The diet is the total amount of food eaten by a person. Today, the meaning of the word has changed a bit, and is often used to designate a special nutritional plan used in order to lose weight or in the treatment of diseases. Humans have an omnivorous diet and can consume a wide range of foods, but the selection depends on the specific taste of a person, cultural differences or moral choices. Some diets are healthier than others, depending on a number of factors.
The chosen diet impacts the quality of life and has a direct influence on health and longevity. A proper diet must meet the full nutritional requirements of the human body, providing a mix of proteins, carbohydrates and fats for energy, as well as enough vitamins, minerals and other bioactive compounds.
Balance is the key to a healthy diet. Even if one particular food is very healthy, the menu must be varied and has to include the right amounts from all main food groups. According to experts, food can be divided into five major groups: fruits and vegetables, proteins, dairy, whole grains plus fats and sugar.
Whole grains are considered increasingly important for a healthy diet and the USDA now advises at least 3 ounces should be eaten daily. The whole grain is the entire seed of the cereal, including the bran and germ that are usually discarded or used as fodder. Unlike the refined grains, whole ones are a major source of dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals.
Things can be a little tricky though, since you can't be certain if a particular food has a content of whole grains just by the way it looks. You'll have to read the label, where the grain must be listed in the list of ingredients. Make sure that it is specified the grain is whole and not just the regular kind.
The most common foods with whole grains are breakfast cereals, bread and pastas, if they are made with integral (100%) grains. There are several types of cereals that are commonly found as whole grains, as an ingredient or as flour. These include wheat, bulgur, corn, whole rice, wild rice, oats, buckwheat or spelt.
Vegetables and fruits are also very important in a healthy diet. They provide a large amount of essential nutrients and bioactive compounds needed by the body, mainly fiber, vitamins and minerals. Numerous studies have revealed that eating fruits and vegetables every day has a very positive effect on health and can prevent very serious diseases like cancer, diabetes or heart issues.
A standard recommendation today is to eat five servings of fruits and vegetables every day. Nutritionists usually define a portion as three spoons of fruit and vegetables or a large raw fruit like an apple, banana or a tomato. One glass of juice also counts as a serving, if it is made 100% from fruits or vegetables. Other experts are less strict and consider every small amount of fruits, vegetables or pure juice as a serving. According to some of them, staple side-dishes like beans also count as a portion.
Proteins are organic compounds that from the structure of tissues and are constantly needed for their growth and repair. Usually, food sources that are rich in protein also have a generous content of B vitamin complex and essential minerals like magnesium, iron or zinc.
Nutritionists often place cream, butter and eggs in the protein or fat and eggs category, even if these are technically dairy products. However, just like the other dairy products, they are an excellent food source of calcium. This mineral is the building block of our bones, as well as the teeth and nails.
The most common dairy products are cheese, milk or yoghurt, the ones with a low content of fat are considered to be the healthiest. Some soya derivatives are also said to be dairy, even if they are actually vegetal in origin. Soya milk or cheese with a calcium content are very good food choices for vegetarians who can't get this essential mineral from products of animal origin. Other vegetal sources of calcium are cabbage, broccoli and related plants.
The fats and sugars group includes all foods that have a very high content of such compounds and are generally considered unhealthy. Some examples are margarine, mayonnaise, sugar, chocolate, cakes, biscuits, butter, regular sodas, jams, candies and many others.
Fats are split in two main types: saturated fats and unsaturated fats. Large amounts of saturated fats can be found in fast food products, fried meat, cream or margarine. They are very dangerous for the health of the heart and can also cause many other diseases, so the amounts consumed should stay low. Vegetable oil and fish are rich sources of unsaturated fats, which are not a health hazard.
Products with a large content of sugar should be consumed with care, since they have a lot of calories that can increase your weight and can also cause teeth decay. The most common ones are sodas and sweets.
One of the best choices available for the health of the hair and the skin is the avocado, considered among today's super foods. Since they are very rich in a number of essential fatty acids that play a key role in the quality of the skin, avocados are used as an ingredient in many cosmetic products. They are also a major source of antioxidants and vitamins C and E.
Another excellent food is fish, since it has a very high content of omega-3 fatty acids and other essential fats that maintain the skin elastic. Fish should not be fried in order to avoid eating saturated fats that are bad for health, use a steam cooker for best results. Essential fatty acids also make the skin look healthy, with a natural color.
Tomatoes are some of the best vegetables for the skin, because of their content of vitamins and minerals that are vital for its health. The antioxidants found in tomatoes can repair the damage caused by sunlight and even shield the skin from it. They can be eaten raw or added in many dishes.
Oatmeal is a popular breakfast choice in many countries, with numerous benefits for the hair in particular. They are a rich source of potassium, zinc and biotin, which make human hair stronger and prevent it from breaking. Oats can also be prepared as a meal, mixed with water, milk or brown sugar and cooked slowly.
Anemia is the medical term for a disease caused by a lack of iron. This essential mineral is important for hair durability and a lack of it will make it thin and fragile. Red meat is a great source of iron and proteins, which are both good for the hair, but must be consumed with care since it can cause circulation problems because of its saturated fats content.
Nuts are increasingly favoured by nutritionists since they are delicious and provide important health benefits at the same time. They are rich in proteins vital for hair structure but also magnesium, which makes the hair lustrous and prevents stress, one of the main causes of baldness. They can be eaten raw, roasted or as an ingredient in salads, yogurt and juices.
Zinc is another essential mineral for the hair because it's needed in the composition of the proteins in its structure. Oysters are the richest food source of zinc.