SALT LAKE CITY — Making simple changes to your everyday diet can make a huge impact on your overall health. From apples to zucchini, every bite of heart-healthy food delivers a powerful dose of what we need to repair damaged cells and fight disease.
"A good plate of food really does give you a better opportunity to be mentally alert and more physically active,” said Dr. Scott Hansen, medical director of Intermountain’s Live Well Center.
Over the years there have been a number of guidelines, but one that most people recognize is the healthy plate. Divided into four sections, there are fruits, vegetables, a lean protein and whole grains. Top that off with a glass of milk, and you have a balanced meal.
“With those combinations," Hansen said, "you get a good balance of the micro-nutrients and you’re able to supply your body with what it needs to help sustain good health.”
Hansen said that when it comes to fruits and vegetables, buy fresh. Canned or processed items tend to have fewer nutrients and more sugar. Fruits and vegetables are very rich in anti-oxidants that help fight disease. They are rich in nutrients, vitamins and minerals that are essential for cellular function for our bodies.
Lean meats provide protein, which is the building block for our muscles. Hansen suggests eating a serving of protein with every meal and to eat red meats in moderation, using the cuts with less fat.
Grains and carbohydrates provide a source of glucose that our heart and muscles use first as an energy source.
Dairy products are not only a great source for protein, but calcium, which is essential for a healthy heart and brain. Dairy is also fortified with vitamin D, which is also a very important element for heart, brain and immune health.
Among the biggest offenders are prepackaged and processed desserts and soda. Not only are they high in sugar, they can be high in the types of fatty acids that are harmful to us.
"We’re finding that sugar does contribute to the metabolic pathways that lead to the onset of diabetes or can aggravate some of the conditions that lead to heart problems,” Hansen said.
If you fill your plate with healthier options, your body will respond.
“As you change your diet from what may be considered the 'standard fare' or the 'fast-food diet' or 'if I see it, I’ll eat it,' or the 'I’ll catch what I can wherever I can' diet, we sometimes have been using that diet for so long that we don’t recognize what it really makes us feel like," Hansen said. "As you go on a healthy diet and sustain that for several days or a week, the first thing you’ll feel is more immediate energy. The other thing is a mental alertness. A good diet takes away some of that cloudy feeling that we have.”
If you find it a bit challenging to make the change, Hansen has a suggestion.
“Try to eat your first several bites with healthy foods, add free water rather than other types of sugary drinks and then see if there’s still room left for an occasional indulgence for those types of foods,” Hansen said.
With every healthy change you make to your diet, your body will thank you.
“I challenge anybody to take a week and eat healthy and then see how different they feel,” Hansen said.
Even though adding those healthy foods into your diet can cost more, you're saving money in expenses that will come from the consequences of an unhealthy diet.
For more information along with some great recipes, visit www.intermountainlivewell.org and click on the "eat well" tab.