Nutrition Matters: The 6 Core Elements of a Healthy Diet
March is National Nutrition Month, and Dr. Devika Umashanker, System Medical Director, Medical Weight Loss, at Hartford HealthCare, took some time to talk about healthy eating, the importance of good nutrition, and the “best diet” for weight loss.
“It’s vital to understand nutrition generally because it has a positive impact on one’s mental state, physical state and overall health,” she said. “It also helps reduce the amount of chronic diseases people might have, helps maintain a healthy weight in general, and it helps boost your immune system. There are so many benefits in having a good understanding of why nutrition is so important.”
The Department of Agriculture’s 2020-25 “Dietary Guidelines for Americans” notes that the focus should be on “dietary patterns. Researchers and public health experts, including registered dietitians, understand that nutrients and foods are not consumed in isolation. Rather, people consume them in various combinations over time—a dietary pattern—and these foods and beverages act synergistically to affect health.”
The USDA said more than half of adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases.
Dr. Umashanker said the two main ways to have a balanced diet are to cut down on sugar and saturated fats as much as possible. She said a “healthy plate” should consist of 50 percent vegetables, 25 percent carbohydrates (grains) and 25 percent protein.
She recommends nutrient-dense foods and beverages. Nutrient-dense foods provide vitamins, minerals and other health-promoting components and have no or little added sugars, saturated fat, and sodium.
The core elements that make up a healthy dietary pattern include:
- Vegetables of all types: dark green; red and orange; beans, peas, and lentils; starchy; and other vegetables.
- Fruits: especially whole fruit.
- Grains: at least half of them whole grain.
- Dairy: fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese and/or lactose-free versions and fortified soy beverages and yogurt as alternatives.
- Protein foods: lean meats, poultry, and eggs; seafood; beans, peas, and lentils; and nuts, seeds, and soy products.
- Oils: vegetable oils and oils in food, such as seafood and nuts.
Dr. Umashanker also said that dietary requirements vary based on a person’s age and physical conditions, including chronic diseases. For example, a pregnant woman has different dietary needs than a menopausal woman, and someone with cardiac disease has different needs than someone with kidney disease. Babies and toddlers’ diets should be different from what an adolescent eats every day.