Good health starts with good habits. This includes eating a healthy diet and exercising. There are many diets out there that are being promoted to help people lose weight and stay healthy. There’s the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet, the Mediterranean diet, the Paleo diet, the vegetarian diet, the vegan diet, and so on. There are also plenty of people promoting dietary supplements, either individually, such as omega-3s to bring cholesterol levels to healthy levels, or multivitamins to promote health in general. What is the best way to get all of the vitamins and other nutrients that you need?
Picking the Right Diet
Well, there are many diets to choose from that will help you be healthy. Although, the DASH diet and the Mediterranean diet are heavily promoted by the medical community, there is significant overlap between all of the healthy diet options out there. For example, most of the healthy diets are mostly plant based, high in fiber, and low in added sugar, processed food, and salt.
But not all food is the same. Meat, particularly fatty or processed meat, is connected with worse cholesterol levels and overall cardiovascular health. When you eat meat, choose lean meat over fatty meat. Fish is also a fairly healthy. It is a good source of vitamin D and omega-3s. The way you prepare the food is important, too. Frying food only adds fat to your diet.
Processed foods are generally not healthy at all. This includes candies, sodas, canned foods, and so on. These foods tend to have salt and sugar added to it and minimal nutrients. It is best to stick to unprocessed or minimally processed foods. For example, whole grain bread is better than other types of bread. Brown rice is better than white rice.
Mostly Plant Based Diet is (Usually) Best
The majority of a healthy diet should be plants. Plants generally have healthy forms of fat (unsaturated fats), don’t have as much calories as meat does, have low levels of sugar, can slowly release the sugar into your system, so you don’t have a spike of blood glucose and subsequent crash, and don’t stimulate atherosclerotic buildup like a meat based diet does. Additionally, including fiber in your diet, which you can get from fruits and vegetables, will also help you maintain healthy levels of cholesterol, keep bowel movements regular, and give you a feeling of satiety so you don’t each much.
These guidelines for healthy eating give you plenty of choices of what to eat. However, there are some things to keep in mind. Some have criticized plant-based diets due to concerns that individuals will not be able to get all the necessary vitamins and nutrients solely from plants. However, the only thing that cannot be obtained from a purely vegan diet is vitamin B12. Iron and protein are present in plant sources. For example, beans and green vegetables contain iron. However, less iron is absorbed from plant sources than meat sources. Eating vitamin C will help increase the absorption of iron.
But Variety Of Fruits & Vegetables is Key
Make sure to include a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and other plants in your diet to make sure that you get all the nutrients that you need. Including fish in your diet, will also help with vitamins D and B12, as well as omega-3s. Any meat that is in your diet should be lean and not fried. Avoid adding sugar and salt to your diet and keep away from junk food. This type of diet will also help you lose weight.
Indeed, healthy eating is necessary regardless of where you are in terms of weight. If you need to lose weight, continue eating healthy, but also restrict the amount of calories you are eating to less than the amount of calories you are burning. Exercise should include 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise per week, as well as, muscle strength training twice a week.
Implementing a Healthy Eating Plan
A well-balanced diet will provide you with all of the nutrients that you need. However, pulling off that diet can be difficult. People have busy lives and don’t always have time to prepare a healthy meal. Healthy food options also tend to be more expensive than unhealthy foods and may not even be available where you live or work. And prepared meals from restaurants might provide all of the necessary nutrients, but can easily have an unhealthy level of salt, sugar, or fat. Sometimes, you simply crave an unhealthy meal or drink to deal with a difficult day or to have a good time with friends.
To determine the best healthy eating plan for you, screening tests are often done to check for certain deficiencies. A complete blood count (CBC) includes a test of hemoglobin. Lower levels of hemoglobin might indicate iron deficiency and warrants a test of iron levels. A CBC will also check for red blood cell size. Enlarged red blood cells might indicate a vitamin B12 deficiency. Some vitamin deficiencies are not routinely tested for, such as vitamin D, unless there is some indication for it ,such as chronic kidney disease, abnormal calcium levels, or an issue with bones.
Also note, your nutritional requirements change throughout life. Kids and pregnant women have different nutritional requirements from non-pregnant adults because of increased demand for certain nutrients. For example, menstruating women need more iron than non-menstruating women because of blood loss during periods. Older individuals and people who have had surgery on their gastrointestinal tract will have a reduced ability to absorb nutrients. Certain certain medications (ex. metformin reduces B12 absorption) can also reduce absorption of nutrients. Supplements can help make up the difference but that doesn’t mean that everyone automatically needs supplements.
It is worth noting that your diet is the best place to get nutrients. Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, maintain a healthy weight, keep alcohol consumption to safe levels, and don’t smoke. Second, identify any barriers that puts you at risk for being vitamin deficient. This includes the things that were previously mentioned, such as any GI surgeries, older age, and menstruation. Also watch out for certain symptoms that might indicate vitamin deficiencies, such as paleness, tiredness, and tingling sensations. These symptoms aren’t caused exclusively by vitamin deficiencies, but should still be discussed with your doctor.
Too Much of a “Good Thing” Can Be Bad
It is important to remember that vitamin supplements are not harmless.
- Antioxidants like vitamin E and A are important, but studies have linked individual vitamin E and A supplements, rather than as part of a multivitamin, increases odds of certain types of cancers.
- Some vitamins can also interfere with medications. For example, taking vitamin K will interfere with warfarin.
- Excessive amounts of vitamin D can raise calcium levels, lower parathyroid size, and can interfere with calcium channel blockers.
- Taking supplements for some nutrients, such as iron and potassium, when you already have enough can damage your body sooner rather than later because the amount that your body can tolerate fits a more narrow window than other nutrients.
Thus, having too much of a nutrient can cause you as many problems as not having enough. The amount needed for proper functioning of the body and the amount that is toxic is different for every nutrient.
Eat Well to Be Well
The big picture is to eat well, regardless of where you are in life. From there, check with your doctor to see if you are prone to any deficiencies and if supplements are actually needed. Good food is necessary for everyone and supplements are exactly that –supplements–and may not even be needed. Supplements are best saved for any actual nutrient deficiencies that you might have.
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