in boxes or other packages, it's probably not the healthiest. As scientific research continues to affirm, the dietary patterns that are most closely linked to a longer, healthier life tend to be absent of foods that have been peeled, pulverized, and mixed with sugar, salt, and a load of chemicals. Rather, healthy diets are filled with unprocessed or minimally processed foods—that is, whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
In January 2016, the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released the newest version of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans—the culmination of our nation's top nutrition experts' efforts to review the body of nutrition science and create dietary recommendations that have the potential to make Americans stronger and healthier. The committee stressed the importance of eating more whole plant foods, as well as fish and healthy fats.
When you fill your diet with these "real" foods—such as steel-cut oats, pinto beans, blueberries, almonds, and spinach—you not only gain vitamins, minerals, fiber, and hundreds of healthful compounds called phytochemicals. You also crowd out of your diet less healthful processed foods, such as sugary beverages, doughnuts, and cookies, which have been linked with obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Even processed or cured meats such as bologna and bacon are more problematic than, say, minimally processed fish. In 2015, the World Health Organization classified cured and processed meats as potentially cancer-causing.
But healthy eating goes beyond nutrition. How you eat food—whether you eat in front of your computer screen or in the car versus sitting down and savoring your meals in the company of others—makes a difference, too. The more you pay attention to the complex flavors, textures, and aromas of your food, the greater the satisfaction you will reap. As a result, you can be content with less food than if you mindlessly devour a bag of chips while watching TV.
As nutrition researchers, we have spent years learning to understand both the positive and negative effects that food can have on the human body. And in the pages of this report, we will show you just how easy it is to achieve this simple, wholesome lifestyle that can help you live a longer, healthier life. Bon appétit!
Teresa Fung, Sc.D., R.D., L.D.N.
Sharon Palmer, R.D.N.