What's the key to better health? The answer may surprise you: Your diet.
That's right, you don't have to spend hours at the gym to improve your health. Read on as we uncover the importance of healthy eating habits, explain how your diet influences your health, and share five simple tips to start eating healthier today.
The problem with a poor diet
It’s an alarming statistic, but it’s true: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that over 70% of adults in the U.S. are obese or overweight.1 The culprit: a poor diet, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.2
Even if your weight falls within a normal range (click here to find out your BMI) — healthy eating habits are still important. That’s because a poor diet is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.1
And the problem stems beyond health concerns — it’s also costly. A 2019 study funded by the National Institutes of Health found that 50 billion dollars a year in healthcare costs are driven by an inadequate diet.3
The importance of healthy eating habits & 5 benefits of a healthy diet
It’s clear that eating a healthy diet is important — but what are the benefits? Read on for five.
1. Manage your weight
Calories in, calories out. Weight loss at its simplest form, right? The truth is, not all calories are created equal. The quality of your food matters. Eating plenty of nutrient-dense foods can help you manage your weight, without having to spend hours at the gym (it’s also known as the 80/20 rule for weight loss).
And maintaining a healthy weight is more important now than ever as new research indicates obesity is one of the leading risk factors of severe illness from COVID-19.4
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Eating quality foods will help you fill up on fewer calories (compared to eating empty calorie foods like chips, ice cream and pastries) and will provide you with essential vitamins and minerals your body needs to stay healthy. Nutrient-dense foods include non-starchy vegetables, fruits, lean protein (chicken, lean cuts of meat, white fish), low-fat and non-fat dairy products, and healthy fats such as nuts, avocado and seeds.
2. Boost your immune system
Want to naturally boost your immune system? Look no further than your refrigerator. Nourishing your body with healthy foods like vegetables and fruit can help keep your immune system strong, Harvard Health reports.5
A healthy diet can also support your weight loss goals — which may improve immune function.6 One study found that by losing just 10 pounds, obese individuals with Type 2 diabetes reduced inflammation in their bodies that adversely impact the immune system.7
3. Feel more energetic
3 o’clock slump got you down? A well-balanced diet can improve your energy levels and help you avoid feeling sluggish and tired.8 While certain foods such as candy and soda can give you an initial rush of energy, they can leave you feeling hungry and fatigued shortly after. That’s why experts recommend eating nutrient-dense foods such as vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats to keep your energy levels stable throughout the day.9
Eating small meals and snacks frequently throughout the day may help, too.9 With Jenny Craig, you’ll eat six times a day – including three meals and two snacks (plus, dessert!) to help you feel satisfied and energized.
4. Reduce your risk of chronic illness
The CDC reports that adults who have healthy diets tend to live longer and have a lower risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.10 Why? One reason is that nutrient-dense foods have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects11 — and since chronic inflammation is linked to various diseases, eating a balanced diet can be one of your best defenses against these conditions.12 Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include blueberries, spinach, tomatoes and olive oil.10 Avoid foods such as refined carbs (like pastries and white bread), fried foods, soda and lard.
5. Lower your stress levels and boost your mood
Who doesn’t need a little mood boost right about now? A healthy diet can help with that, too. While it’s common to reach for comfort food when you’re feeling down — pizza, ice cream and candy — doing so regularly can lead to weight gain.13 A diet packed with sugar and high-fat foods has also been linked to depression and anxiety.12
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On the flip side, nourishing your body with fruits and vegetables could lift your spirits. One study found that increased fruit and vegetable consumption over a 2-year period was linked to happiness and greater life satisfaction.14 The researchers found that those feelings were similar to someone who went from being unemployed to finding a job!14
So what exactly constitutes a healthy diet? We spoke with Briana Rodriquez, Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, to get a better understanding.
“A healthy diet consists of plenty of vegetables and fruits, a moderate amount of lean protein, low-fat or nonfat dairy and a small amount of healthy fat,” Rodriquez explains.
But there’s a little more to it than that. Rodriquez shares her top five tips that you can use to improve your diet, starting today.
1. Eat more vegetables
Eating more non-starchy vegetables is a great place to start when it comes to improving your diet. “If there’s only one thing you change, do this!” Rodriquez emphasizes.
Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels
Begin with small changes: Add spinach to your morning smoothie, snack on raw vegetables like carrots and cucumber instead of chips or try spaghetti squash instead of regular noodles. By increasing your veggie intake, you’ll be getting lots of essential vitamins and minerals that will support your overall health.
“Plus, the more veggies you eat, the less likely you may be to reach for unhealthy foods that won’t support your weight loss efforts,” Rodriquez notes. A good rule of thumb is to load half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables at each meal, then round it out with lean protein and whole grains. Want some more tips? Check out these spring vegetables to add to your diet.
2. Reduce your sugar intake
Did you know? Drinking just one 12-ounce sugar-sweetened beverage a day can lead to 15 pounds of weight gain in a year.15
Reducing your added sugar intake is important for many reasons, Rodriquez says. Not only can limiting excess sugar support your weight loss goals, but it can also help reduce your risk of serious diseases including Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.16
The simplest way to cut back? “Read nutrition labels carefully,” Rodriquez urges. Sugar can hide in unsuspecting places like ketchup, salad dressings and flavored yogurt, to name a few. “Scan the nutrition label to spot added sugars. Opt for unsweetened or no-sugar-added varieties,” she states. Read these 10 foolproof ways to reduce your sugar intake.
3. Choose complex over simple carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients that your body needs for energy. They can be found in many different foods, from whole-grain bread and fruit to starchy vegetables and legumes. There are two different kinds of carbohydrates: complex and simple.
Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels
Simple carbs are broken down quickly by your body, leading to a spike in energy and then a sharp crash. Examples of simple carbohydrates include soda, candy, table sugar and pastries.17
Complex carbs are broken down more slowly by your body, helping to give you long-lasting energy.16 Examples of complex carbohydrates include fruit, whole grains and starchy vegetables such as sweet potatoes and corn.
“The type of carbs you choose to eat is important,” Rodriquez says. “Avoid foods that will give you a quick burst of energy and reach for foods that will help keep you feeling satisfied.”
4. Drink plenty of water
Hydration is often overlooked when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet, but it plays an important role. “Water helps your body deliver nutrients to your cells,” Rodriquez states, “So drinking enough of it is just as important as eating your veggies!”
Staying properly hydrated also helps your joints stay lubricated and helps your vital organs function properly, according to Harvard Health.18
Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels
5. Watch your portion sizes
“Nothing is off-limits when you monitor your portions,” Rodriquez says. “It’s all about balance!”
One of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet is to watch how much you put on your plate. By doing so, you can avoid overeating and potential weight gain.
It’s beneficial to note that there’s a difference between portion size and serving size. Portion size is how much you choose to eat at one time, whereas a serving size is an amount listed on the back of a nutrition label.20 While everyone’s calorie needs vary, watching your portion sizes is a great way to help manage your weight and support your overall health.
Need some tips on how much you should be eating? Use this visual portion size hand guide.
We hope this information has helped you understand the importance of healthy eating habits. Remember, every meal is an opportunity to support your health and well-being.
Do you need help reaching your health and weight loss goals? Jenny Craig can help. Get delicious, balanced meals delivered to your doorstep today. Plans start as low as $12.99 a day. Start your journey today!
Elisa is a content marketing manager for Jenny Craig with over ten years of experience working in the health and fitness industry. She loves sharing her passion for living a balanced and healthy lifestyle. An endurance sports enthusiast, she is usually swimming in the pool, biking along the coast highway or running by the beach in her free time. Elisa holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from California State University, Chico.
Favorite healthy snack: mozzarella string cheese with a Pink Lady apple
Reviewed by Briana Rodriquez, RDN
Briana is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Certified Personal Trainer for Jenny Craig, based in Carlsbad, California. She is passionate about utilizing food as functional and preventative medicine. Guided by a simplistic and optimistic approach, Briana’s philosophy is to help people improve their health and achieve their goals through the development of sustainable habits to live a healthy life. In her free time, you can find her strength training, indoor cycling, coffee tasting, and at local eateries with her husband and two dogs.
Favorite healthy snack: peanut butter with celery alongside a grapefruit-flavored sparkling water (so refreshing!)
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and reviewed by certified professionals.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on the topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.