8 mind-body benefits of eating healthy

You know eating healthy is good for you. But what does “healthy” mean exactly?

According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet consists of:1

  • A variety of vegetables and fruits
  • Healthy proteins like nuts and fish, and meats that are lean and unprocessed
  • Mainly whole grain fibers
  • Limited consumption of added sugars, along with salt

It’s best to limit processed foods like cookies, chips and cold cuts. Also, you want to be mindful of added sugar, sodium and saturated fat in packaged and frozen foods. And swap in low-fat or fat-free milk, yogurt and cheeses for full-fat varieties.

What do you get in return? A bunch of potential health benefits that are good for the whole family. Read on to see what they are.

8 benefits of healthy eating

1. A lower risk of serious diseases

Eating healthier – like following the produce-and-fiber-rich Mediterranean diet or DASH diet – may lower your risk of serious disease. Poor eating habits have been linked to chronic conditions such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and even certain cancers, including colorectal cancer.2

2. A stronger immune system

Eating all those fruits and vegetables, along with other fiber-rich foods and healthy sources of protein, may help you maintain a healthier immune system.3 That means you’ll be able to fight off the germs that cause colds and flu. And you’ll likely recover more quickly if you do get sick. Of course, food can’t do that alone. It’s also recommended that you exercise, get enough sleep and stay up to date on vaccines.  

3. More energy

Your body and brain need fuel to power you through your day. Sure, a candy bar will give you a quick burst. But you’re more likely to crash once the sugar rush disappears. A better idea? Eat meals and snacks that combine protein and unsaturated fats with unrefined carbs like whole grains. Those foods raise blood sugar slowly, which your body converts into energy. That means you’ll have enough fuel to last you until your next healthy meal.4

4. Deeper sleep

Eating lots of processed foods that are low in fiber and high in saturated fats can interfere with deep sleep.5 That’s the stage of sleep that allows you to feel your best when you wake up. For a better night’s sleep, get plenty of fiber from vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Choose low-fat protein sources. And go for foods that are high in B vitamins, which may help regulate melatonin, the sleep hormone. Good sources include fish, legumes, eggs and lean poultry. 

5. A sharper mind

Kids need healthy foods to fuel their growing brains. But older adults need to continue eating healthy foods to keep their brains sharp too. Those foods are highlighted in the MIND diet. They include whole grains, leafy greens, nuts, beans, berries, poultry and fish, with fat mainly coming from olive oil. Following the MIND diet may potentially lower your risk of dementia, or at least delay it.6

6. Stronger bones and teeth

Sure, you need calcium to build strong bones and keep them that way. But you also need many other vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, magnesium and vitamins K, C and A.7 Food is the best way to get these nutrients. Find them in dairy (milk and yogurt), canned sardines, tofu, leafy greens, avocadoes, citrus and bell peppers. 

7. Fewer eye problems

Eating foods rich in vitamins C and E, zinc, lutein, zeaxanthin and omega-3 fatty acids can be good for your eyes. You can lower your risk of serious eye conditions that can cause blindness, such as age-related macular degeneration and cataracts. And those nutrients may even help prevent dry eyes later in life, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.8 So get your fill of colorful vegetables and fruits, and consider incorporating omega-3-rich fish such as salmon into your diet.  

8. Less pain in your joints

The Mediterranean diet offers plenty of anti-inflammatory foods. They are rich in antioxidants and vitamins that can help ease joint pain and improve other symptoms of arthritis.9 Those include fatty fish rich in omega 3s (like salmon), unsalted nuts and seeds, and beans. And of course load up on colorful fruits and vegetables including broccoli, spinach and kale, along with cherries, berries and citrus fruits.  

The bottom line: Eating more fruits and vegetables, whole-grains and healthy fats has been shown to be good for every part of your body, from head to toe. Try adding a few of these foods to your grocery list today.

This article is part of UnitedHealthcare’s 7-Day Healthy Eating Challenge. For an entire week, you'll find new ideas that encourage every member of your household to get involved. Eating nutritious meals – and teaching kids about the importance of healthy foods – is a key to overall health, both now and in years to come.

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